Brainwave Art

Psychic Armchair TV

Psychic Armchair TV is an installation by Carrie Gates that uses EEG brainwave signals as biofeedback controllers for a video mixer and audio system built in Max/MSP/Jitter. The participant is seated on a comfortable seat in an intimate environment, facing a large television set. They are fitted with an EEG sensor headband that reads their changing brainwaves and sends that data over a wireless Bluetooth connection to a hidden laptop computer controlling parameters of the video playback.

When the participant’s brainwaves change, the video and audio change in realtime, creating a biofeedback loop – sounds and images effect the participant and inform each next moment/phase/instance of the materials. Participants explore and learn how their brain activity changes with various stimuli, whether it be an actively self-directed response or a passive and effortless response to the images and sound. Each participant’s brainwave activity is different, and not every participant will see the same video content. Clips are selected from a large bank of over 100 videos, each of which may be displayed for different durations and mixed with other videos in different ways depending on the organic path of the mental activity of the participant.

The videos touch upon a variety of subject matter: consumption, war, greed, glamour, environmental damage, technological fetishism, and other perils of contemporary late capitalist culture, investigating relationships of passive consumption in gallery-based new media art and the world at large. Audio for Psychic Armchair TV is composed by Jeff Morton, and is generated within Max/MSP using the same realtime brainwave data as which controls the video. The audio contributes to the immersive environment of the installation with a meditative and calm field of drones and tone synthesis intended to facilitate concentration and focus on the video content.

There is a conceptual irony at work in Psychic Armchair TV, because Psychic Armchair TV requires rather sophisticated and expensive technology (the EEG reader, custom software, and high powered computer) and a private, semi-indulgent installation space, while at the same time the content reveals the destructive nature of the means by which interactive new media art is often produced. This irony problematizes the participant’s expectations of non-confrontational stimulation and passive consumption of interactive art for entertainment’s sake, by reflecting the (passive or controlled) mental state of the viewer as the control mechanism for the media selection, mix, and playback. The content suggests a critique of the very situation the participant has placed themselves into.