I came across this article about the Heart Chamber Orchestra on the Wired site last week. The Orchestra are a group of musicians who wear ECG monitors whilst they play – the signals from the ECG feed directly into laptops and adapts the musical scores played directly and in real-time. They also have some nice graphics generated by the ECG running in the background when they play (see clip below). What I think is really interesting about this project is the reflexive loop set up between the ECG, the musician’s response and the adaptation of the musical score. It really goes beyond standard biofeedback – a live feed from the ECG mutates the musical score, the player responds to technical/emotional qualities of that score, which has a second-order effect on the ECG and so on. In the Wired article, they refer to the possibility of the audience being equipped with ECG monitors to provide another input to the loop – which is truly a mind-boggling possibility in terms of a fully-functioning biocybernetic loop.
The thing I find slightly frustrating about the article and the information contained in the project website is the lack of information about how the ECG influences the musical score. In a straightforward way, an ECG will yield a beat-to-beat interval, which of course could generate a metronomic beat if averaged over the group. Alternatively each individual ECG could generate its own beat, which could be superimposed over one another. But there are dozens of ways in which ECG information could be used to adapt a musical score in a real-time. According to the project information, there is also a composer involved doing some live manipulations of the score, but it’s hard to figure out how much of the real-time transformation is coming from him or her and how much is directly from the ECG signal.
I should also say that the Orchestra are currently competing for the FILE PRIX LUX prize and you can vote for them here
Before you do, you might want to see the orchestra in action in the clip below.