Ship in the Woods

Escandido, CA, USA

April 16-23, 2016

The performance at Ship in the Woods on April 23 was both the first public performance where we were able to use EEG (brain signals) in the piece. The performance was divided into two integrated and improvised parts. Throughout the performance Per Huttner remained connected to the EEGsynth and the electrical signals from his body and brain were transformed and fed into Jean-Louis Huhta’s modular synthesizer. In the first part, Huttner read Ohio Impromptu by Samuel Beckett while the EEGsynth measured the muscle activity from his jaw. The text was chosen for the experimentation because of how it addresses questions about identity, language as well as relationship between mind and body. Huhta attempted to make the reading as hard as possible by modulating the sound of the voice (based on the muscle activity), creating confusion in the reader’s mind as well as a tug of war between the two performers. In the second part, Huttner’s brainwaves were measured (posterior alpha and frontal theta) while he focused on the music generated by Huhta. Here the two aspired to support each other by creating feedback loops between brain and music,  intensifying the sounds through resonance and collaboration, as Beckett writes: “with never a word exchanged they grow to be as one.”

In the press: San Diego Reader and San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles

The Beckett text offered important support to develop the performance. Even though it became far less prominent than we originally intended, the text still offered an important framework and focus for the rehearsal and progression. During the reading it was important to see that my attention could shift in many directions which affected my experience and output. Firstly there were different ways of reading the text. I could focus on my reading and intonation, but the most dynamic situation was when the reading became virtually automatic. In order to reach this state, it was essential to read and rehearse the text many times. During rehearsals some very interesting results happened when I focused on Jean-Louis’s sounds and we jammed through the text. I could also focus on my jaw muscles, which gave another effect and focus. During rehearsal I was able to move between these three states. One of the most interesting experiences happened when Jean-Louis really was able to confuse me so much with the transformations of my voice that I lost control of my reading. He usually managed to do so once or twice during each reading, but I also found my way back quickly. It would be interesting to see what happens in a physically larger setting and with a more powerful speaker system where I hear my own voice less.

In the second part of the performance I stood up, closed my eyes and focused on my brain and body. My brain waves were fed into Jean-Louis’s synthesizer and we tried to support each other in creating music together. The experience was quite different from the first part. It was easier than expected to ignore the fact that I was surrounded by an audience even though I sometime felt self-consciousness creeping up, that was a small part of the experience. Breathing was important as I tried to focus on both my body and on my brain and especially the two places where the electrodes were attached.

During the week in San Diego we had both tested sensory deprivation in a float tank and with the Lucia 3 hypnagogic experience. Both offered important insights to how I could penetrate my own internal world. I learned something very important, because I realised that I could undertake a different kind of introspection than I have made before. The journey was more physiological, rather than psychological in nature and connected to the tradition of meditation. In other words, the experience opened a pathway to a new metaphysical experience. I would like to develop more and see great potential for future research here.

I felt that I had a relatively good control of what was happening during the performance. Finally, without eye-contact with Jean-Louis it was hard to get a sense of how long I should stay and I would have liked to have had more time to rehearse this part. I was also disappointed that few people followed what I did with the lamp in the garden. (The performance ended with me walking into the garden and I lit up the trees and plants that were visible outside, but the audience blocked the view of the garden and all focus was on Jean-Louis and Stephen.)
— Per Huttner