Finding Prana: An Artist’s Experiment with fNIRS

At Artinis we are regularly surprised with the novel and innovative applications of our fNIRS devices. In this blog we would like to share an example of an unique application by one of our customers.

Helen Collard is an interdisciplinary artist working with yogic pranayama (breathing exercises) and technology. Her most recent project has been working with fNIRS to record the changing levels of oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin whilst performing a sequence of pranayama exercises. In these exercises the breathing is controlled, whilst  the hemodynamic response is sonified in real-time allowing the audience to experience the effects of the pranayama performance on changing hemoglobin levels in an audio form.

Helen has been working in collaboration with by Dr. Philippa Jackson at the Brain Performance and Nutritional Research Center based at Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK. Helen and Philippa used a 2-channel continuous-wave Oxymon system and ran two initial pilot studies to see if the pranayama exercises had significant results to justify creating a sonification system. Once it was established there were clear hemodynamic patterns for each pranayama exercise  Helen began work on making a system to sonify the data in real-time. The system was created by sharing Oxysoft data with programming language Max. The audio is composed to illustrate a sound experience or translation of the body and mind during the pranayama sequence in the audience.

The work is entitled Finding Prana. The title refers to the yoga concept of prana which is a Sanskrit word taken to mean both breath and life and pranayama is the control or regulation of the prana or breath. Finding Prana was most recently performed at the international electronic arts festival ISEA 2017 – the International Symposium of Electronic Arts. Artinis provided a portable Octamon for Helen to make the trip to Colombia and perform at the Manizales Botanical Gardens Auditorium. This year’s symposium and festival attracted an international roster of artists and academics working with technology under the theme of Bio-creation and peace.

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Image: Finding Prana ISEA 2017 Photo Credit: Juan Waltero