An Interactive BCI Art Installation Created out of the Connections Between People.

Images of Tender Rhythms at the Emory Visual Arts Gallery (July – Aug 2021). Pictures by Terence Rushin

Artist Statement

We live in a world of divisions – divisions by gender, sex, race, age, ability, … But then again, we know of rare moments of real and deep connection, beyond binaries, where it seems as if the division between ‘me’ and ‘another’ temporarily disappears. Tender Rhythms proposes that re-imagining a radically different world requires us to shift the focus from divided individuals to those deep intersubjective connections. But how can we give voice to these connections if our language as well as our institutions are obsessed with autonomous individuals, and rigid patriarchal identity constructions and binaries? How can we write or talk about the boundary phenomena in-between these binaries? Unlike us – bounded individuals – these connections do not have bodies to communicate. This is where our installation comes in, formed on the intersection between the humanities, art, science and technology.

Tender Rhythms is a BCI or Brain-Computer Interface Installation based on recent neuroscientific research which shows that when people deeply connect with each other, their alpha brainwaves synchronize. Our installation invites two participants to sit down in front of each other while wearing EEG-headbands. When connecting and brainwaves synchronize, our installation will start to make music and project visuals — literally giving a voice to the connection between us.

Tender Rhythms is a collaboration between music technology specialist Michael Winters, PhD, conceptual new media artist Daniel Sabio (a.k.a. The Glad Scientist), and Stephanie Koziej, PhD. In August 2020, Dr. Stephanie Koziej graduated with a PhD in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies from Emory University. This installation forms the artistic chapter of Stephanie’s artistic doctoral dissertation, Tender Rhythms. Re-Thinking Sexuality, Subjectivity, and Sociality through the Hysteric’s Desire for Tenderness.

The upcoming exhibit was made possible by the generous support of Emory University’s Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture and Emory’s Center for Creativity and Arts “Creativity & Arts Project Grant.”

video by Terence Rushin

Tender Rhythms on NPR!

Hear me talk about Tender Rhythms on NPR’s City Lights!

Tender Rhythms Demo

Demo created by The Glad Scientist

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How The Installation Came About

Tender Rhythms was initially developed by Stephanie Koziej, PhD and Michael Winters, PhD in light of Stephanie’s PhD dissertation on tenderness. Stephanie’s research revealed two main conclusions regarding tenderness: 1) It is especially in moments of tenderness that we deeply connect with someone else. 2) In the West, there is a taboo against such tenderness, probably to uphold definitions or rigid subjectivity and individuality.

Wanting to debunk this taboo against tenderness, Stephanie joined forces with Mike Winters to create a project that could give voice to this tender connection between and beyond individuals. In order to do so, she turned to the arts, as well as recent discoveries and technologies in neuroscience. Why? Deeply invested in public scholarship, Stephanie wanted her research to reach an audience beyond the traditional academic ivory tower. This is why she decided to create an interactive and publicly accessible art installation. Secondly, during her research Stephanie discovered that neuroscientists had revealed that deep intersubjective connections result in alpha brainwave synchronicity [1]. This allowed Stephanie to create an installation that literally turns human connection into art. In order to do so, she collaborated with music technology PhD Mike Winters and together they created the first iteration of Tender Rhythms.

The initial version of Tender Rhythms sonified the tender connection between participants, by using EEG headbands to measure their alpha brainwave synchronicity. What this means is that when the participants’ brainwave synchrony exceeded a certain threshold, soft music started to play. When the synchronicity increased and exceeded a second threshold, this music became louder.

Why did we opt to represent the tender connection through music? This is related to two other discoveries Stephanie made in her research: 1) Tenderness has a Proto-Indo-European root -ten, -tan, which it has in common with words like tune, tone, and dance. 2) Many feminist, philosophic, psychologic and psychoanalytic authors who study intersubjective connections, refer to them in terms of rhythm and music-like qualities [2]. We hence chose to represent the tender connections between individuals through music, and both literally and artistically propose that tender connections result in a becoming-music.

Here is a video in which creators Stephanie Koziej, PhD and Michael Winters, PhD try out Tender Rhythms for the first time:

In a second iteration of Tender Rhythms, Stephanie wanted to add visuals to the installation. She reached out to conceptual new media artist Daniel Sabio, aka The Glad Scientist, to make this possible. Why add visuals? Stephanie was happy that Tender Rhythms was able to debunk the taboo against tenderness, by giving a voice to the invisible connection between people, but she also wanted the installation to bring attention to the “tenderization” of the individual in moments of deep connection. In other words, Stephanie wanted participants to let go of the hegemonic Western obsession with sovereign autonomy and individuality.

Stephanie’s research shows how feminist psychoanalysts refer to the deep connection between people as “the rhythmic third” [3]. Yet, her research also emphasizes how feminist, queer, psychoanalytic, philosophic as well as decolonial theorists show that Western notions of the Self –  as a bounded and sovereign divorced entity – are unable to account for the highly porous and interconnected entity we become when we deeply connect with one another [4]. Finally, her research also brings attention to the fact that etymologically, tenderness is derived from the Proto-Indo-European -ten, -tan: to stretch or to be stretched. Stephanie wanted Tender Rhythms to represent both this “rhythmic thirdness” that we co-create in moments of deep connection, as well as the “tenderization” or the becoming-stretchable quality of our individuality. She turned to Daniel’s artistic vision to make this happen.

After Daniel’s addition to Tender Rhythms, the brain synchronicity between participants does not only trigger music, it also triggers visuals to change. Without synchronicity, two separate cloudlike entities are displayed: a green one on the left and a red one on the right. Both clouds represent the distinct individualities of both participants. When connecting however, the visuals of the clouds explode and eventually co-create a pulsating gray cloud-like tube between them — like a co-created bridge connecting the two sides. This grey-like entity represents the otherwise ephemeral rhythmic third between them, while the explosion represents the individuals’ transition into stretchable, porous and tenderized subjects.

Rethinking individuality and sociality as stretchable entities is at the heart of the Tender Rhythms installation. The visuals attempt to artistically materialize the otherwise ephemeral shattering of the sovereign Self into a tender self, as well as the co-creation of a tender sociality. Aesthetically, we decided to go for an uncanny, abject, and un-form like entity, inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s Body without Organs and Kristeva’s notion of abject reliance [5].

In this next video, you can see Stephanie and her partner Nyle play around with the second rendition of Tender Rhythms. If you pay attention, you can hear the sound increase and the visuals change when both of them are at the height of their connection.

In 2019, Tender Rhythms premiered at the Neuropsychoanalysis Society conference: Satisfaction at Last. Neuropsychoanalysis on Sex, Drive and Enjoyment, in Brussels. The installation won the NPSA prize for best poster!

In March 2020, we presented Tender Rhythms (sound only) at the Georgia Tech Music, Art and Technology Fair. Here are some images from that event:

During the exhibit at Emory’s Visual Arts Gallery from July 29, 2021 until August 1st, 2021, a third and last iteration of Tender Rhythms will be displayed. Stephanie has added a sculpture component to the installation in the form of two hand-made screens hanging behind the participants. We are extremely excited for this possibility to exhibit our installation during a solo-show at the beautiful Visual Arts Gallery!

References

[1] Yun, K. (2013). On the same wavelength: Face-to-face communication increases interpersonal neural synchronization. In: Annals of Internal Medicine, 158 (6), 5081-5082.

[2] Irigaray, L. (1985). Speculum of the other Woman. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Bersani, L. & Phillips, A. (2008). Intimacies. Chicago: Chicago Press.

Benjamin, J. (2017). Beyond doer and done to: Recognition Theory, Intersubjectivity and the Third. New York: Routledge.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Stern, J. (1985). The Interpersonal World of the Infant. Mineola, NY: Basic Books.

Trevarthen, C., & Malloch, S. (2010). Communicative Musicality: Exploring the Basis of Human Companionship. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[3] Benjamin, J. (2017). Beyond doer and done to: Recognition Theory, Intersubjectivity and the Third. New York: Routledge.

[4] Irigaray. (1985). Speculum of the other Woman. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Bersani, L. & Phillips, A. (2008). Intimacies. Chicago: Chicago Press.

Benjamin (2017). Beyond doer and done to: Recognition Theory, Intersubjectivity and the Third. New York: Routledge.

Sandoval, C. (2000). Methodology of the Oppressed. University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[5] Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kristeva, J. (2014). “Reliance or Maternal Eroticism”. In: Journal of American Psychoanalysis. March. 69-85.