Vessels, the Music Created by Physiological Signals of Emotions

Interesting Engineering

One program wants to make your emotions sing. Vessels produces innovative music created by physiological signals recorded through a dry-electrode EEG system.

Young music cognition researcher and electronic musician Grace Leslie developed the Vessels system. To better understand the link between emotion and music, she focused on employing musical brain-computer interfaces to improve wellness.

grace-leslie-1[Image Source: Grace Leslie Bandcamp]

Vessels: a custom-engineered, musical biofeedback

In her latest piece, she provides musical expression through new music interfaces. Her works incorporate electronic music sonification and improvisation of her physiological signals.

In this video above, Grace Leslie performs her piece Vessels at the Music and the Brain Symposium at iCLA, Yamanashi Gakuin University in Kofu, Japan. She recorded her raw EEG signal from a dry electrode EEG system and used the signal to initialize a set of static sound samples. She also conducts experiments with participants who use a software specially designed to invite musical and physical expression of the basic emotions. The system incorporates an expressive gesture sonification system by using a Leap Motion device. It's then matched with an ambient music engine that controlled by EEG-based effective indices. She says:

"My natural inclination was to improvise on the flute while using this sonification system, and I quickly learned to pare down my playing and limit any overt physical expression or gross musical gestures, as the muscle artifacts produced would flood the “vessels” with unwanted noise. Through a daily practice of improvising with this system, I have developed a paradoxical form of “introspective expression” that was enabled by training my body and perceptual mechanism with custom-engineered, musical biofeedback."

Vessels, a physical and musical expression of the basic emotions

According to Leslie, the Vessels goes beyond a metaphor. It encapsulates the technical process. By the signal processing techniques, she also employs the same ones used to lend a room presence to a dry studio recording. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Affective Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab, Leslie examines on an EEG and motion-capture-based expressive music interface to get an effective neurofeedback, thus creating positive changes in well-being and health. With a collaboration of her friends Rosalind W. Picard and Simon Lui, Vessels project is also supported by Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Besides of her music skills, Leslie is a young scientist and has an engineering background. She received her Ph.D. in Music & Cognitive Science from UCSD, where she studied the brain dynamics and expressive movements supporting music engagement at the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience. Leslie also worked on interactive sound installation projects and psychoacoustic research with the 'Espaces Acoustiques et Cognitifs' team at Ircam in Paris. Also Audio DSP and User Experience design projects for leading companies in the world such as Motorola, Kyocera, and Sennheiser.