My capstone proposal document can be downloaded here.
The EEGen Project: Electroencephalo-generative Art
Neuroscience is a rapidly emerging topic that is interesting and important for the future of research. However, many people do not get the chance to explore this field hands-on, due to costs and discouragement from misconceptions about the subject’s complexity. Electroencephalograms (EEGs) are a simple to understand methodology which can be very cost effective through the use of open source material. Generative art often relies on autonomy and chaos, and for this project, the brain will provide the chaos. My goal is to foster an exploration and understanding of the brain through EEG-created generative art by mingling art and science. The conversion of raw data into art that is influenced by one’s thoughts will help the user to truly comprehend the power their brain contains.
The EEGen project (pronounced ee-jen) combines the worlds of art and neuroscience by taking brain waves and turning them into art. By utilizing an EEG circuit that reads a user’s brain waves off the surface of their scalp, the EEGen program creates generative art that mimics and listens to the brain’s signals. Users can even control the outcome of the art through their own thoughts, giving them free range to explore the beauty of what their brain can create.
Through this project, my hope is to help give others the opportunity and desire to explore neuroscience, as it’s often an intimidating or expensive subject to enter into. EEGs are a simple to understand introduction to the field, and they are non-invasive and easy to work with. Most importantly, simple EEGs can be made at home for a relatively low cost with perfectly sufficient results. I also hope to encourage users of art and science disciplines to explore outside of their own field by combining interests to see their subjects in new ways.
This project utilizes a homemade, open source EEG circuit which will be used in conjunction with the EEGen program, which will also be made open source to allow enthusiasts to explore and create within this fascinating field.
This project involves an interaction between the brain, circuitry, and a computer program in order to create generative art. For this project, an EEG circuit will collect brain wave data from the scalp of the user as the user performs tasks and reacts to stimuli prompts through the created EEGen (electroencephalo-generative) program. The brain waves will then be transformed into generative art by monitoring distinctions between data collected from the brain’s response to different stimuli. The art will be generated in real-time, and will shift and transform as the user responds to the program.
The EEG circuit will be a system of amplifiers and filters that will help clear noise from the brain wave data. This circuit will be built with a breadboard and an Arduino, which will pass the data into a computer via direct connection. The electrodes, which are the sensors placed on the scalp of the user, will be positioned via the 10/20 positioning system and will coordinate with the functions of the area of the brain and the program’s prompts (e.g. an electrode placed on the motor cortex will correspond to a prompt that asks a user to think about moving their arm).
The program will involve communication between Arduino and Processing software. The Arduino software will deliver data to the Processing EEGen program, which will display raw brain wave data, the prompts and stimuli, and also the live generated art output.
The final outcome will be a photo and video compilation. Videos will exhibit different users’ generative art outputs in conjunction with the program’s prompt that influenced the art’s generation (e.g. the prompt that instructs a user to think about moving their arm will be shown alongside clips of art generated from that thought across different users, showing the command and the output of many brains at the same time). This video format will allow viewers to understand the connection between the user’s brain and the art created. The photo compilation will be a series of notable stills of the generative art from different users under the same prompt. The photos will focus more on comparison and contrast of the generative art from many users, allowing viewers to closely examine the effects of the same stimuli across different brains.
EEGs have been vital in the development of our current understanding of medical and psychological functioning. Until recently, EEGs have been restricted to laboratory and research settings, only accessible by trained medical professionals and researchers. Now, EEGs are available to typical consumers in the form of headsets, such as the Emotiv EPOC, that encourage users to conduct their own simple research and control objects with their minds (Emotiv, n.d.). Other headsets have been developed for therapeutic purposes, such as the Muse headset, which is used for meditation and utilizes biofeedback mechanisms to encourage its users to calm their minds (Muse, n.d.).
Generative art, while often thought to be a fairly recent invention, is in fact older than most people think. While generative art is often assumed to be digital-related, it actually does not require the use of computer technology. Generative art, at its definition, requires the use of an autonomous system to create a work of art, whereas such a system need not be “high tech” (Galanter, 2003). Typically, it also involves the use of chaos and randomization for its creation.
EEGs and art have comingled before in musical pieces, installations, performances, and pictures, all with the same desire to project brain activity as a dynamic system of thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Common themes include the conversion of brain waves into sound waves, control over objects, and perception versus mind state. In one particular study/art piece titled Brain Art: Abstract Visualization of Sleeping Brain¸ researchers recorded brain activity in sleeping participants and then turned the raw data into a visual piece that coded brain waves to colors, shapes, and sizes of strokes on a digital canvas (Migotino, Isidoro, & Rosa, 2011). This resulted in a rainbow collage of colorful shapes that opened a new way of visualizing EEG data, which has been an inspiration for this project. Recently, Lisa Park, a New York based artist, created two installation pieces – Eunoia I and Eunoia II – which utilized aluminum plates, sound waves, water, and an Emotiv headset (Park, n.d). The artist converted brain waves into sound waves in order to startle the water in the plates, each of which corresponded to a different emotion. (Park, n.d.).
SIGNIFICANCE AND DISTINCTION
The field of neuroscience is rapidly developing, and it’s something we should all be learning about as it rises to the forefront of research. EEG is a great introduction to the brain, as it is a relatively simple and easy to understand methodology. It is also becoming more widely available, with the introduction of commercial EEG headsets that let users experience the ability to control items with their minds. However, these commercial sets are quite expensive, ranging upwards of $400. Scientific use EEGs are also difficult to acquire, as they cost thousands of dollars. The easiest way for people to get involved in this field is often through studies, which do not allow the user the pleasure of exploring it themselves, but by heeding a researcher’s requests.
This project allows a user free range over their exploration of both generative art )and the power of the brain. The idea of cheap and open source EEGs has been around for a while, and the subject now has many websites and DIY articles dedicated to opening the world of EEG to the typical human. This project will utilize one of these open source EEG circuits, but with a few minor tweaks.
Combining brain waves with art is a relatively new advancement, with each artist exploring the use of the brain in different ways. However, each creation has been the product of the artist’s effort to visualize thoughts and behaviors through use of a dynamic system that responds to a user’s brain. Likewise, this project seeks to utilize raw brain wave data to fuel the creation of a transformative generative art piece that shifts and changes in tandem with the user’s thoughts, simultaneously creating an aesthetically pleasing data visualization and work of art.
EXPERTISE AND SKILLS
I have basic experience in object-oriented programming, and minimal experience in circuitry. I have acquired many sources of information on both, and I am confident in my abilities to learn these skills to the level necessary to complete my project.
On the other hand, I do have sufficient lab experience working with EEGs, both in preparation and data visualization. However, the electrodes I have used before are different from the electrodes used for this project, and as such will also be a part of the learning experience.
For this project, I will be constructing an EEG circuit, coding the EEGen program, and creating a photo and video compilation. The EEG circuit will be comprised of a connected breadboard and Arduino, which in turn connect to a laptop computer through the Arduino and its software. The EEGen program will be created in Processing and will consist of three main components: the raw EEG data visualization, the prompting and stimulation system, and the generative art output. Finally, photo collages will be compiled in Photoshop, and videos will be created in Adobe Premiere Pro.
WORK PLAN AND TIMELINE
As mentioned above, a goal for this project is to allow others to experience and understand neuroscience. As such, this project is targeted to all audiences, but mainly to those who do not know much but desire to learn more about this field, as science is often viewed as something just for those who work within it. It also acts as a bridge for both artists and scientists who are searching for new ways to explore their fields.
My budget includes all the items needed for the creation of this project. Highlighted in green are the items already owned. These costs are subtracted from the total cost to exhibit the true cost for my own purposes.
This project is a way for me to explore topics both inside and outside of my major. Within my major, this project allows me to experience the EEG methodology in a new way, and to explore the different ways psychology and neuroscience can be applied. Outside of my major, this project allows to me to tackle circuitry and programming, two things I’ve always wanted to learn about but never had the time to.
For future iterations of this project, I’d like to incorporate a conversion of brain waves to sound waves into the final program art output, and possibly expand on the number of electrodes to allow for greater data collection and more ability to experiment with the different sections and functions of the brain. Further, I’d be interested in implementing the EEG circuit in other explorative projects that I may conceive.
As a whole, this project will allow me to explore topics known and unknown to me through an amalgamation of disciplines, and as such exemplifies the DCC code of learning. This project will hopefully open a new world to those who experience and view it, educating them and expanding their views of both art and psychology for the better.
Boden, M., & Edmonds, E. (n.d.). What is generative art? Digital Creativity, 21-46. Retrieved from Campbell, I. G. (2009).
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Emotiv EPOC. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://emotiv.com/epoc.php
Galanter, P. (2003). What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory. Retrieved from http://philipgalanter.com/downloads/ga2003_what_is_genart.pdf
Greenfield, G. (2011). Generative art: A practical guide using Processing, by Matt Pearson. Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, 225-229.
Migotina, D., Isidoro, C., & Rosa, A. (2011). Brain Art: Abstract Visualization of Sleeping Brain. Retrieved from http://www.generativeart.com/GA2011/daria.pdf
MUSE ™ | Meditation Made Easy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.choosemuse.com/
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Trans Cranial Technologies. (2012). 10/20 Positioning System Manual. Hong Kong: Trans Cranial Technologies Ldt. Retrieved from https://www.trans-cranial.com/local/manuals/10_20_pos_man_v1_0_pdf.pdf