QUALIA: Innovation with the E. Clyde Lutton Memorial Fund

This spring is looking exciting! Something to look forward to: Arielle Herman’s QUALIA, a multidisciplinary performance project happening this spring thanks to the E. Clyde Lutton Fund Memorial Fund for Performance.

What does the title mean?

[Laughs] I’m not 100% certain that’s what I’m calling it.  But – what Qualia means is the phenomenological quality of subjective experience: the basic example is the color red. You look at red, and other people look at red, and you think, “How do I know they’re seeing red the same way I do?” Qualia refers to the feeling of what red looks like. Red occurs pretty similarly in peoples brains, but there is no way to theoretically describe the experience. You kind of live in your own perceptual vacuum. When it comes to music and art, which are so subjective, qualia is so important. Everyone could potentially be having their own unique experience. In that sense, subjective experience, aesthetic experience, and neurological activity are all the same thing. There isn’t much overlap in the academic world between those concepts, but I think they’re really related.

What’s your goal for the project?

My goal is to communicate that the art and music you see and hear, the things that you feel and sense, and what happens in your brain are all related to each other.  I also want to show people that they could potentially have their own unique experience of anything, but also that your qualia of anything can overlap with other people’s. I want to communicate how incredible the brain is – I’m going to have the brainwaves projected up on the wall so people can see that the brainwaves are changing.

I want it to be really interactive.  The physical goal, i.e. what this is going to look like: people will be able to change the music by turning dials and pressing buttons on a MIDI controller [a device that allows the user to change different aspects of music].  There will also be a MIDI controller which changes the frequency of synthesizer oscillation, which then controls the frequency of flashing light. Meanwhile, another person could be hooked up to a BCI [a brainwave scanner that uses electrodes] and their brain waves could be projected onto a wall, while a spectrogram tracks how the frequency of their brain waves accords with the music and the flashing light. We might also project a visualization of the brain waves and the music playing on the walls. I’m teaching myself engineering and computer science for this project.

a MIDI controller

a MIDI controller

Whats your approximate timeline for this?

I think the weekend of March 20, for two or three nights. It will be in James House. Above all, it’s a live performance. You go and listen to music and watch cool stuff on the walls. I’m thinking of bringing in some of my musician friends to play music alongside me. It might turn into a collaborative musical effort. This is going to be in James House – at least that’s the plan.

How does this relate to your academic work?

It’s very related. I’m a Psychology major, neuroscience minor. I took “Psychology of Music” last semester, I’m in a Neurobiology class right now. This is really my first effort to wed my interests. This exhibit is philosophy, psychology, computer science, engineering, neuroscience, music, visual art, theater and performance. I want to make neuroscience more accessible for people – to communicate how important it is. Also to make music accessible. These things aren’t as scary as they sound or look. You put three electrodes on your head and you can see brain waves – its so simple! You can investigate yourself.

Is there anything else we should know about QUALIA?

It’s open to anyone who wants to come, including faculty and staff. There will probably be a talk beforehand, and you can come discuss any number of the different disciplines involved in this project.

Check out Arielle’s work at her website!