Show dates:

DigiCult (June 2011, Bristol, UK)

Florida Electro-Acoustic Music Festival (April 2008, University of Florida, US)

Time, Flesh and Nerve event (July 2006, Lounge Gallery, London, UK)

e-Performance and Plug-ins Conference (December 2005, Sydney, AUS)

East End Collaborations (September 2005, London, UK)

PARIP 2005 International Conference (July 2005, Leeds, UK)

Fresh! Festival (May 2005, South Hill Park Arts Centre, UK)


Related publications:

Reiser, M (2010) "Designing Human Computer Interfaces", chapter in 'Digital Media Handbook', ed. by Lane and Moschini, Pearson Education.

Reiser, M (2010) "Listening to the body's excitations", in 'Performance Research', Volume 15, No. 3 (Sept 2010)

Reiser, M (2006) "Learning to play the instrument: how to encourage improvisation in interactive environments", peer-reviewed conference paper, Mindplay conference, London



Michaela Palmer at

Video showreel

participant wearing sensors

… highlighting some interesting stages in the developmental process of Excitations, work in progress performances and participative workshop sessions.
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More details

More details about Excitations and some frequently asked questions.
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Overview and concept

Excitations performance

Using biofeedback technology, Excitations explores what it is like to listen to some of the subtle processes of one's own body.
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Sound samples

sound patch

How the first sonification of biofeedback data developed over time, from a literal translation of data to a more musical interpretation.
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Overview and concept

Excitations is the collective title for a series of performances and participative artworks that explore the experience of listening to some of the physiological processes of one's body. The work makes use of biofeedback sensors, which measure data such as blood flow and stress levels. This data is used to create sounds in realtime.

sonification process

The sonification process: sensors measure the data and send it to a computer via a digitizer. The computer then uses the data to generate sounds live.

Listening to one's biofeedback sounds can make the nature of these physiological processes perceptible, especially when the sounds have been composed in such a way that they still carry some of the characteristics of the processes that take place in the body. This could for example be rhythms, which communicate expansions and contractions occurring naturally in the body over time.

This really is just a brief introduction to the project. More details and frequently asked questions about Excitations can be found here, as well as in the papers published about the project.

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Video showreel

Excitations showreel uploaded by Michaela Palmer on Vimeo.

This showreel features some moments of the earlier practice stages (2005 to 2007), interspersed with excerpts from the final video performance (July 2009).

Thanks to Albertina Marfil (experimental theatre performer), Susie Glynn (experimental choreographer), Mark Westbrook (writer, director, acting coach), as well as students on the MA/MFA Creative Music Practice at UWIC, Newport who can be seen participating.

Thanks also to the video production team: Helen Bentley (producer), Dom Channing-Williams, Pascal Emmenegger (camera), Andrew Binnie (sound), Jo Barker (editing), Kim Standing (graphics).

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Sound samples

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Excitations at the Fresh! Festival (May 2005). In the foreground a direct sonification of the performer's pulse that was achieved by making use of pitch. Her galvanic skin response is sonified as quavers in the background. Occasional changes to her stress levels trigger percussion-like instruments (short metallic sounds towards the end).

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Excitations at the Time, Flesh and Nerve event (July 2006). A change to the way the pulse has been sonified: a move towards tickering and flicking sounds, as well as using delays and reverb. Again, the galvanic skin response is sonified as quavers in the background.

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Excitations at the Florida Electro-Acoustic Music Festival (April 2008). Quite a clear heart beat sound, which is occasionally interspersed with bursts of excitations (irregular high-pitched or burping sounds). About halfway through, changes to the performer's stress levels are communicated via bell-like sounds.

If you cannot see the audio player above, please click here

Excitations (April 2009). An example that sonifies only the stress levels, again using bell-like sounds and extended quavers. Bigger changes occurring in the stress levels (about 2/3rds through) are communicated via lower pitch gong-like sounds.

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More details and frequently asked questions

What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is the process of becoming aware of various physiological functions taking place within one's own body. This is achieved by using instruments (sensors) that provide audiovisual feedback on the activity of those functions. Biofeedback measurements can include muscle tension (EMG), respiratory rate, movement of eye muscles (EOG), retinal changes (ERG), heart beat, pulse(s), blood supply to the limbs (ECG), oxygen levels in the blood, skin conductivity (GSR = galvanic skin response), or changes to brain wave patterns (EEG). The changes that the biofeedback equipment communicates to its users are often related to changes in their thoughts, emotions, or behaviour, and so biofeedback can be a helpful training tool to improve one's health or performance.

In Excitations, the biofeedback instrument helps to communicate some of the subtler physiological changes taking place within the performer's body. As these are often correlated with emotional states, they can - to some extent - communicate how the performer feels about being in this body at this moment in time. More frequently asked questions

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What is sonification and how was it applied to the biofeedback data in Excitations?

Sonification is the use of sound to communicate information. It is particularly appropriate in situations where a constant monitoring of changing data is required but a visual data display may be distracting, so for instance while performing an operation it is useful to listen to an audio stream of the patient's vital body functions. max/msp patch

In Excitations the sonification communicates the physiological changes taking place in the performer's body. Excitations mainly focused on measuring the skin conductivity, heart beat and pulse rate, and employed non-invasive finger sensors to capture this data.

Using the software Max/Msp, a mapping scheme was devised that would translate the incoming number streams of data into sound frequencies and eventually musical notes. This process was repeatedly tested in practice, which gradually revealed which mapping strategies were more successful at communicating the nature of the physiological processes to its listeners. This helped to refine the composition over time. More frequently asked questions

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What is the connection between performance and technology in Excitations?performing excitations

On a superficial level, Excitations seems to simply extend the presence of a performer by means of technology. However, since this technology accesses bodily functions that are difficult to control, it can actually draw the player's attention to the subtler processes of the body, and for instance reveal excitations - impulses that are beyond our conscious control. Playing with Excitations can therefore can help to get more and more involved into observing the continuous activities of our bodies. More frequently asked questions

How could one control the sounds?

A participant can (within limits) use mental projection, breathing or other concentration exercises. These help to control their body reactions and the sensor readings in order to create particular sound patterns. However, when mental and physical exhaustion sets in, emotional impulses originating in sudden thoughts, memories or external distractions usually come to enter the mind, causing involuntary reactions which also become audible as excitations. Thus while one could try to make music with the sounds or try to communicate one's mental state via sound, it is the unavoidable loss of control that makes for a much more interesting listening experience. More frequently asked questions

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Why does the performer in the video move so little?excitations performer

There can be a small time lag between a mental impulse and its corresponding reaction taking hold in the body. This delay becomes usually only noticeable to the person whose body experiences it, but here in Excitations it also affects the generation of the sounds. Therefore to allow non-players to synchronise what they can observe and hear, slow movements and stillness work best. More frequently asked questions

When was Excitations developed?

The sound composition for Excitations has been in development from 2005 - 2009. Early work in progress has been shown at the events such as the Fresh! Festival in May 2005 (South Hill Park Arts Centre, UK), the PARIP 2005 International Conference in July 2005 (Leeds, UK), and the e-Performance and Plug-ins conference in Sydney in December 2005. A more refined sound composition then gradually emerged, and was showcased in the Florida Electro-Acoustic Music Festival (April 2008) and the final Video Performance (July 2009). More frequently asked questions

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Who developed Excitations?

Excitations is the core component of Michaela Palmer's practice-based PhD, completed in 2010. For this Michaela composed the sound patches in Max/Msp, as well as put together the physical interface (Wi-minidigs from Infusion Systems and a range of medical biofeedback sensors). The performative aspects of Excitations were also developed by Michaela, however this emerged from a number of participative play sessions and workshops (some of this is captured in the video showreel). These sessions often led to insightful conversations and suggestions that helped to shape the performative material. More frequently asked questions

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