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03.11.2014 // Music + the Mind

What music does the mind make? On March 11th, ArtLab tuned into the sound of synapses with Music + the Mind: a live music-infused experiment in neuroscience. The evening featured the Brainwave Music Project, which translates brain activity into electronic music—a project conceived by Columbia professors David Sulzer and Brad Garton.

Singer + multi-instrumentalist Lora Faye and jazz drummer William Hooker strapped on mind-reading EEG headbands to record the electrical impulses coursing through their brains, making music with their minds as they make music for the crowd. As they performed, they fed off neurofeedback, improvising to the beat of their neurons firing.

Rounding out the evening, ArtLab explored the art and neuroscience of making brainwave music through moderated discussion and active audience participation. For just a taste of the night’s conversation, enjoy the video below!

Very big thanks to Noemi Charlotte Thieves for filming the event, Josh Brechner for editing the audio, and Cameo Gallery for providing such an amazing venue.

about the guests

David Sulzer is Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center where he investigates how different parts of the brain communicate with each other. Sulzer doubles as a musician under the moniker Dave Soldier, whose work ranges from composing chamber operas in collaboration with Kurt Vonnegut to conducting a chorus of 14 elephants, known as the Thai Elephant Orchestra. [Learn more.]

Brad Garton is Director of the Computer Music Center at Columbia University where he models human musical performance on various virtual instruments, and has helped to establish computer music studios throughout the world. [Learn more.]

William Hooker’s body of uninterrupted work beginning in the mid-seventies defines him as one of the most important composers and players in jazz. As bandleader, Hooker has fielded ensembles in an incredibly diverse array of configurations. Each collaboration has brought a serious investigation of his compositional agenda and the science of the modern drum kit. As a player, Hooker has long been known for the persuasive power of his relationship with his instrument. His work is frequently grounded in a narrative context. Whether set against a silent film or anchored by a poetic theme, Hooker brings dramatic tension and human warmth to avant-garde jazz. [Learn more.]

Brooklyn native Lora Faye is a singer and multi-instrumentalist with a deep understanding of the power in the strange and idiosyncratic in American folk and rock traditions. Her songwriting and performance draws from such disparate sources as Gillian Welch and Jeff Buckley, Blind Willie Johnson and Anais Mitchell, Harry Smith and Andy Warhol. In 2012, Lora-Faye’s songwriting won her such accolades as the Grand Prize Award at NPR The Mountain Stage New Song Contest, Hudson Valley Songfest’s “Best New Artist,” and a winning slot at The New Jersey Folk Festival’s Songwriting Competition. [Learn more.]

The event was presented as part of Brain Awareness Week, which featured brain-themed events all across New York City.

12.10.2013 // Film + the Unconscious

On December 10th, ArtLab presented Film + the Unconscious: a conversation between cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Heather Berlin and filmmaker Alexandra Stergiou. Through moderated discussion and audience participation, the evening explored what happens in our brains as we watch our favorite films: how does film portray the way we think and dream? How can filmmakers appeal to the unconscious to strike a mood or evoke emotion? What is the neuroscience behind some of filmmaking’s oldest tricks?

Still craving more neuroscience insight? Enjoy this clip of Heather fielding a question from the audience about why filmmakers dream in film.

about the guests

Heather-Berlin-webHeather Berlin is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Using neuroimaging techniques, she explores the complex interactions of the human brain with the goal of improving treatment for impulsive and compulsive psychiatric disorders. She is also interested in the neural basis of consciousness and unconscious processes. An avid science communicator, Heather has appeared as a featured scientist on the Discovery Channel’s Superhuman Showdown and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio, while sharing her work with live audiences at local events including the Secret Science Club and Lucid NYC.

4856_789965730189_4898480_nAlexandra Stergiou is a New York-based filmmaker. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, she landed in Brooklyn where she worked at Vice as Associate Producer on the cult TV show, The Vice Guide to Everything. Serving as director and cinematographer on numerous productions, her films have screened across the U.S., being honored by the Columbus International Film and Video Festival (Chris Award for Humanities), New York University’s First Run Film Festival (Wasserman Finalist, Award for Achievement in Documentary, National Board of Review Student Award Nominee), and the Jesse Thompkins III Foundation (Emerging Storyteller Award).

Many thanks to The West for hosting Film + the Unconscious. Stay tuned for more events from ArtLab: The Series!

09.11.2013 // On Repeat

On September 11, 2013, ArtLab presented On Repeat: a unique look at the insight, perspective, and even pain that is borne out of repetition in the practice of art + science. The evening’s discussion featured Emily Dennis, a mosquito neurobiologist in Leslie Vosshall’s Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior at The Rockefeller University, and Lauren Schleider, a Brooklyn-based visual artist whose work illustrates “the imagined landscapes of the inside of the body.”

To learn more about Lauren + her exploration of the body through her intricately + organically composed work, be sure to visit her webpage + Like on Facebook. And for more of Emily’s scientific musings, check out her pretty//cool articles on The Incubator // listen to The Incubator’s exciting podcast on engineering the first mutant mosquito // watch mosquitos in action on her YouTube channel.

On Repeat marked ArtLab’s first ever public event, which was made possible in large part by the much-appreciated support of BkSciArt–a Brooklyn-based organization working to provide a community space that celebrates the inter-relatedness of science + art, advancing the case for their reunion. Many thanks to the wonderful Rachel Broderick, co-founder // creative director of Brooklyn-based arts company Our Ladies, who co-moderated the evening’s discussion, and to our host: Over the Eight in Williamsburg.

Generative Storytelling

Last month, I had the great honor of putting all my art + science talk into practice, joining twelve up-and-coming artists in a multimedia art show curated by artists Gina Pollack and Anu Valia. Entitled You Are Here, the show–which was on exhibit at 3rd Ward from July 18th to the 21st–featured original work designed to spark a dialogue about our relationship with technology and the consequences of its pervasiveness–the havoc it can wreak on our attention by creating a series of parallel + disjointed virtual realities // the beauty of how our brains have adapted to sift through + process this information overload // the quiet reminders of what it means to be fully present in this hectic age.

In particular, my interest in the show stemmed from my growing preoccupation with how our intimate relationship with technology has reshaped the way we interact with one another. Since starting this blog, I’ve become increasingly conscious of how technology has added a new + rather strange dimension to my social interactions. The more I’ve embraced social media, the more comfortable I’ve become sharing my thoughts with anyone plugged into the Internet without even a moment’s thought. It’s incredible how many interactions I’ve had over the last year with people I’ve never once seen in person–and with a degree of familiarity I find rather hard to muster with acquaintances I’ve made in real life–likely because I’ve found some strange comfort behind the veil of quasi-anonymity that comes with interacting via social media.

With all that in mind, I approached Gina and Anu with an idea to create an installation for the show that would use technology to facilitate face-to-face human interaction–an experiment in what would happen if a computer program forced you to engage with a complete stranger in person. With their blessing, I started coding an interactive computer program [written in Python and executed in Terminal], which I came to call The Generative Storytelling Project. The program was designed to motivate gallery-goers into engaging with one another to generate some collaborative narrative–a technology-mediated effort to inspire communal storybuilding. To do so, the program first randomly selects a photograph and then prompts participants to share a sentence based on the image before them. Once someone has contributed a sentence, the computer instructs them to find a stranger, introduce themselves, and bring said stranger over to the computer to make their own contribution to the unfolding story. At some point, a user would decide that the narrative was satisfactorily complete, at which point a new image would then be selected so the cycle could begin once more.

By the end of the You Are Here opening night, participants in “The Generative Storytelling Project” had crafted over twenty stories. Below, I’ve shared some of my favorites along with the images that inspired their collaborative creation!


The imperalist statue looked upon the harsh cold winter and stared avidly upon threes with poignant gaze. He wondered how did I get here who made me and what is my prupose. His existential thoughts continued to flow coursing through his veins as the harsh reality begun to sink in that he will never be a mortal only a statue. Just as he was begining to panic, he woke up suddenly from the nightmare that seemed so real only a moment ago. I think I’ve had similar feelings before. All my life I have wondered who I truly am.


My fallen soldier! I reach but cannot reach. As my brothers call out for your brothers, I try to join our families; we the stable and you afloat. Alas, we will forever be apart. But, we are only a message in a bottle away. I will pluck a feather and write to you as soon as I may. Peace be with you. As I finished reading the message my soul sank into my body. I knew I would never be the same. O lord how will this message transform the relationship that soon beseeches us all. These soldiers look like modern day Roman warriors. Why are they so close to Ellis Island?


I run track, so maybe that makes this all a little easier. My breathing is even and my eyes haven’t glazed yet. Tim is home. He’s home, and he’s waiting for me. Damn this field for stretching under the sun. Run Ani! That’s an interesting cloud. Is this whole thing a test of my attention to detail? Because I’m really focused on the shape of that cloud. It reminds me of the space invaders from Independence Day. I love Jerry Bruckheimer movies. I run track, so maybe that makes this all a little easier. My breathing is even and my eyes haven’t glazed yet. Tim is home. I want to go home, I want to go home. I want to go home.


My last reincarnation… what to do… I could light it on fire, send the other riders running and screaming into the East River. I could try to solicit the younger man sitting across from me, because YOLO. But honestly, I’ll probably just sit here and think about what I should’ve done all the previous times. I’ll break the glass, and liberate the soul. This is the night of our lives.