The gallery installation
The installation consists of an ammonite-looking sculpture that hangs from the ceiling in three transparent wires. It is constructed from a smooth, shiny white material and is lit from below by a cool glow. A faint rumble can be heard emitting from the piece. In front of the conch there is a chair and a button. This is where you will sit and play the conch – using nothing but the force of you mind. It is a profound and spiritual experience where you are sensing directly with you mind, pushing with you thoughts.
Before you can interact with the piece you must put on a headset that can read your mind. An assistant in the gallery will help you put this on before you enter the conch room. Together you will look at a small screen indicating the connectivity of each sensor while you are fitting the headset. This will take about three minutes.
Once the headset is properly connected and powered up, you can step into the room with the conch. There you will sit down and push the button which will start your session. The conch will in a quiet voice guide you through the steps needed to record your unique brain profile, which it needs to recognize your actions. You will be asked to concentrate on the sound and imagine enhancing it with the pure force of your mind. To aid you in this there are visuals in the room. You can for instance focus on the dim light and try to make it stronger. As you push mentally on the sound or light, the dissonant chord becomes lounder and more harmonious. Don't try and move mountains, just think clearly and calmly. As you push at full strength the sound fills the whole room and the conch is blasted with light. Likewise the volume will fall as you let go. After the training you can immediately interact with the sound. The degree in which you have control depends on how successful your training was, but every user will experience some level of control and every user will hear how the sound’s character changes based on their own excitement and frustration.
The software application
The subConch Software Application is the core that drives the installation, but it is also a freeware software available for anyone who have the headset to play around with. I developed it using C++, Qt, The Synthesis ToolKit, irrKlang, SDL, Boost and the Emotiv SDK. The hardware and software used to read the EEG signals as well as the machine learning and profile handling used for training and cognitive control is developed by Emotiv Systems. Which basically means they created all the magic and I just used it to make art. The application lets you control a simple synthesizer with a few basic properties: volume, pitch, modulation frequency, LFO speed, LFO depth, wave shape and reverb. It includes a basic visualization of your audio waveform, a visual feedback of sensor connectivity and an interface with visual controls for the various audio properties. It also provides you with the ability to customize links between the various cognitive and emotional aspects provided. The basic setup is controlling pitch by thinking "up" and "down", while you can control the other aspects by thiking "rotate clockwise" and "rotate counter clockwise". To change with parameter you are controlling with "rotation" you can use you facial expressions. The selected controller will be highlighted in the interface. The application also lets you save and load user profiles. In addition it outputs data as OSC packets via UDP. This way you can turn off the internal synth and use it with MAX or PD (which is what I do for the gallery installation).