Through an ongoing series of experiments, we are exploring the potential of biofeedback during movement and breath improvisations, in order to help performers tune their bodily state with a target in the mediated environment. In these experiments, the dancers receive two types of biofeedback: First, ECG data is sonified as musical pitch in a modulating sine tone, which the dancer attempts to match with a pulsing, reference tone; Secondly, heart rate is visualized in the color of the lights, which become increasingly blue below target heart rate, increasingly red above target, and white on-point. The target heart rate may remain fixed, jump periodically, or oscillate smoothly over time as the dancer attempts to follow.
We also explored partner improvisations, during which the target heart rate was derived from the ECG data of a second performer. In this scenario, the two dancers attempted to tune their heart rates with one another through shared movement, breathing, eye contact, touch, and more. Our approach to tuning relates to the notion of entrainment, in that it embraces a non-causal attunement between multiple, modulating entities.
An important aspect of these studies is to explore ways in which each performer can hone a felt sense of what it is like to maintain his/her heart rate at a chosen level—taking into consideration reciprocal relations of heart rate to breath, movement, and environment—as well as if s/he can enact shifts in these temporal relationships over time, with or without biofeedback. We understand our biofeedback system as a form of embodied training, through which each performer may build kinesthetic awareness and agency to navigate between the rhythmic activity of the heart, movement, music, and lighting. This learning process is not about memorizing fixed actions in order to render prescribed physiological results, for the adaptability and permeability of each body and environment refuse such codified, linear constructions of cause and effect.
Through the repetition of this tuning process, dancers cultivate an ability to enact temporal relationality between self and surroundings based on the present, always unpredictable situation. The body does not store passive memories of temporal performance, but rather is an active site in which relational memories may be mobilized and actualized.
This 8 minute study for dancer, percussionist, and live electronics, examines temporal tensions between the musical score, as prescribed, with its realizaiotn in performance – based on the highly variable ECG data from the dancer. The dancer receives real-time biofeedback in the electronics, as well as a target heart rate from the percussionist, and must negotiate between the plan versus the live situation.
John MacCallum, composer
Teoma Naccarato, choreographer
Loren Mach, percussionist
Teoma Naccarato, dancer
ECG Data from Performances
Below are graphs of ECG data from 6 separate performances of the study. The vertical axis represents the heart rate of the dancer in beats per minute (BPM), while the horizontal axis indicates clock time, in seconds. The dotted black line is the prescribed temporal pathway from the musical score.