Gestural Control | Instrument and System Design | Embodied Sonic Meditation

Embodied Sonic Meditation


In the 1980s, Pauline Oliveros found the Deep Listening Institute of Kingston, NY. She has worked with improvisation, sonic meditation, electronic music, myth, and ritual since the 1960’s and has spent decades to develop the methodology of “deep listening”, which encourages the art of listening as productive of new and better ways of being in the world. Through this way, she strives to help people improving their mental well-being and capability. Her methodology is often in a static mode, sitting straight, meditating with sound, and listening deeply. Previous studies also support that auditory cues can regulate human’s attention in an effective way. On the other hand, George Lakoff’s “Embodied Cognition” theory argues that high-level concepts such as time, space, arts, and mathematics are grounded in sensorimotor experience – a view that our sensorimotor capacities, bodies and environment are all central to shaping our mental processes. In other words, we are not disembodied mind floating around; we are also made of flesh and bones – the fact that we have bodies strongly shapes our mind and cognition. We experience and learn about the world through motor-based exploration according to limitations of our sensorimotor and perceptual system. Therefore, if we wanted to give someone something to think about (cognitive process), we should give her/him something related to her/his bodily activities instead of something abstract. This is what we mean by “embodiment.”

Inspired by Pauline Oliveros’ four decades of “Deep Listening” practice and George Lakoff’s “embodied cognition,” we propose Embodied Sonic Meditation: a sonic art practice based on the combination of sensing technology and human sensibility. Through this practice, we encourage people to fully understand and appreciate abstract electric and electroacoustic sounds and how these sounds are formed and transformed (cognitive process), by providing them interactive audio systems that can tightly engage their bodily activities to simultaneously create, sculpt, and morph the sonic outcomes themselves, using their body motions (embodiment). This ongoing project aims to further explore gesture-controlled, vocal-processing DMI design strategies and experimental sound education. This research covers the following topics:

The Resonance of Heart 印心

This ongoing project is an interactive audio-visual system that captures hand gestures and their fluid changes during Buddhist Mudras. This system maps gesture data, generating interactive visuals from a Buddhabrot – a fractal-based generated graphic in four-dimensional space. The gesture-based real-time system generates sound and vocal manipulation, coupled with an interactive computer music composition. The hand movements and positions changes between the mudras are transferred into musical phrases and gestures. The piece explores the relationships between present and past, the embodiment of self and the Buddhahood – a state of perfect enlightenment.

The system uses a Leap Motion, also generalize the system to adopt other sensing technology to track hand movements. The software maps the data to the mathematical parameter space of the fractal using Manifold Learning techniques. Rendering machine(s), using generated parameters, render(s) the fractal. The algorithms make the fractal reactive to the performer in real time. The system provides support for installations from basic desktop settings to multi-display performances. Coloring techniques merging the performer’s portrait with the Buddhabrot pattern reinforce the Zen concept - “the Buddha is in one’s own heart (明心见性).” Several recursive audio filters using the equations that generate the Buddhabrot fractal transform any sound made through a microphone. The filters’ parameters are controlled by the gestural data of Mudra making in real time.

The experimental results will include a multimedia live performance and an interactive audio-visual art installation. For the live performance, performers will chant the Heart Sutra and use the mudras to generate and mutate the rich patterns of the Buddhabrot in real time. Several other musicians will improvise with me during the performance. The art installation will examine the layperson engagement using the proposed system’s interactive technology. Participants will also enjoy the satisfaction of cultivating inner peace and joy while creating sonic and visual arts in an ancient cultural context.

Embodied Sonic Meditation - A Creative Sound Education

This is an ongoing college-level course, offered by the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Please click here to review the course syllabus.