Biofeedback Methods in Art and Science

Compiled by Hans H. Diebner

Attention! This page will since July 2014 no longer be updated nor maintained. Due to weblinks, the page will persist, though. Reason is that biofeedback methods as artistic means of expression are spent to my mind.

The notion of biofeedback refers to techniques that make primarily unaware physiological processes in the human body accessible to the senses via signal transformers. For example, we are consciously only partially aware of the heart rate under physical strain or under cardiac arrhythmia. If, however, the heart rate is recorded and the signal transformed into sound or visuals, then this physiological process is accessible to our senses. In other words, there is a feedback of the measured physiological/biological signal to our sensory channels - explaining the notion of "biofeedback". This feedback can, for example, therapeutically be used in medicine in order to give patients a feeling for the ongoings in their body. It is assumed that patients with the aid of biofeedback can learn to mentally control the malfunctions like, for example, epileptic seizures.
Unfortunately, biofeedback is also a topic that often stretches into an esoteric or even into a sectarian domain. Science fiction ideas like mind control of external processes and the like are occassionally sold as serious research results. Visit the following sites with a great deal of discernment only. In my opinion, biofeedback too often promises more than can be delivered. It is a fascinating method, though, which inspired many artists. In turn, the spectators are often inspired through artistic media installations based on biofeedback. Having this visionary potential in mind, it is not surprising that an early very good book on biofeedback has been delivered by a composer/musician. The following quote is taken from David Rosenboom's book "Biofeedback and the arts: results of early experiments", 1975.

Definition (by David Rosenboom):

"The term 'biofeedback' will be used herein to refer to the presentation to an organism, through sensory input channels, of information about the state and/or course of change of a biological process in that organism, for the purpose of achieving some measure of regulation or performance control over that process, or simply for the purpose of internal exploration and enhanced self-awareness. Normally, this information will be of a type not otherwise available to that organism. It does not presuppose, however, that such an external indicator could not, through disciplined practice, be replaced by an internal mechanism of which the subject can achieve awareness without the aid of an artificial monitoring system."

Picked up:

... tool for the mind ...
... an instrument for the magnification of thought ...
... potentially an intelligence amplifier ...
... augmentation of mental and cognitive structuring in the human brain ...
... Must we always transform to mechanical movements ...? Might not these currents be intercepted ...?
... den Menschen die Bedeutung des Augenblicks näher bringen ...
... den Menschen zu zeigen, wieviel unglaublich schnelle Prozesse in ihrem Hirn ablaufen, von denen Sie meistens nichts merken ...
... Über Biofeedbackgeräte kann man angepasstes oder anderes Verhalten erlernen ...
... zur Indikation von Trance nutzen ...
... a fart contains more semantics than an EEG ...

Biofeedback Resources International:

"... If you consider that self-knowledge and heuristic (self) learning are generally considered to be the most important skills most human beings can develop, then it is easy to understand why biofeedback is receiving so much attention. The simplest explanation is that biofeedback is the use of instrumentation to feed back information about the psychophysiology (mind and body) of a human being to him or herself. Given this information most individuals can increase their control (self-regulation) of whatever activity is being monitored. Things begin to get exciting when we look into the implications of these extraordinary levels of control and what the benefits are to those learning these high levels of self-regulation ..."


The Electromyogram (EMG) measures the amount of electrical discharge in the muscle fibers and, therefore, it quantifies muscle contraction and relaxation. The voltage of an EMG is proportional to the muscle contraction. This electrical discharge is translated into auditory and visual displays and the person can begin to notice and bring about changes in muscle tension which he/she was previously unable to do. The EMG signal is gained by electrodes placed on the muscles of interest.


The Kegel Perineometer: Biofeedback Twenty Years Before Its Time. By John D. Perry & Leslie B. Talcott.
"It is tempting to imagine that biofeedback was first widely used to enhance human creativity and perhaps even to achieve 20th Century Nirvana, but in reality the first therapy was for a far more pedestrian purpose: the control of urinary leakage."


The Electroencephalogram (EEG) is the record of the measurement of the electrical activity of the brain.


Brain-Computer Interface (BCI). By Thilo Hinterberger et al.
"Patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), polyneuritis with Guillan-Barré Syndrome, or brain stem infarct are referred to as "locked-in", because they are often completely paralyzed and therefore not able to communicate their needs and feelings. In addition to tetraplegia, control over facial muscles and even over eye movement gets lost with the progredience of the disease. To help such patients to communicate, a brain-computer interface on the basis of self-regulation of slow cortical potentials (SCP) was developed. It works without any muscular activity. Patients just need thoughts to control cursor movements on a notebook screen, therefore the system is called Thought Translation Device (TTD) ..."
Brain-Computer Interface (BCI). By Gerd Pfurtscheller et al.
"The brain consists of approximately 10 billion nerve cells that are interlinked in a dense network. Every thought leads to changes in the activities of dispersed neuron populations and to corresponding fluctuations in spontaneous bioelectrical brain activity, the electroencephalogram (EEG). With the help of electrodes applied to the intact scalp, the EEG can be registered, scanned and processed by computer in real time. With applicable mathematical methods, the thought-specific information can be gleaned from the EEG and converted into control signals ..."
Biocybernetics: A New Paradigm in Creating Human - Computer Interfaces. Interview with Dave Warner.
"I used the term biocybernetics instead of biofeedback because cybernetics means to intentionally control something ... "
"The OpenEEG project is about making plans and software for do-it-yourself EEG devices available for free (as in GPL) ..."


Project Epoc.
"Project Epoc is a headset that uses a set of sensors to tune into electric signals naturally produced by the brain to detect player thoughts, feelings and expression. It connects wirelessly with all game platforms from consoles to PCs. Project Epoc now makes it possible for games to be controlled and influenced by the player's mind. Engaging, immersive, and nuanced, Emotiv-inspired game-play will be like nothing ever seen before ..."


André Rangel, Anne-Kathrin Siegel et al: Kephoise
"Particle systems and noise generators modulated by oscillators were controlled by users scalp-electrical-activity digitized by Emotiv EPOC headset."
André Rangel, Anne-Kathrin Siegel et al:: EegSpiral
"While listening to a 2 minutes music composition, users scalp-electrical-activity disturbs the curve of a spiral."
Tänzer / Dancer. By Nikolas Schmid-Pfähler
By means of an EEG device, the "dancer" interprets the sentiments of the listeners and depicts them in a unique way ...
Claudia Robles performs Alvin Lucier: Music for a Solo Performance (1965).
Weitere Info hierzu: Creating Interactive Multimedia Works with Bio-data Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, 30 May - 1 June 2011, Oslo, Norway.
The Static Organ. Interactive art & experimental music by Kiel Long.
"The pieces are made using bio-feedback data that is gathered from brainwave frequency measurements (reading the electrical frequency produced from brain functions). The brainwave frequency information is recorded and measured then used to generate or control aesthetically focused feedback interfaces. All of the feedback given to the user is proportionate to the readings e.g. the higher the frequency the higher pitch of the sound and the more complex the visual. ..."
Unstable Empathy v0.9. By Mattia Casalegno and Enzo Varriale.
Interactive environment, 2010. EEG headset, custom software, 4 channels audio. "Unstable Empathy is an intimate environment remediated in real-time by the mind activity of two players which are constantly forced to negotiate their emphatic state. [...] At each session, EEG headsets are being mounted on the heads of two participants which will be positioned in front of each other in complete darkness. With the only prompt to 'feel', the players develop their own methodology of interaction, to finally discover their own physiognomies superimposed and experience their selves as a single entity. ..."
Staalhemel. By Christoph De Boeck.
"Staalhemel ('steel sky') is an interactive installation with 80 steel segments suspended over the visitor's head as he walks through the space. Tiny hammers tap rhythmical patterns on the steel plates, activated by the brainwaves of the visitor who wears a portable EEG scanner. This responsive environment confronts the viewer with an acoustic representation of the electrical brain activities that govern his being at that very moment. ..."
Bodyseismography. By Angelika Lemb.
"Eine Art performatives Biofeedback für mich ... Jede erzeugte Linie ist ein Äußerung dessen, was durch das Wechselspiel der Einflüsse der Außenwelt und der gewachsenen eigenen Innenwelt momentan existiert. ... Als Künstlerin bin ich Seismograph. Bodyseismography bringt diese Erkenntnis auf den Punkt. ..."
INsideOUT. By Claudia Robles.
"This performance is about the materialization of the performer's thoughts and feelings on the stage. In the performance, imagination becomes spatial. The stage is a place for the appearance of the invisible ..."
Emphathizer. By robotlab.
"The possibility of interaction between the users brain and the machines makes the machines to a body extension and the brains activity to a subroutine in the control software of the robots ..."
BIOS - Bidirectional Input/Output System. By Thomas Tirel, Sven Hahne, Jaanis Garancs and Norman Muller.
" ... consists of a helmet with 16 electrodes (sensors) that get attached to the spectator's head, HMD (head mounted display), EEG device and a computer. The HMD shows images that are synthesized from the impulses, generated from spectator's brain reaction to the images shown a moment before - thus creating a feedback loop..."
Interactive Brain. Scientific and artistic Applications. By Thilo Hinterberger.
" ... Die direkte Interaktion mit dem Gehirn, auch Neurofeedback genannt, wird durch die Echtzeit-Datenverarbeitung und Präsentation von Gehirnsignalen ermöglicht. Die Lebendigkeit unseres Körpers wird im Wesentlichen mitbestimmt durch das Aktivsein unterschiedlicher rhythmischer Vorgänge, die sich meist unbewusst in uns abspielen. Die Hauptquellen dieser latenten Lebensrhythmen sind das Herz und das Gehirn ..."
Braindrops. By Horst Prehn and Werner Cee.
" 'Braindrops' is an interactive, audio-visual performance in the no-man's-land between art and science. A psycho-physical interface makes changes in the recipient's condition immediately visible and audible. The subjective is made objective as self-discovery in the form of images and sounds... "
See also sensystem.
Brain-TV (pdf). By Richard Kriesche.
"Das Selbstportröt des Künstlers wird durch dessen eigene Gehirnströme gesteuert."
Wave UFO. By Mariko Mori.
"Die Installation besteht aus einem UFO-Modell, in das sich drei Personen für die Dauer von sieben Minuten hineinlegen und mit Gehirnstrom-Messern ausstatten können. Die Gehirnwellen werden an der Decke des runden Raums visualisiert ... "
Brain Wave Chick. By Paras Kaul.
Terrain 01. By Ulrike Gabriel.
"The interactive AL-installation consists of ... cybernetic vehicles ... the movements of the active 'life' depend entirely on the intensity of the light being projected onto the colony of robots ... A brainwave sensor, placed on the head of the interactant, measures his or her brain activity, which is then sent to the system and controls, in turn, the intensity of the projected light ... the more intense or erratic the viewer's brain activity, the less light strikes the robots and the more apathetic the behavior of the colony; or the weaker the brain impulses (the more relaxed the viewer), the more chaotic the movements of the robot colony become ..."
See also sensystem and Terrain - Interaktive Solarroboter Installation.
White Lives on Speakers. By Yoshimasa Kato.
"... In some ways, our work is influenced by the idea of brainwave-modulated in Tarkovski's SOLARIS."

Thought Conductor. By Bruce Gilchrist, Jonny Bradley, Jo Joelson.
"Thought Conductor was inspired by the notion: what could have occupied the mind of the musician David Tudor when he performed John Cage's silent composition 4'33"? ... In a live-art context, the signals generated by an individual hooked up to an EEG are converted into passages of musical notation and played by a string quartet."
Orchisoid. By Masaki Fujihata and Yuji Dogane.
An experimental robot for mobile orchids. Fujihata and Dogane use a EEG-measurement device for the measurement of "plant-EEG." With humor, the artists scrutinize the methods and statements of brain physiologists. The measurement curves resemble those of EEG-records. After frequent interpretations that one can read thoughts through EEG-measurements, it follows that plants can think. By virtue of their thoughts they can even move.
Brainwaves and Plants. By Miya Masaoka.
"In the piece, a plant's real-time responses to its physical environment are translated to sound. Highly sensitive electrodes are attached to the leaves of the plant. Scored movements by a human "plant player" stimulate physiological responses in the plant that are monitored via the electrodes and biofeedback wave analysis. The "plant player's" proximity, touch and interactions with the plant are then expressed in sound via midi and synthesizer. During the piece, the plant is brought to a range of physical/psychological states, from calm to agitation ..."
The Interactive Brainwave Drawing Game. By Sobell.
"... Through extensive public participation, Sobell was able to prove that participants are able to influence one another's brainwaves nonverbally ..."


The Electro-Dermal-Activity (EDA) or Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) or Psycho-Galvanic-Reflex measures a change in the electrical properties of the skin in response to stress or anxiety. It can be measured either by recording the electrical resistance of the skin or by recording weak currents generated by the body. The magnitude of the skin resistance is affected, not only by the subject's general mood, but also by immediate emotional reactions.


The Use of Skin Conductance in Treating Anxiety in Biofeedback. By Karissa Rasdal.
"Biofeedback includes some form of relaxation training that aides the patient in gaining a calmer position..."


Perversely Interactive System. By Lynn Hughes and Simon Laroche.
" 'Perversely Interactive System' is an installation which puts the spectator- participant into relation with a virtual other whose image (s)he controls through a biofeedback device. The piece consists of a large scale video projection and a wireless biofeedback handset that measures galvanic skin resistance...
... The video projection begins with the image of a woman with her back turned. As the participant learns to reduce his or her stress / sweat level this causes the image of the woman in the video to turn around ... "


Breathing activity can be measured using a stretch belt around the breast containing pressure-sensing resistors. The varying lung volume leads to a corresponding electric current. Breathing volume as well as the frequency can be measured by this means. The belt belongs to the class of pneumographs, whereby the more sophisticated inspirometers are used for medical applications. Capnometers measure the carbon dioxide content in the exhaled breath. Breathing can also be detected acoustically by attaching a mircrophone to the nostrils. A sophisticated way to measure breathing activity is to link it to patterns of variation in the heart rate, Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA), for example.


Pas de Deux. By Mary Lucking.
"Pas de Deux uses biofeedback to measure and illustrate the tension between two bodies attempting to act in tandem ... In Director, two sets of concentric circles are moved up and down in response to the [breathing] data ... The circle sets are projected in front of the participants. As the circles pass each other, Moire patterns form. The patterns get more and more complex as the circles overlap more and more, and then disappear for an instant as the circles match up perfectly."
Osmose. By Char Davies et al.

"Osmose (1995) is an immersive interactive virtual-realty environment installation with 3D computer graphics and interactive 3D sound, a head-mounted display and real-time motion tracking based on breathing and balance. Osmose is a space for exploring the perceptual interplay between self and world, i.e. a place for facilitating awareness of one's own self as consciousness embodied in enveloping space... "

Breath - Interaktives virtuelles Environment. By Ulrike Gabriel.
"Die menschliche Atmung als komplexer Regelmechanismus kann zum einen bewusst beeinflusst werden, zum anderen unterliegt sie einem übergeordneten Atemrhytmus. BREATH schafft einen virtuellen Raum, in dem der Betrachter über diesen Regelmechanismus mit einer zeitrelativen kybernetischen Bildwelt verbunden ist. ... "


Pulse monitoring can be done by using infrared earclip sensors that utilizes infrared light to measure blood flow (cf. Blood Volume Pulse (BVP) sensor). An enhanced method is electrocardiography (ECG) which is a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. The electrocardiogram is a recording of the electrical activity of the heart as it undergoes excitation (depolarization) and recovery (polarization) to initiate each beat of the heart.


Light Blaster. By Christian Möller.
"... Ein Sensor schließt den Puls des Betrachters an das Computersystem an, so dass die Pulsfrequenz die Bewegung der Lichtflöche im Raum steuert. Ein Lautsprecher hinter der Lichtwand überträgt noch zusätzlich die gemessenen Herzschläge. Die Lichtwand pulsiert also im Rhythmus des Betrachters."
The Heart Chamber Orchestra (HCO). By Terminalbeach.
"... HCO is an audiovisual performance. The orchestra consists of 12 classical musicians and the artist duo Terminalbeach. Using their heartbeats, the musicians control a computer composition and visualization environment. The musical score is generated in real time by the heartbeats of the musicians. They read and play this score from a computer screen placed in front of them. HCO forms a structure where music literally 'comes from the heart'."


Applications in Science and Engineering:

Computers that can understand emotion. By Jason Walton.


Musikalische Anwendungen:

EMO-Synth Emotion driven music generator by Valery Vermeulen
"The EMO-Synth is an interactive multi-media system where the emotional man-machine interaction plays a central role. During performances and demonstrations the system automatically generates and manipulates sounds and images to direct the user in certain predefined emotional states. As the EMO-Synth project has an outspoken multidisciplinary character its development relies on different techniques stemming from a broad range of domains. These include artificial intelligence, affective computing, psychophysiology, algorithmic music composition and sound and image generation. ..."

Extended musical interface with the human nervous system. By David Rosenboom.

Profile of Yoichi Nagashima. Interactive Media Art with Biological Interfaces. See Bio-Sensing Systems and Bio-Feedback Systems for Interactive Media Arts. (pdf)

BioAdapter. Klanginstallation von fennesz/rantasa/zeitblom.
"Aus der Echtzeit-Bearbeitung der Körpertöne entwickeln die Musiker in einem ca. 40-minütigen Raster individuelle Klangbänder, die den Klienten in den Tanks über Unterwasserlautsprecher zugespielt werden. Bei dem am ZKM installierten System wird durch Bio-Feedback erstmalig die Struktur der Klänge von den Tankinsassen selbst mitgesteuert ..."

Atau Tanaka. Sensor Music: Biosensors, Sensorband, ...


Brentford Biopsy. Von Christian Nold mit Daniela Boraschi.
"In some sense, this object in front of you is a public mirror onto Brentford and the people who live there. It was created purely from the data, information and conversations about the area which were collected by roughly 200 local people."
Psycho-Physical-Mirror. By Horst Prehn. Decribed in "Künstliche Spiele" published by Boer-Verlag.
" 'Face the interface - interface the face' fasst das Grundprinzip des 'Psychophysical Mirror' von Horst Prehn zusammen und vereint programmatisch einen ausgeprägten künstlerischen Ansatz mit medizinisch - wissenschaftlichen Forschungen. Es werden Atemfrequenz, Oberflächenfeuchtigkeit der Haut, Hirntätigkeit und Herzschlag des Probanden mittels verschiedener Sensoren abgefragt. Diese Messergebnisse werden qualitativ und quantitativ analysiert und in eine Vielzahl parametrischer Impulse übertragen. Gleichzeitig zeichnet eine Videokamera die reale Physiognomie des Teilnehmers auf, wie dieser gerade in den Spiegel sieht. Das Videobild dient als Ausgangsmaterial und wird über die Modulationen der Rechnersoftware verändert. Dieses optoelektronische Spiegelbild wird über eine besondere Abbildungstechnik mit dem wirklichen Spiegelbild überlagert, so dass sich ein geschlossener Regelkreis ergibt. Der Betrachter erlebt sich selbst in einer Art 'rückgekoppeltem Blick'."
Living Book of the Senses. By Diane Gromala.
"... Die User können auf dynamische Weise mit dem Buch interagieren. Sie können dem Buch (mittels eines Spracherkennungssystems) Fragen stellen und das Buch mittels ihres sensorischen (Bio-)Feedbacks beeinflussen ..."


Brain Score. By Darij Kreuh, Davide Grassi et al.
"It is the first of its kind to attempt to completely avoid physical participation of operators in the management of avatars. The task is achieved by triggering command on a console through a system based on operator's brain waves signals (neurofeedback technology) and an eye movement tracking system."
Room of Desires. By Pavel Smetana.
"The aim of this research is to plunge the spectator into an audio-visual environment which is dependent on the changes within his org anism, and in which he participates directly in the creation of completely new sounds and images in real time. In this installation the spectator can find no buttons or joystick and all the biosensors are hidden in the chair. That is why we can say that creates a special type of interactivity : a passive one."
Let the body navigate. Interview with George Khut.
"... Experiencing your self as deeply connected to a larger reality, that 'all of nature speaks to me' feeling ... For me personally it was also a response to the disembodying qualities of a lot of popular virtual reality iconographies - this idea that we will download ourselves into a computer and do away with our bodies forever ... entry into aspects of bodily experience in an age when so much of our body is being left out ..."
Cardiomorphologies. By George Khut et al.
"... Cardiomorphologies is an interactive installation that enables participants to explore aspects of their own psychophysiology with the aid of a custom designed biofeedback artwork. Audiences interact with Cardiomorphologies on an individual basis for periods of up to thirty minutes at a time ... Breath and heart rate data collected by non-intrusive sensors are used to control a large video projection consisting of a series of halo-like concentric circles that pulsate and blush in time with their own breathing and heart rate patterns. Participants hear their breathing and heartbeats transformed into a gentle sound scape of wavelike noises and subsonic impulses. ..."
SHIFZ - Syntharturalist Art Association. Collective by Vali Göschl, Agen Tina, Chris Veigl, Magnus Wurzer.
"... SHIFZ are a Vienna (Austria) based art group founded 1996. Their interdisciplinary works revolve around conciousness altering techniques and the challenges of modern technologies ... One of SHIFZ' main aims is to point out the bonds between modern sciences and art in general and to demonstrate the way specific technologies effect artistic production in the 21st century ..."


Seed/Tree. By Claudia Robles.
"Butoh, a modern expressive dance-form developed in Japan in the 1960s, describes the cycle of birth, life and death... In SEED/TREE feelings, associations, mental images and spontaneous impulses are the starting point for the creation of stories, games, and choreography. The breathing and heartbeat of two of the performers produce a sound that is continuously modified by the muscular tension of a third dancer. The movements of the audience in the room also influence the video projections..."
Point de vue. By Jean-Marc Matos.
"Le renforcement de la corporalité"
Braindance. By Thilo Hinterberger.
"Ohne die Bewegungsfähigkeit unseres Körpers wäre der Geist in uns eingeschlossen!"


iMAL, Center for Digital Cultures and Technology, Brussels: Tangible Feelings: A symposium on EEG (and biofeedback) for the Arts.

C. Guger, A. Schlögl, D. Walterspacher and G. Pfurtscheller: Design of an EEG-based brain-computer interface (BCI) from standard components running in real-time under windows. Biomed Tech 44, 12-16, 1999.

A. Kübler, B. Kotchoubey, T. Hinterberger, N. Ghanayim, J. Perelmouter, M. Schauer, C. Fritsch, E. Taub, N. Birbaumer: The thought translation device: A neurophysiological approach to communication in total motor paralysis. Exp Brain Res 124, 223-232, 1999.

Gregory Little: Toward an Aesthetics of Synnoetic Interactivity.

Eric Miller: The Biofeedback Network ON-Line Biofeedback Resources.

Horst Prehn: The Neuro-Loop: Biofeedback Interfaces. In: Sciences of the Interface, ed. by Hans H. Diebner, Timothy Druckrey and Peter Weibel, Genista-Verlag, Tübingen, 2001.

Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research.

Chris D. Shaw, Diane Gromala, and A. Fleming Seay: Meditation Chamber.

Christian Skeel and Morten Skriver: The Trapholt Experiment (an esoteric example of measuring psi-phenomena).

Christoph Veigl: Bio- und Neuro-Feedback und deren Anwendung in der Kunst. Presentation slides containing an overview on the most important methods and basics in biofeedback, along with a compilation of artistic biofeedback installations (in German).