Digital Arts combines with wearable tech to map reactions to music

Birmingham-based digital arts producer Harmeet Chagger-Khan has teamed up with artist Tas Bashir and leading British Asian arts agency Sampad, to explore how the concept of Rasa can be mapped and digitally visualised into conceptual art.

Photo (top): Cassipeia A: Cassiopeia A in Many Colors, Smithsonian Institution

Photo (top): Cassipeia A: Cassiopeia A in Many Colors, Smithsonian Institution

Utilising Qawwali music to generate a state of mind and then mapping it digitally could lead to some unique artistic outcomes. The mind has been an interesting theme for artists but through the use of digital tech, the ability to map the emotional response leads to a potential unique form of art. Turning performance art into tangible physical art that unique crafted digital through emotional responses could lead to interesting hybrid results.

Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music with a tradition that stretches back more than 700 years. The rise in its contemporary mainstream popularity can largely be attributed to the late, great Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who is widely credited with introducing Qawwali to international audiences. Qawwali music tends to begin gently and build steadily to a very high energy level in order to induce hypnotic states and a sensation of the sublime, both among the musicians and within the audience.

From October 2016, the creative team will collaborate with neuroscientists and psychologists from the University of Birmingham. They will be using new technologies to capture detailed scientific data from a group of participants made up of a variety of generations from local communities.

The aim is to test the assumption that it is possible to capture and cultivate a sense of transcendental awe through monitoring and recording the neurological, physiological and emotional responses to the music. Through the combination of musical responses and technological monitoring, patterns in responses can be mapped. These can be presented in a variety of visual ways and could lead to new forms of art and music combinations.

Clayton Shaw, Associate Director of Sampad says

“Although this kind of digital mapping and exploration has been carried out in relation to responses to Western classical music, it’s truly fascinating to now take it one step further by using new technologies to explore how people in the 21st century connect with centuries-old Qawwali music and perhaps challenge audience expectations of how art can be presented”

The Qawwali Shrine project and the creative team will also partner up with Birmingham Electro Acoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST) at the University of Birmingham in January 2017.

The open performance will invite people from the tech, digital, arts and academic worlds to join the test participants.  It also includes members of the wider community for an interactive musical experience, that will immerse them in a soundscape of traditional and digitally re-worked Qawwali sounds.

Producer for The Qawwali Shrine, Harmeet Chagger-Khan adds:

“We want to find out more about how people experience and express the ‘sublime’ and whether similar patterns of response emerge, as they transcend into a state of enlightenment in reaction to the music. Can we pinpoint that state of ‘Rasa’ or spiritual rapture? Can science and tech help us harvest that evidence? Can we capture it visually?”

Findings from The Qawwali Shrine will be presented in March 2017 as part of the University of Birmingham’s annual Arts & Science Festival.

You can find regular updates about the project on twitter @qawwali_shrine.

If you want to get involved or participate in the project, you can find out more at http://sampad.org.uk/

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