Autobiometric musical interface?

I couldn’t think of a better word than autobiometric to describe an idea I had in the shower, and I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on this topic:

A musical performance wherein electrodes are hooked up to monitor my pulse, which is then used as a CV gate or clock, which then guides the rhythm of the modular synth. Perhaps then my breath is used as another CV, which affects a different set of modules. I could, for example, hyperventilate myself through rapid breathing to intensify the performance, or slow my breath and thusly my heart to slow things down.

My questions: HOW would this work, functionally? Like, what interface would be needed between my body and the modules? I can’t be the first person to conceive of this, so what are similar examples of this kind of biologically driven performance? What is lacking in my vocabulary to understand and explain this? What other biometrics could be utitilized? Perspiration? Hormones??

Thanks for indulging my mind’s shower wanderings!


It may not be a great idea to hyperventilate during a public performance–haha. I can help with the pulse to gate part, though. First you need a sensor that produces a voltage in response to some stimulus. Then a sensor interface to amplify, scale and offset the signals, and produce a gate/cv. Here’s an example where I’m using a pulse sensor with a Koma Field Kit.

Bastl also makes a Sense module that accepts sensor inputs and outputs gates/cv. The Instruo Scion module is another option.


Haha… re:hyperventilating, this idea actually started with me thinking about the physical effects associated with panic attacks, coupled with stage fright, and thought, “what if the anxiety were part of the performance?”

Anyhow, this is GREAT! Thanks so much for all this info.


Some things that come to mind:

Chris Chafe at CCRMA partnered with people at Stanford Medical to develop a “brain stethoscope” project which would monitor and sonify someones brain activity to see if they were having a seizure. Chris made a composition around it.

Since it was with stanford medical, I’m guessing they were using a medical-grade EEG headset. If I were to guess, the sounds were probably done with ChucK, FAUST, or both, since those are the tools that Chris tends to use.

Another CCRMA student (Victora Grace) wrote a biometrically controlled composition and performance called “Sonic Anxiety”. In the performance, she locks herself in a cage, and monitors her anxiety level. All of her biometric interfaces were arduino based, probably fed into MaxMSP and/or Live. I’m guessing it was mostly heart-rate driven (EKG).

Back when I was at Berklee, I remember people doing experimenting with biometrics and music. Lots of EEG and heartrate stuff. The apple watch had just come out, so they were getting heartrate from that. The Muse was used for EEG. There were also some arduino components used too, but I couldn’t tell you which ones.

See also: the encephalophone!


Does anyone have experience with the Bastl Sense or the Instruo Scion?

There is a couple of modules from ADDAC that would help you achieve this. They have a module that converts your pulse to CV, and I do believe that they have a breath control module too :slight_smile:

There’s also the OpenBCI stuff for various bio sensors. A performance using EEG in feedback with the listening of music being made may be interesting.

Fredrik Olofsson, undisputed SuperCollider tweet champion, has contributed quite a bit to the OpenBCI quark repo as of late.

I worked on one very “artistic” piece with EEG using Emotiv headset:
And one very commercial based around heartbeat:

Both times custom software/hardware was user.

For EEG, to get “real” reading you want to be sitting (ideally laying down) and not moving - any muscle movement is much “louder” then the readings you get from electrodes if you want to monitor your “mental state”. Obviously a lot of handwaving here.

For heartbeat, there are cheap Arduino modules, and I’d advise to start there.

“Galvanic Skin Response” is also cheap/straightforward to measure with Arduino, and it’s usually correlated with stress.

Body is kinda complex, and any measurement you do, are always done through the “lens” of how you measure the thing. For example in the Sensorium installation we had people that learned to control the score, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t get much better at going into meditative states, but just learned what the device was measuring.

Just throwing the OT “reverse the data flow” card in to the mix for inspiration.
The awesome Daito Manabo:


Only tangentially related, as they just use stethoscopes, but Richard Reed Perry’s music for heart and breath uses multiple bodies pulses as musical material.

Although his project is more gestural than “auto” (as far as I understand it), Onyx Ashanti’s ongoing development of an exomesh controller / interface is definitely worth a tangential honorable mention.

I used one of these a while back connected to an arduino and a jitter patch. Its output should be usable with eurorack with some amplification or attenuation.

Damn y’all, this is great, thanks. I have much to dig through!

I use the Bastl Sense module, in addition to the Koma Field kit. It works fine, but these sensor systems are all a bit tricky to get calibrated correctly. Be prepared to spend time experimenting, and finding creative solutions to get good results. Some sensors don’t work, and the ones that do, may not work as expected. When everything aligns, though–it’s amazing.

1 Like

The Olimex ECG shield might be useful in conjunction with an Arduino (and other software which can read serial data).