The Body Electric
Carlo Matteucci recognized, during experiments on pigeon hearts in1843, that the hearts activity is based on electrical processes.
1882, the physiologist Augustus Waller derived the first ECG, on his dog Jimmy, by dipping its four paws into conductive silver chloride solution. He recorded the hearts currents for the first time in 1887, with the help of a capillary electrometer.
The technology was substantially improved in 1903 by Willem Einthoven, who developed the ECG into a useful diagnostic procedure in hospitals.
In 1906, Cremer  reported the first successful fetal electrocardiogram (EKG)
Dr (later Sir) Thomas Lewis  corresponded with the Dutch physiologist Willem Einthoven from 1906, concerning Einthoven's invention of electrocardiography, and Lewis pioneered its use in clinical settings. Accordingly, Lewis is considered the "father of clinical cardiac electrophysiology"
1913, Lewis recorded
fetal heart sounds together with the mother’s
Listening to the Body Electric
For twenty-five centuries, Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for the beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible. - Jacques Attali
Necessity is not always the mother of invention, sometimes inventions themselves can mother new inventions. To this end, art and technology have always been strange bedfellows.
Although the invention of the stethoscope (invented in 1816 by René Laennec ) revealed the acoustic complexity of a hitherto silent world, it wasn’t until the invention of the microphone, the loudspeaker and later the wireless valve that the amplification of sounds became possible and this new world became generally accessible.
October 9, 1876, Alexander
Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson
talked by telephone to each
other over a
two-mile wire stretched between
1876 Bell Centennial Telephone
Already in 1878, Ludimar Hermann  published a paper about connecting muscle cells with the newly invented telephone. Not only were the current variations now observable but the pitch of the generated sound indicated the frequency of the current. This was the first sonification of human bioelectric signals for auditory display.
Amplification of sounds was made possible by the wireless valve. Major G. 0. Squier of the United States Army constructed a heart transmitter in 1921 which made the heart sounds audible in a large room and, in addition, he transmitted them by wireless. Abbott of Purdue University devised a telephone transmitter in 1923, tuned so that the adult heart sounds could be heard on a loud-speaker in a large room.
Human brainwaves (EEG) were first measured in 1924 by Hans Berger . His results were verified by Adrian and Matthews  in 1934 who also attempted to listen to the brainwave signals via an amplified speaker.
The Electrical Amplification of Fetal Heart Sounds 
was not long after
the wireless valve was used to amplify the adult heart sounds that
was devised to magnify the sound of the fetal heart. Falls and Rockwood
Hyman developed a machine in 1930, called a fetal phonocardiograph, that gave tracings as photographic records of the fetal heart sounds after they had been converted into electro-magnetic waves by radio-amplification. Hyman found some gross irregularities of the fetal heart rhythm (fetal heart rate variability).
Bishop of the Department of
Radiology of the
De Costa described a photostethoscope in 1938 which gave good amplication of fetal heart sounds and which carried a neon lamp so that the sounds were translated into flickers of light.
In 1960, Dr. Lee Salk  published the results of research, indicating that the sound of a mother's heartbeat has a calming effect on a newborn infant.
In a later study of 287 mothers, he found that both right-handed and left-handed women have a strong tendency to cradle their infants near their hearts. Salk theorized that mothers who hold their children near their hearts provide an auditory link that quiets the infants and enhances their growth.
Dr. Salk tested his theory by broadcasting recordings of a normal heartbeat in a nursery. Babies responded by becoming more tranquil than those in a quiet environment. Prolonged exposure during the first four days of life resulted in increased weight gain, his studies showed. By contrast, babies exposed to the sound of a racing heartbeat appeared agitated.
"From the most primitive tribal drumbeats to the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven," he wrote in a report to the World Federation of Mental Health, "there is a startling similarity to the rhythm of the human heart."
of a healthy heart:
The Sonification of Bioelectric Signals
use of electrical signals emanating from nerve and muscle
(bioelectric signals) to create music came into being in the late
The first instance of the intentional use of bioelectric signals to generate music did not occur until 1965, when Alvin Lucier , who had begun working with physicist Edmond Dewan, composed a piece of music using brainwaves as the sole generative source. In that piece, EEG electrodes attached to the performer's scalp detect bursts of alpha waves generated when the performer achieves a meditative, non-visual brain state. These alpha waves are amplified and the resulting electrical signal is used to vibrate percussion instruments distributed around the performance space.
Alvin Lucier: Music For Solo Performer (1965):
For one of these performances, Grass Field, Alex Hay  wanted to pick up body sounds: brain waves, muscle activity and eye movements. Pete Kaminsky, Fred Waldhauer and Cecil Coker built a battery-driven differential amplifier which had a peak gain of 80 db at low frequencies from 112 Hz to 10 Hz. The whole unit, batteries and all fit into a 1" x 3" x 5" box, no mean feat to do this in 1966. The signal from the differential amplifier was fed into a voltage-controlled oscillator, then to a transmitter, which sent the sound to the speakers. Electrodes were placed on Hay's head (EEG) and chest (ECG) and all the equipment was attached to a plastic plate fastened on Hay's back. These body sounds were heard through the speakers as Hay carefully laid out 64 numbered pieces of cloth. Here Hay is sitting in front of a television camera and the image of his face is projected on the screen behind him as Robert Rauschenberg picks up numbered cloths.
Teitelbaum , inspired by
Luciers work, used various
biological signals, including
brain (EEG) and cardiac
(ECG) signals, as control sources for electronic synthesisers.
(1967), Teitelbaum used the neuro- and physiological
signals of his own body as live (real-time) musical materials, using
heartbeat, chest cavity and throat contact microphones as transducers,
as well as electrodes for EEG and ECG. The signals picked up
by the former were generally transmitted as audio, the latter served
mainly as control voltages for the Moog synthesizer. Thus, in addition
to the kinds of concious "musical" gestures input by the others in the
In Spacecraft (1967), Teitelbaum used the neuro- and physiological signals of his own body as live (real-time) musical materials, using heartbeat, chest cavity and throat contact microphones as transducers, as well as electrodes for EEG and ECG. The signals picked up by the former were generally transmitted as audio, the latter served mainly as control voltages for the Moog synthesizer. Thus, in addition to the kinds of concious "musical" gestures input by the others in the quintet, Teitelbaum's channel also carried a loop (or loops) of psychophysical signals from his own autonomic nervous system, modifications of which could be made manually (or automatically) through the Moog, which in turn could also be modified "autonomically".
Richard Teitelbaum: Spacecraft (1967):
late 1960's, another composer, David
, began to use EEG signals to generate music. Initially,
this took place in 1968-1969 in the laboratory of Les Fehmi,
an early biofeedback researcher at the State University of New York at
Rosenboom developed an environmental demonstration-participation-performance event entitled Ecology of the Skin in 1970-1971. It involved biofeedback monitoring of brainwaves and heart signals from performers and audience members and their translation into a musical texture, along with synchronous electronic stimulation of visual phosphenes (colored patterns often seen with eyes closed) at cerebral light-show viewing stations for the audience. The electronic setup for this work included the capability of adjusting the degree of brainwave control over sound for each of 10 participants according to a simple statistical measure, the amount of time spent per minute producing alpha waves.
David Rosenboom: Brainwave Music 01:
to Rosenboom, use
made of a
miniaturized, highly portable, electrocardiogram (ECG) feedback device
early experimenter was Manfred
Eaton , who carried out
experiments in music and
of 1971, French composer Pierre
“Attached to the musician’s head, a system of electrodes, comparable to those used in the electroencephalogram, allows the detection of three kinds of electrical signals which convey the characteristic activity of certain zones of the cerebral cortex: alpha waves (states of relaxation, inattention, repose), beta waves (states of alertness, attention, activity, reaction), and “artifacts” caused by the movement of the eyeball.”
the album “Mise
musique du Corticalart de Roger Lafosse“ (1971):
Nam June Paik’s  video, A Tribute to John Cage (1973), is Paik's homage to avant-garde composer John Cage, a major figure in contemporary art and music.
A screen shot from Nam June Paik’s Video: Tribute to John Cage, 1976.
experimenting with a biofeedback device (1976)
In 1981, the composer/artist/architect Christopher Janney  began researching heartbeat monitor systems and modified a wireless telemetry system, equipping it with a custom audio filter which isolated the sound of the heart’s electrical impulses to the brain and its surrounding muscles.
Janney collaborated with choreographer/dancer Sara Rudner and developed
a performance utilizing the
customized heart monitor, with the focus on exploring the heart as both
machine for pumping blood and the “seat of the
soul.” The result was first
performed in 1983 at The Institute of Contemporary Art in
The dance is a solo piece, with choreographic structure within which improvisation is taken. The dancer wears a wireless device that amplifies and sonifies the natural electrical impulses that stimulate the heart to beat. This forms the basis of the musical score, which is then overlaid with sounds of medical text, jazz scat, and the adagio movement of Samuel Barber’s String Quartet.
late1980's two scientists, Benjamin
Knapp and Hugh Lusted  began
working on a human-computer
called the BioMuse: a complete portable digital signal-processing
designed to provide a real-time interface between the electrical
signals of the
human body and any computer or
Heartsongs project , which originated from basic research work by Ary Goldberger
 to probe the
fractal features common to both music and the complex rhythms of the
heart, used actual rhythms of the heart as a template for musical
In biological systems, disease and aging are associated with
these fractal structures and processes. Mapping
heart rate time series of healthy and
diseased heart into musical notes can provide a way to begin
differences in the dynamics of health and disease that can be
sophisticated mathematical calculations.
1995 in a hands on exhibit at
the Boston Museum of Science, Music
Heart , which
allowed museum-goers to hold onto bars to record their own electrocardiogram
of approximately 25
beats and, in real time, listen to the 'music' the raw data produced.
of the Heart
exhibit: Raw ECG:
Music of the Heart exhibit: Raw ECG:
A CD, ”Heartsongs: Musical Mappings of the Heartbeat” , in which chords and rhythm were added by the composer on top of the melody created from previously recorded and averaged data (“The third step in creating these heartsongs was to convert the time intervals between heartbeats into integers. We used a simple computer program to generate roughly 330 integers per data set. We started with 10,000 recorded heartbeats and then calculated the average of every 300 beats. We averaged the beats to remove very short-term fluctuations caused by movement or breathing.”), was also released in 1995.
applied the compositional rhythm principles of African music to the
cardiac time series. He constructed binary symbolic patterns from the
differential 24-h R-R tachogram of healthy subjects on the basis of
dynamics. Together with the African music pattern concept, this allowed
musical interpretation of heart period dynamics.
real-time example of a
musician’s interpretation of these heart rhythms:
In 2000, Marc Ballora published his doctoral thesis on auditory display and HRV and a Poster at the ICAD 2000: „Sonification of Heart Rate Variability Data” .
In Ballora’s method, heart rate variability (HRV) data sets are saved, using James McCartney’s, in 1996 introduced SuperCollider software, as separate files and stored as array variables. The arrays are iterated simultaneously, with each successive value employed as the source of a musical event. Each interbeat interval is then mapped to a pitch then sounded by an oscillator that produces short sine wave sounds ("grains"). a default playback rate of 60 events/second was used. Via an interface, listeners may adjust relative volume levels among signal processing operations, playback rate (data points per second) and the region of the file to be played. Thus, users may "zoom" in or out to focus on any dimension(s) of the data.
real-time audio example:
installation space in which sound and visuals are controlled by the
of visitors, at the Ars Electronica Festival, Linz (A).
each fitted with two disposable stick-on electrodes, which register the
electrical signal of their heartbeat and send this, via a wireless
unit, to a receiver station. The signals were used to trigger various
musical and optical processes directed by computer programs.
the premiere of Berger’s
Chamber Orchestra in
Real-time HRV Sonification
2002, Kiyoko Yokoyama
an algorithm to convert heart rate data into real-time pitch and note
HRV audio-biofeedback :
Falkner and Dr.
Bernd Orzessek started to work
with real-time HRV
biofeedback as a
diagnostic and therapeutic tool. They developed a hard- and software
converted the non-averaged, beat-to-beat time and
variability (HRV) into music in real-time. In 2006, they published „Sonification
of Autonomic Rhythms in the Frequency Spectrum
of Heart Rate
& Orzessek: Sonification
of the spectral analysis of an
Falkner & Orzessek: Sonification of the spectral analysis of anectopic heartbeat:
In 2005, Michael Falkner introduced HeartMusic Therapy to patients at the Paracelsus Clinic, CH.
In HeartMusic Therapy, ECG data are recorded and the heart rate variability (HRV) is calculated. Simply put, HRV is the natural rise and fall of your heart rate in response to your breathing, blood pressure, hormones, stress and even emotions. The greater the rhythmic changes in pulse rate, the healthier the heart and nervous system. HRV is thus reflective and predictive of general health and overall psycho-physiological (mind-body) wellness. Anything that improves your autonomic nervous system’s balance and power and thus HRV will also improve immune response and thus your overall health.
patient-specific breathing technique, under the guidance of a
therapist, it is possible
to bring the autonomic nervous system into a condition, such that it
With the HeartMusic software program, these recorded data are then converted, in real-time, into music.
In real time, the heart’s melody reacts to all therapeutic steps. This patient-specific, breath-dependent oscillation of heart rate represents the wave which, when broken down into its individual time and frequency components and further analysed, forms the basis of the heart’s music to be heard.
If, under guidance of the therapist, a sufficient progress is recognized, the music of the heart is recorded for the patient during the exercises and handed out as an audio CD or mp3 file. This own HeartMusic is heard daily by the patient and the therapeutic process is thus resumed up to the following HeartMusic Therapy session. The clearly defined psycho-physiological, therapeutic effects of listening to music are well-known. This effect is greatly enhanced due to the unique source of the music.
In 2008, Michael Falkner produced the first non-real-time and in 2011 the first real-time sonifications of non-invasive, non-averaged, beat-to-beat fetal heart rate variability using an extended HeartMusic technology .
Michael Falkner: Maternal and fetal heart rate entrainment :
Task Force of the
Society of Cardiology and NASPE. Heart
rate variability, standards of measurement, physiological
clinical use. Circulation 1996;93:1043-1065.
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as part of 9 Evenings: Theatre
and Engineering, The 69th
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Tune: Some Early
Biofeedback Music", from Biofeedback
and the Arts, Results of
Experiments, D. Rosenboom, Ed.,
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“Homuncular Homophony” in: Rosenbloom, D (1976),
”Biofeedback and the Arts“ ,
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album “Mise en musique du Corticalart de
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B. and Lusted H., “A Bioelectric Controller for Computer
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Heart Rate Variability. Faculty of Music,
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Yokoyama K, Ushida J, Sagiura Y, Mizono M, Mizuno Y and Takata K,
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ICAD06 – 274
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Rate Variability, Proceedings
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Conference on Auditory Display, London, UK, June 20-23, 2006 (http://www.dcs.qmul.ac.uk/research/imc/icad2006/proceedings/posters/f7.pdf)
 Realtime Sonification of Fetal and Maternal Heart Rate: http://herzmusik.ch/heartmusicexamples2.html Clayton, M., Sager, R. and Will, U., In time with the music: The concept of entrainment and its significance for ethnomusicology. Available online at:
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