Neil Harbisson

Posted: April 15, 2012 in Art, Ciber  // 0034 - 657 758 758 //  Facebook

ABOUT Neil Harbisson (27 July 1982) is a British-Catalan cyborg artist, musician and performer best known for his self-extended ability to hear colors. In 2004 he became the first person in the World to be fitted with an eyeborg and to be officially recognized as a cyborg by a government. Color and the use of technology as an extension of the performer’s body and senses are the central themes in Harbisson’s work. Neil Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a condition that only allows him to see in black and white. He grew up in Mataró, Spain, where he studied music, dance and drama at various schools and began to compose piano pieces at the age of eleven. At the age of sixteen he started studying fine art at Institut Alexandre Satorras, where he was given special permission to use only black, white and gray colors in his works. Harbisson early works are all in black and white. Harbisson moved to Ireland in September 2001 to finish his piano studies at Dublin’s “Walton’s New School of Music”. In 2002 he moved to England to study Music Composition at Dartington College of Arts. THE EYEBORG In October 2003 in his second year at Dartington College of Arts, Harbisson attended a lecture on cybernetics, particularly on sensory extensions, given by Adam Montandon. Neil found this of immense interest and at the end of the lecture he went up to Adam to explain his condition. The eyeborg works with a head mounted camera that picks up the colors directly in front of a person, and converts them in real-time into sound waves. Neil memorised the frequencies related to each colour: high frequency hues are high-pitched, while low frequency hues sound bolder. In Vienna, they co-presented their eyeborg project, one of more than 400 entries from 29 different countries, and won the Europrix Award in Content Tools and Interface Design (2004), as well as the Innovation Award (Submerge, Bristol 2004). In 2007, while hitch-hiking around Europe, Harbisson met Peter Kese in Ljubljana, a software developer from Kranj, Slovenia. Kese offered to develop the eyeborg even further so that Harbisson could perceive color saturation and not only color hues. After a few weeks he had developed a new eyeborg model that allowed Harbisson to perceive up to 360 different hues through microtones and saturation through different volume levels. In 2010 Matias Lizana, a student from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya developed the eyeborg into a smaller chip as part of his final year project. CYBORG PASSPORT In 2004, Harbisson was not allowed to renew his UK passport because his passport photo was rejected. The passport office would not allow Harbisson to appear with electronic equipment on his head. Harbisson wrote back to them insisting that the eyeborg should be considered part of his body as he had become a cyborg. Letters from his doctor, friends and his college were sent to the passport office to give him support. After weeks of correspondence Harbisson’s prosthetic device was included as confirmation of his permanent and embedded cyborg status. SONOCHROMATOPSIA / SONOCHROMATISM Harbisson uses the term sonochromatism or sonochromatopsia [sono-(Latin: sound) + chromat- (Greek: color)+ -opsia (Greek: visual condition)] to define his new condition. He explains that achromatopsia can no longer define his condition because achromatopsics can not perceive nor distinguish colors. He also explains that synesthesia does not define his condition accurately because the relation between color and sound varies depending on each person, whereas sonochromatopsia is an extra sense that relates color to sound objectively and equally to everyone. ART Before the eyeborg entered his life his works were all in black and white, the medium often charcoal. The eyeborg opened up a new palette of brightly coloured paints. Harbisson’s first showcase of color paintings was at the Port Eliot Festival in 2004. Followed by other showcases at the Bankside Gallery, Submerge Festival (Bristol), Ignition Showcase (Penzance), Museumsquartier (Vienna) and at the Royal College of Art Gallery (London). In 2007 Harbisson started hitch-hiking around Europe to find the main colors of capital cities, visiting more than 50 countries as well as travelling around Britain. He scanned each capital until he was able represent each city with two main hues. In Monaco, it was azure and salmon pink; in Bratislava it was yellow and turquoise; and in Andorra it was dark green and fuchsia. Under the title Capital Colors of Europe Harbisson has exhibited the colours of each capital in several European galleriesincluding Spain, Andorra, UK, and Croatia. The eyeborg not only allows him to perceive and paint in color but it also means that everyday sounds, such as ring tones or music, become associated with colours. Color Scores are a series of paintings where Harbisson transforms into color the first 100 notes of well-known musical pieces. Sound Portraits are portraits of people that Harbisson creates by listening to the colors of faces. Each face creates a different micro tone chord depending on its colours. In order to create a sound portrait he needs to stand in front of the person and point his eyeborg at the different parts of the face, he then writes down the different notes on a special 360 lined manuscript paper. He explains that photographs can not be used to create these portraits as colors are not the same on pictures than live. Since 2005 he has created sound portaits of Prince Charles, Antoni Tàpies, Leonardo di Caprio and Woody Allen among others. MUSIC The piano has been Neil’s instrument since he was a small child. He gravitated towards it quite naturally, since he hated even the existence of color. It was a black and white instrument, perfect for me. It was inevitable that his first performed composition as a cyborg was a marriage of paint and music. In Piano Concerto No. 1, first performed at Dartington College of Arts in 2004, Neil literally painted a Steinway & Sons piano, using the color frequencies to produce notes. With his next composition, the Pianoborg Concerto, Neil wanted to demonstrate to an audience exactly how he used the eyeborg. The piano was ‘prepared’, by attaching a computer to the underside, the sensor of the eyeborg being positioned above the keys. When a color was shown to the sensor, the computer picked up the frequency and relayed this to the piano, which then played the corresponding note. Neil said The piano was playing the pianist, which is what I wanted to achieve’. Harbisson’s first color to voice performances were in collaboration with Icelandic singer and Amiina violinist María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir (wife of Sigur Rós keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson), in their performances María used a computer and a microphone to sing the microtonal color frequencies that Harbisson used while creating live paintings on stage. Their first performances were in 2004 at Ariel Centre (Totnes, UK) and at Plymouth Guildhall (UK) in 2005. Since 2008 Harbisson has been collaborating and performing with Catalan artist and musician Pau Riba with whom he shares the same interest in cyborgs. They first performed in 2008 at Sala Luz de Gas (Barcelona), followed by other performances in Barcelona, Girona and Mataró. One of their recent projects is Avigram (Avi- Latin: bird, -gram Greek: something written, drawn or recorded) a structure of 12 strings, one string for each semitone in an octave, installed on a roof of a farm. The installation is being recorded 24 hours a day and a melody is being created depending on which strings birds decide to rest on.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s