Footwear brand develops a participatory theatrical experience, giving visitors the chance to hear their own brainwaves react to tactile stimuli.
We were invited by Nike to check out an exclusive pop-up experience where they assembled a group of creative thinkers to develop a participatory experience revolving around the Nike Free Hyperfeel shoe. Visitors are given the option of going through the experience with or without their shoes; either way, their feet are transformed into receptors. Each visitor was equipped with an EEG brainwave sensor that is connected to a mobile device worn on the shoulder. As the visitors paced themselves through 3 distinct rooms, their brainwave signals were converted to audio-sound that the visitor would hear through headphones plugged into the mobile device.
We caught up with new media artist Aramique Krauthamer to get a better understanding of the immersive product experience and his collaboration with Jeff Crouse and Gary Gunn.
Tell us about your background and how this project evolved
I come from a story background and have always been interested in creating new kinds of participatory experiences; a mix of theatre, emerging media and installation art. Jeff Crouse, my partner, comes from a programming and conceptual art background. We developed the concept together and Jeff really did all the heavy lifting so to speak.
The project started with the idea of the foot as sensory receptor. Nike had established this concept and we ran with it and proposed literally turning the foot into a receptor by fitting guests with EEG brainwave sensors that would allow us to track their neurological responses to environmental stimuli and take that data and use it to build a new audio-visual world. Lars Berg joined the team to take the back-end structure Jeff built and created a generative visual world in openframeworks and Gary Gunn joined in to take the data and build a generative soundscape. We were quite lucky to have a great team from the beginning.
Tell us about the experience you’ve designed and how it reflects Nike’s recent product innovation
Guests remove their shoes and are fitted with neuro sensors upon entering the labyrinth. Inside, they walk through a range of environments and are able to hear the brain’s reaction to the environmental stimuli in realtime. Gary Gunn created the sounds that are triggered on a custom mobile app Jeff Crouse developed that lets people compose their own soundscape with their neurological responses as they walk through the experience. Each guest’s brainwave data is collected and at the finale is visualized as a collective art piece.
On a 7.5 foot circular structure hanging from the wall each visitor adds a new layer of topography to create an ever-evolving world of the mind. The linear journey through the labyrinth is represented as 360 degrees around the radius of the structure. Each new journey is added to the outer edge of the structure and the oldest journey is in the middle. The connection with Nike’s Free Hyperfeel—turning the foot into a sensory receptor by removing components leaving only the essential parts—was clear from the start and felt natural for us as artists. It’s quite obvious after walking through that the feet experience much more than we realize and by being aware of the ground we become more connected with our environment.
Tell us about the tactile/sensorial experiences embedded within HyperFeel and how they work together
The environment is our stimuli. Guests walk over wet stones, sand and grass and hear how their brains react to different these surfaces. They hear sounds triggered immediately when the wet stones grab their attention. Coming out of the environments they are able to see how their brain reacted at different points. When they see the new layer added to the collective visualization they have this great moment where they connect an area of the labyrinth that was meaningful for them to a spike in the topography they are creating. Our intent wasn’t to make a science experiment. Simply to let people go through sensory environments and create a collective art piece. It’s very personal to walk through on your own and then see the visuals you created come to life right there. Nearly everyone saved their video and images as a souvenir of the piece they made.
What’s been the most interesting response you’ve had to your work.
Very few people have every seen or heard their brainwaves. When people walked through and realized they were actually composing live generative audio with their mind it became very surreal for them. It’s just not something they would expect. Most of the responses were similar. People had this sense of awe and pride that they were creating these visuals and sounds with their brainwaves. It was the first time we used a brainwave sensor and we had the same experience as the guests. It just feels kind of awesome to see and hear something that is so abstract and intangible for the first time. Now that we have this whole backend system that Jeff Crouse created we’ve been thinking about all kinds of ways we can use brainwave data to create new forms of audio and visual experiences. It’s quite interesting to hear all of the crazy ideas people were throwing at us. The most interesting response is that people want to see it come to life in new ways and keep going. Hopefully there are ways for others to be able to experience it in the future.