Abstract- Ross Bochnek

When Clinical Neuropsychology Met Time-Based Art

In 1974, the Neuropsychology Laboratory at the Sepulveda VA Hospital in Los Angeles, California became a proving ground for the subconscious synchronization of two people's brainwaves. The possibility of this phenomenon was posed by an artist, Nina Sobell, visually mapped by an engineer, Michael Trivich, and confirmed by Dr. Barry Sturman. Having mostly studied sleeping individuals, the scientists at the lab had not previously considered the suggested interpersonal possibility.
Two people were each connected to eight channels of an Electroencephalograph (EEG). Output was fed to ink charts, a Hewlett-Packard PDP-11 computer, and an oscilloscope. At Trivich's suggestion, each person's averaged brainwaves were graphed by an axis of the oscilloscope. If the resulting Lissajous pattern resembled a circle, it meant the two subjects' brainwaves were similar. A video effects generator dissolved an image of the oscilloscope over an image of the two subjects. During recording, their eyes were closed so the data would not overly indicate beta wave artifacts associated with attentiveness. The mixed video was recorded onto reel-to-reel videotape, and could be played back via wired remote control and a video monitor. The video visualized the data and correlated it to video of the participants in a way that was understandable to them. The ink traces and computer data corroborated Sobell's hypothesis that their measurable brainwaves fluctuated similarly, even without verbal or live visual biofeedback, since their eyes were closed during recording.
The six months of experiments pioneered uses of technology in the arts, and lead to many collaborations and exhibitions including Nina Sobell until the present day. She saw humans as electric media, and found a way to express that through video. The clinical work was one of the first computer-aided arts, and she went on install what became known as “Brainwave Drawings” in the first ever consumer computer store. Her provision of, and education about remote video playback controllers in the mid 1970's offered an interactive, temporally shifted experience that preceded consumer video equipment, and was novel to most users. Beginning early in her career, she performatively demystified technology; exemplified by docents who prepared their public with sensors, explained equipment functionality, signal paths, and interfaces.