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> > > The 'wavelength project' investigates the brain's responses to sound and light

21 October 2015

The 'wavelength project' is an ongoing exploration into the effects of artificial and natural sound and light on the brain with wide implications across arts and science. Produced and led by artist Mark Ware in partnership with the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science and Kent Wildlife Trust the ongoing project aims to deliver a number of Arts Council England supported artistic outcomes.

digital image of a fern

Draft edition of Fern image © Mark Ware offering a flavour of the type of work that will be touring next year.

Using scientific methods to investigate the brain’s reactions to natural and artificial sound and light the wavelength project aims to probe the beliefs to find facts that have the potential to inform neuroscience in a broad range of applications.  

The investigations will inform the development and creation of a series of artistic outcomes, including original music compositions, multimedia performances, sound and light installations, creative workshops and field research activities. Ware, a Fulbright Scholar and Honorary Research Fellow at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, studied as a multi-media artist, specialising in sculpture, creative writing, photography and film in the UK and US.

At age 39, he had a stroke which left him unable to work commercially in video production as he did before his brain injury. Instead, he further developed his writing, digital photography and sculptural ideas. Since 2004 he has created large-scale multimedia art events, presented in a variety of unusual locations ranging from Churchill Square Shopping Centre, Brighton, to Exeter Cathedral, collectively experienced live by over 1,000,000 people. “I don’t welcome the stroke, but it has had a profound impact on my art and the way I think about it, for which I am grateful,” he said.

The wavelength project was inspired by Ware’s Kaleido Arts supported Sound Waves workshops in 2011 for children with autism and cerebral palsy. During one of the workshops he staged at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, he discovered that the children responded more positively to natural sounds than artificial sounds, leading him to ask whether or not there are intrinsic qualities in natural sounds that we all respond to in positive ways, and also if the same is true of natural light. Ware said:

 “The wavelength project is allowing me to explore perceptual processing in ways I hope will reach out to a wide audience, connecting art, neuroscience, impairment, and the natural environment. Deep down I believe we are simply exploring things that we all share; what it is to be human.”

The wavelength project began earlier this year as an investigation into the brain’s reactions to natural and artificial sound and light, asking questions like ‘why is the sound of the natural environment more appealing than the sounds of the city; birdsong soothing whilst a computer hum distracting, and daylight good for us but artificial lights bad?’

As many people believe that the natural environment is good for our overall health and wellbeing, Ware and neuroscientist Professor Hugo Critchley and his colleagues at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science are exploring the scientific evidence, responding to a series of artistic interventions. Early indications from analyses of data collected so far are proving to be very interesting. Professor Critchley said:

“Initial studies suggest that natural sounds have a significant positive effect on attention and state of mind, decreasing mind-wandering when compared to artificial sounds or no sounds at all. If confirmed in the next stages of investigation, the findings may have wide-reaching implications, such as by informing how clinical or occupational settings might be optimally designed, and for contributing to the understanding of how and why we create and respond to art.”

In parallel with Professor Critchley’s work, Ware has been investigating to what degree people find natural and artificial sounds pleasant or unpleasant. Initial responses to the investigations appear to suggest that people who live in urban environments respond differently to natural and artificial sounds than those who live in rural settings. 

Project partner Kent Wildlife Trust is advising on issues relating to the natural environment and will be supporting the project’s creative field research activities and artistic outcomes. Stevie Rice, Head of People Engagement at Kent Wildlife Trust says:

“The wavelength project will provide a platform on which we can demonstrate how closely connected science, nature and art are. The project will highlight how integral nature is to well being, our ability to problem solve, our insight, imagination, propensity for adaptation, curiosity and our divergent thinking.”

To help the wavelength project with their investigations into how natural and artificial sounds affect the brain, you can go to the wavelength project  to rate a series of eight sounds. Your responses will be added to the lab evidence being gathered at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, Brighton. 

An exhibition and workshop series will be touring from May 2016 and details will be announced by January 2016. For information about the wavelength project please go to:  www.thewavelengthproject.com 
@scienceartTWP | #wavelengthproject
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