Bluetooth Headphone Soundscapes

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.16.04 PMThe little boy pictured above ran, stood and sat around in a huge gallery watching painters paint, dancers dance, musicians play, writers speak…while the sound of a live heartbeat (my own) colored his perceptions. Anyone who attended the Illusion Show this May at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts had the opportunity to explore the gallery while sporting a white blue-tooth headset, one synched with a stethoscope I was holding to my heart. Because my whole body became a ‘receiver’ of sound-waves, and the space was filled with the activity of 60 artists performing over five hours, the strong sound of my heartbeat mixed softly with the ambient sounds of the room to create a unique auditory experience, a true heartbeat soundscape.

For most people, the act of listening to a heartbeat is an extremely calming experience. But the effects don’t end there. As people wandered the gallery space that night, they often passed the headphones off to others and encouraged them to listen and wander. There were astonishing moments when those people happened to pass by me, see the stethoscope held at my chest and realize only then that it was live, not a recording. The soothing effects of listening to a random beat changed to a realization of witnessing something ‘essential’ and specific, and then shifted again as people understood that they were both baring witness and being witnessed/’seen’ at once. One person told me that she had been feeling anonymous while walking through the gallery—so full of activity and strangers—but when she put the headphones on she felt, almost immediately, connected to everyone else in the room. A young man expressed it this way: “this blew my mind.”

These moments of intimacy often included holding a strangers gaze, and theirs mine, with openness and curiosity, for much longer than I’m used to. There were also moments where I saw people ‘come into focus,’ meaning that as they listened over time, as they began to perceive themselves internally, and then translate that to what they were participating in with the room at large, they themselves visibly changed: their expressions changed, their posture changed, their tempo of walking/standing changed.

I keep doing these (!), but the truth is that in-between I often forget the felt impact they have. It fades away and I as much as I love contemplating/intellectualizing about the next one, it’s really in the doing of it that I remember and continue to discover why it’s worth doing. The possibilities with this headphone set-up are really exciting. Being portable and potentially battery-fueled, it makes bringing this experience to so many different kinds of spaces possible.  Find out more about our Heartbeat Soundscapes here.

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