The human mind, perception, psychedelia. What else would you expect to inspire an EEG motorcycle helmet that creates a feedback loop between your brain activity and the music you're listening to? A music making meditation wearable if you will.
The Experience helmet is an art installation by designer Aiste Noreikaite which tries to aid the wearer in reflecting on their thoughts and mood. The helmet has been fitted with headphones and a NeuroSky EEG headset that Noreikaite uses to turn brain activity - for instance, attentive vs meditating - into 10Hz binaural sound waves. It's all electronic music, there's no big jumps between genres, but the user can distinguish different moods.
The Lithuanian designer is based in London, after graduating from the University of the Arts in 2014 and previous projects include composing music and sound recording on short films shown by the BFI and BAFTA. Noreikaite suffered from depression around the same time that she was working on the project and told Wareable that in a way she was "creating the device for myself and others to heal".
"Meditation is such a good way to 'repair' yourself and gain a different perspective on things. The Experience helmet uses signals as control messages to shape pure sine waves and reflect the person's mental state with sound," she said. "It can be used as a tool to get to know the executive control system of the mind or as a 'soundtrack' to different experiences that are gained while wearing the helmet."
The overall aim of the Experience helmet is to encourage meditation by enhancing self-awareness - much like EEG headsets such as Muse, the brain sensing headband, attempt to do with sounds of oceans and birds reflecting your mental state. It also acts as a shortcut - meditation, as anyone who has tried it will know, is extremely difficult.
"You can discover yourself which thoughts or activities put you in a state of meditation. The brain recognises that the sound is made by them and it balances them. The sounds are played back as binaural beats that put you in a state of alpha (relaxed focus, creativity). So if you're not in a mood to train yourself with the previously mentioned 'right' thoughts and activities, you don't have to do anything, the sounds and your brain will do the job for you."
The working prototype has been displayed at various art exhibitions and events and all the tech is hidden inside the helmet's exterior so wearers "don't know what to expect". Reactions have unsurprisingly included describing the helmet as a "cosmic" and "hynoptic" experience.
Noreikaite stresses that to really see effects, repeated sessions of at least 15 minutes are needed. "One girl was claiming that it helped her to get rid of her recurring headaches. She was a gallery invigilator so she was around the helmet all day and could wear it as much as she liked. And this is the secret."
Now add visuals
For all the modern maladies that the Experience helmet could potentially help with - mental illness, stress, headaches - the roots of the device's raison d'etre lie in Buddhism. "Buddhism seeks to address any disparity between a person's view of reality and the actual state of things' - this is a very good description of one of the concepts underlying the helmet," she explained.
"However, I was putting the helmet together very gradually, listening to my own intuition. I thought of it as a helpful device for meditating. Seeing reality as-it-is is an essential prerequisite to mental health and well-being according to Buddha's teaching."
That reality includes recognising and analysing what is happening within our own minds, no simple task. The designer says that although the Experience helmet is "finished" she is still exploring potential development of the wearable. She has also had an offer to build a "similar device though much more complex and with a more intense experience". This will have a visual element according to the designer - perhaps more like a therapeutic VR headset - and is in the early stages. We can't wait to see what Noreikaite does with the technology next.