JEN KUTLER – Sonified Physiological Indicators of Empathy

Cacophonous Revival Recordings

We first reported on Jen Kutler last January. Here is another brilliant exemplification of her studies, based on the transduction of human feedback to stimuli of various kinds. In this self-explanatorily titled album Kutler analyzed the response to audio segments intermittently transmitting acts of violence. The tested subjects had physiological sensors for electrodermal activity, breath and heart rate attached to them. The data were converted into MIDI files triggering processed piano sounds, temporally modified field recordings and vocals of variable extraction. 

The resulting compositions transport the listener into an uneasy dimension, a meeting place for diverse nuances of altered vibration in a consciousness totally imbued with reality, but not yet ready for its complete acceptance. The connection typically occurs through sonorities comprising familiar elements, often masked by a veil of peculiarly resonating mystery. The conversion of a reaction to a violent signal can turn out to be surprisingly cinematic, as it happens in “Long Term Memory Loss”, in which stasis and movement unintentionally mix in fascinating chiaroscuros. “Fairness” is built upon ageless and sexless voices wavering rather enigmatically amidst a biotically digital substrate. 

In “Short Term Memory Loss” – a piece that could increase Brian Eno’s envy – every detail seems to have been planned in advance. Instead, what is heard is a jargon of transitory turmoil, represented by timbres that would never reveal the intimate discomfort of the participants. The combination of droning materials and harmonic implications throughout these six tracks makes them attractive also from a purely aesthetic point of view. Still, even if this music may appear assimilable with a degree of ease, it hardly smiles. Kutler’s transparent eyes hint at intelligence and depth; her investigations of uncomfortable aspects of perception definitely substantiate our impression, now twice in a row.

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