Neil Harbisson: Cyborg Artist at the Creative Frontier

Neil Harbisson: Cyborg Artist at the Creative Frontier

We visited contemporary artist and cyborg activist, Neil Harbisson, at his studio at Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

“Do what feels right from your own perspective.” Coming from cyborg artist Neil Harbisson, this phrase abandons cliché and adapts an intriguing new meaning. Harbisson has arguably one of the most unique perspectives in the world; due to his achromatopsia, or total color blindness, he dons an “electronic eye,” which allows him to perceive color through sound technology.

Neil Harbisson’s works he created as a resident artist at Pioneer Works, translating the sound of LP’s into color.

The idea that one could perceive color without seeing it came to Harbisson at the age of eleven, when he started taking piano lessons. The music emanating from the black and white instrument inspired him to find answers in the gray areas and he soon “realized all these theories relating color and sound were all different, there wasn’t THE scale.” And so, his pursuit began to find out what the real sound of color would be; if we could hear the actual frequencies of light.

Harbisson’s unique sense also makes his artistic process very mathematical. When he translates sound into a colorful piece of work, he listens to the LP, senses the dominant colors of the track and paints them. “There’s almost no expression from my side or imagination or fantasy in-between. I’m creating artworks out of my new sense. Trying to make it as pure and simple as possible so there are no arbitrary things in between.” In other words, he’s painting what he sees, and nothing else.

Neil Harbisson’s studio at Pioneer Works

While Harbisson maintains he isn’t using his imagination, there is no denying his creative vision. His childhood passion for classical music, exploring the complex layers in a composition, later developed into a curiosity for minimalism and microtones – the notes between notes. “A piano scale has 188 notes, and in an octave it’s twelve notes, but in-between those keys there are sounds that are usually not used in western music.” More microtones means more colors for Harbisson, and his antenna actually registers 360 notes in an octave. It’s no wonder he calls his creative process mathematical.

Harbisson has several hopes for the future of his work. The first is to further explore the relationship between sound and color, with the next step being to hear “the many colors that only exist in space.” Meanwhile, back on earth, he wants his Cyborg Foundation to help people become cyborgs and continue to support the cyborg art movement.

Neil Harbisson and his partner Moon Ribas, who’s a cyborg choreographer, and can sense earthquakes and incorporates it in her performances.

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