Posts Tagged ‘emotion’

Photo: African American Design Nexus.
The innovative architect and designer Felecia Davis can make buildings out of wool and fungus.

More on human ingenuity today. At the Washington Post, Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson writes about a woman who is pioneering all-fiber construction materials and “clothes that monitor your health.” And that’s just the beginning.

“Imagine you’re standing in an outdoor pavilion,” Dickinson suggests, “one that’s similar in design to a covered picnic area at a local park or an amphitheater, only instead of support columns made from concrete, wood or stone, this structure is propped up by what appear to be posts of crocheted wool. Above you, a vast expanse of undulating roof is made of the same knitted material. Fungus coats this wool frame, forming the walls and the ceiling, not unlike the way plaster might cover the wood framing of a wall.

“This is the premise of an experimental material known as MycoKnit. ‘We’re trying to make an all-fiber building,’ says designer Felecia Davis, an associate professor of architecture and a lead researcher in the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing at Pennsylvania State University. She is part of an interdisciplinary team testing how knitted materials, such as wool yarn, might function as the framing for a building while a mixture of straw and mycelium fungus embeds itself onto this knitted fabric to create the rest. Mycelium is composed of individual fibers known as hyphae, which, in nature, create vast and intricate networks through soil, producing things like mushrooms. The amazing thing, Davis tells me, is that something as basic as fiber can become both the structure (the wool yarn) and the infill (the fungus).

“Davis and her partners are harnessing mycelium’s fast-growing power by regulating environmental conditions in the lab to encourage the fungus’s expansion on their knitted edifice. With the assistance of a computer algorithm made by one of Davis’s PhD students, the team can virtually assemble and examine the structure stitch-by-stitch in order to predict its shape, before building it and letting the fungus propagate overtop. …

“Davis is now working with her students to create a 12-by-12-by-12-foot MycoKnit prototype that can be fabricated and grown in one place, and then taken on-site to build, like an Ikea kit. She imagines a future where biofabricated materials replace less-sustainable building supplies, many of which wind up in landfills.

“Davis is a triple threat designer: trained as both an architect and an engineer, and with a penchant for technology. In her Penn State lab and through her firm, Felecia Davis Studio, she mixes time-honored craft techniques and humble materials with the high-tech — so that clothing might, for instance, alert the wearer to excess carbon monoxide in the air or signal when an infant stops breathing in their crib. Davis works with textiles, she says, because ‘you can address it at the nano- and micro-scale with tiny particles that you can spin to make a thread or yarn, or you can look at it from the massive scale. A building. A city.’ …

“Davis has always loved experimenting with objects and material. The oldest of three siblings, her earliest collaborator was her sister Audrey (now a neonatologist). As kids in the ’60s and ’70s, they explored the foothills of Altadena, Calif., near their home, gathering fresh bay laurel leaves and other natural materials for projects. With their friends, they fashioned dolls out of flour-based papier-mâché, carving apples for the heads. …

“Davis’s mother volunteered at the Pasadena Art Museum and introduced her children to abstract art and modernism; she was also a docent at the Gamble House in Pasadena, one of the country’s most well-preserved examples of Arts and Crafts design. Davis credits that house, in part, for her early desire to pursue architecture. ‘We would do our homework in the attic while she gave her tours,’ Davis says. ‘That house was mind-blowing.’

“On a recent October day, the SoftLab at Penn State is ‘messy,’ Davis says. … Fabric samples have been stretched and pinned to a corkboard, sharing space next to thin electrical conduits and sketches of networking design. There are clear boxes filled with copper-coated yarn and fabrics twisted with stainless steel that are capable of conducting electricity. Davis is refreshingly agnostic about her sourcing, using a combination of existing craft techniques and materials — from wool to human hair — in combination with the latest in software and hardware, such as the LilyPad Arduino, a microcontroller designed to work with e-textiles.

“A pair of black leggings stretch across the bottom half of a dress form. From a distance, they resemble something a rock star might wear, bedazzled and tricked out with lines of metallic thread, but on closer inspection these accents are electrical threads and processors. The leggings are the result of a partnership with Penn State engineer Conrad Tucker, who wanted to create a way of alerting people with Parkinson’s disease to subtle changes in their walking gait, which can foreshadow the onset of more debilitating symptoms. …

“The leggings were originally an information-gathering experiment, but ‘we’ve circled back on this project now that we have a yarn that is washable,’ she says. ‘We think we can make a simpler version of our leggings.’ Davis sees the potential for other ‘smart’ clothing like

a hospital shirt that frees patients from the tether of wires affixed to machines, allowing them to move freely or, ideally, go home sooner because their clothes, connected to the internet, would be able to communicate critical data to doctors.

“While Davis was earning her master’s in architecture at Princeton University, she ‘noticed how little people talk about the emotional experience of people in [a] space. … You’re in basic response with your environment all the time … You’re meshing with it, which is why it’s so important to think about human emotion in design.’ In this view, the aesthetics of what we design is more than an accessory, but a fundamental need in support of human emotional health. …

“As humans we tend to imbue the materials in our lives with emotional resonance — a child’s security blanket or a favorite sweater — and Davis has wondered whether we could also imbue the materials themselves with emotional feedback capacities. In 2012, she partnered with two other designers to create and install a project called the Textile Mirror at Microsoft Research Lab in Redmond, Calif. In the back of a fabric panel, Nitinol wires, made of a shape-changing nickel-titanium alloy, were activated after a person entered information about their state of mind into a mobile phone. The panel would adjust, shrinking and crumpling to reflect pain or sadness, for instance, and then release. As the textile ‘relaxed,’ it helped those in an agitated state to relax as well. Textiles capable of reflecting emotion have the potential to alert architects, building owners and inhabitants to the effect that specific design and material choices have. We can begin to create emotionally reactive dwellings and objects, as Davis calls them. …

“As someone who believes in the scientific method of showing data and results, Davis recognizes that working with emotions is tricky. It’s nearly impossible to scientifically pin down, precisely, what people are feeling at any given time. ‘This is kind of at the edge of what computation can actually tell you,’ she says. ‘We can’t read people’s minds, and yet we function as a species because we can intuitively read emotions.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette
When Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, sets his feet wide, furrows his brow and flings his arms out, it essentially means “play louder.” But there are nuances.

Have you ever wondered what messages the gestures of conductors are meant to convey — or whether the orchestra players understand them? What about last-minute substitute conductors? Do they change their style to be readable by musicians who have never worked with them  — and how difficult would that be for conductors trying to concentrate on a piece they hadn’t expected to play that night?

Jeremy Reynolds writes at the Post-Gazette, “When talking to a body language expert, the mere dilating of pupils can reveal the difference between truth and a bald-faced lie. Facial expression, hand gestures and eye contact all carry similar significance.

“Just as actors and dancers are experts in communicating with their anatomy, orchestra conductors also extensively train in nonverbal communication, as their primary role is to beat time and use their bodies to direct emotional intensity and nuance during a performance.

“At the root level, some cues have obvious meanings. When Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, sets his feet wide, furrows his brow and flings his arms out, this essentially boils down to ‘play louder.’ But to a trumpet player, his meaning might be as nuanced as ‘play this as though you’re standing alone on a precipice yowling into an infinite void.’ His smoother, smaller movements generally imply softer melodies and phrases but might suggest to a violinist playing with a sound no louder than the pattering of a mouse’s footsteps.

“ ‘I have to be the music for every moment, every gesture, every bit of eye contact,’ Mr. Honeck said in a telephone interview from Paris. ‘If I conduct a piece, I fill it in with character, the meaning of the music.

 ‘It takes me weeks to find the right gesture for the right music.’

“In Pittsburgh, Lauren Tan, 28, is a certified body language expert. [She’s] reviewed surveillance footage for court cases and works with businesspeople looking for that nonverbal deal-closing edge. … For this article, she reviewed footage of several conductors including Mr. Honeck, the famous Leonard Bernstein, Venezuela’s Gustavo Dudamel and others to assess their movements and nonverbal cues.

“ ‘The first thing you notice is somebody’s hands,’ Ms. Tan said. “People will say that they notice the eyes first, but that’s not true. … Keeping your hands visible is typically a great cue for meeting people and introductions.’ …

“When Mr. Honeck began conducting, she zeroed in on moments when he leaned toward the musicians. ‘I tell businessmen this, it’s a good way to indicate agreement and say, “Hey, I’m on your side.” When Honeck does this, it’s about giving the music more feeling.’

“So are all of these cues practiced and polished? Mr. Honeck says no.

“ ‘You can train and rehearse things, but in the moment of making music, things are spontaneous, you can’t calculate and you have to see how you feel with your body,’ he said. …

“Watching footage of Bernstein, Ms. Tan noted that he consistently nodded to his musicians, which functions both as a cue but also as a sign of approval, an encouraging gesture that builds conscious and subconscious rapport. She said that the audience will pick up on such movements as a sign of mutual respect and positivity …

“While the audience can’t see a conductor’s face, Ms. Tan said that from the videos she could see conductors using different facial micro expressions to project certain emotional qualities for the musicians. There are seven such expressions: happiness, surprise, anger, fear, disgust, contempt and sadness. Sadness is the hardest to mimic, while contempt is most often mistaken. …

“Mr. Honeck has spent years training his hands to move in certain ways to cue musicians for specific kinds of sounds, and he said that the right gesture will be effective no matter which orchestra he is conducting.

“ ‘I train with my hands not because of technical things but because I want to have a special sound,’ he said. ‘If I move in a different way, I get a different and better sound. That’s what counts. The sound must be right.’ ”

More at the Post-Gazette, here.

The famously emotional conductor Arturo Toscanini conducts Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” (circa 1937).

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Tim Jonze wrote a funny story at the Guardian about hiring a therapeutic opera singer to deal with his anxiety about becoming a father.

“The soprano reaches a dramatic climax, demonstrating impressive lung power as she sustains the dizzying peak note, before bringing Quando me’n’ vo’ to its close. It is a powerful, emotionally draining performance, and one that seems to resonate around the room for some time after she has finished. Which is why I get up off the sofa and ask her if she would like a cup of tea.

“This, as you might have guessed, is not your typical night at the opera – and not only because it’s only just gone 11 am. It is called Opera Helps, and is a project dreamed up by the artist Joshua Sofaer. The gist is this: contact the Opera Helps phoneline with a personal problem, and they will endeavour to send a singer to your house. Said singer will briefly discuss the issue with you, select a suitable aria that addresses it, then perform it for you while you relax in familiar surroundings: on a comfortable chair, for instance, or even in bed.

“It’s not therapy as such – in fact, they are very keen to stress that their singers are not trained therapists – but the project does aim to help you look at your problem from a new perspective and, hopefully, experience the healing power of music.

“ ‘It’s about giving someone the space for reflection, the same way having a chat with a friend might give you fortitude to carry on,’ says Sofaer, who found success running the project in Sweden before bringing it to the UK. …

“ ‘In my experience, you either respond to the music or you don’t – I don’t think it is based on your musical education or what class you’re from or how much money you’ve got, which is the common perception. The idea that opera needs an expert audience is a complete misnomer.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: David Bebber for the Guardian  
Opera singer Caroline Kennedy sings to Tim Jonze to relieve his stress.

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A New York Times blog called “Well” recently had a post on the value of a walk at lunch.

Gretchen Reynolds wrote, “A new study finds that even gentle lunchtime strolls can perceptibly — and immediately — buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work.

“It is not news, of course, that walking is healthy and that people who walk or otherwise exercise regularly tend to be more calm, alert and happy than people who are inactive. But many past studies of the effects of walking and other exercise on mood have focused on somewhat long-term, gradual outcomes, looking at how weeks or months of exercise change people emotionally.”

For a new study “published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports … researchers at the University of Birmingham and other universities began by recruiting sedentary office workers at the university.

“A common problem with studies of the effect of exercise on mood, [researcher Cecilie] Thogersen-Ntoumani said, is that they rely on recall. People are asked to remember hours or days after the fact how exercise made them feel.” So participants were given a special app to record how they felt in the moment.

“On the afternoons after a lunchtime stroll, walkers said they felt considerably more enthusiastic, less tense, and generally more relaxed and able to cope than on afternoons when they hadn’t walked and even compared with their own moods from a morning before a walk.” More here.

Makes perfect sense to me. But until we get rid of some of our ice, my own lunchtime walks are indoors in South Station — under the disconcerting fish eye of the suspicious security guard.

Photo: Getty Images
I love the cobblestones here. But where I am at lunchtime may not get down to cobblestones for many, many weeks.

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