The EM Brace

Nick Hasty

I am interested in situating the human body in relation to consumer electronics and communication technologies. The EM Brace is a wearable device for physically engaging with ambient electromagnetic frequencies emitted by electronic devices and general electrical systems.


Classes Thesis

The vast majority of work in the field of human-computer interaction has involved programming computers to better sense and understand our inputs, yet little work has been done in terms of how we humans can better sense and understand computers. Computers, and electronics in general, reach out to us through creating fields of low and very low frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. These ubiquitous frequencies penetrate and permeate our bodies at the molecular level, so spatially intimate experiences with electronics can be understood as a merging of physical bodies with the computer's electromagnetic embrace. As we humans have no natural means of sensing these frequencies, the "EM brace" provides a means of physically engaging with these frequencies by combining two of our natural senses, touch and hearing. As a device for exploring and navigating these hidden "hertzian" spaces, the EM Brace accentuates the microscopic merging of body with computer and the boundlessness of the quantum while situating the physical body in relation to consumer and communication technologies. Furthermore, the EM Brace embodies the ineluctable direction of human evolution towards the cybernetic post-human, an evolution that can be understood in terms of a Deleuzoguattarian becoming, specifically a becoming-electronic.

The project started off as sound installation involving the use of tactile transducers to resonate objects. I never found a form for the installation that with which I was comfortable, so I did a little internal digging and realized that I wanted to start making works that engage with the human body. Then I began to consider the electromagnetic spectrum as an interesting site of interaction between computers and bodies, and I decided to turn ambient EM fields into sound and use the tactile transducers as a means to make these sound waves physical.

Consumer electronics users, people who like electronic curios, sound art aficionados, people excited by the term "post-human", people unaware of the ubiquity of low electromagnetic emissions,

User Scenario
I see the wearer of the EM Brace moving slowly about, arms outstretched, freely discovering the powerful and dense fields of electromagnetic waves that permeate our electrically networked spaces. Urban environments in particular should provide the richest vibratory experience as the dense network of electrically driven materials that compose a city offer a symphony of electromagnetic frequencies. 

The EM Brace transforms electronically emitted ELF signals into low-frequency audio waves that are used to vibrate the body via a homemade amplifier and speaker circuit embedded within an enclosure mounted to the wearers back. The ELF signals are picked up by four coils embedded within a pair of gloves connected to the enclosure. These coils work as electromagnetic antennas due to the same process through which a current is created in the human body when in presence of EM radiation: the creation of an inductive coupling. The voltage created in the coils by EM fields is amplified by the EM Brace and outputted as low frequency sound directly into the wearer's back and body. The sound signals are physically transferred across the body through the use of four metal "arms" which wrap around the the wearer's trunk. 

Among others things, I learned about antenna design, the richness of the electromagnetic spectrum, how to put together SMT class "d" amplifier circuits, how to build a quality preamp circuit, the variety of available tactile transducers, the history of David Tudor's Rainforest series, and that I need to work on my visual design skills.

Most importantly, I feel like the thesis process has opened up a natural artistic trajectory for the future of my career as a maker.