Beats Exposed #WearableWednesday


More and more we are seeing artists use wearable electronics in a performance context. “Beats Exposed” by Danielle Butler, Lisa Jamhoury, and Aaron Parsekian is an example of an interactive performance that allows the physicality of a performer’s body to influence what is seen and heard by the audience.

I encountered this piece tucked in a corner at the ITP Winter Show. I was given a set of headphones and ushered into a small area surrounded by dark curtains. Inside I found a performer suspended from the ceiling surrounded by a tight semi-circle of audience members. It was an aerialist performing on silks – an activity quite striking to see in close proximity. As the performer proceeded through her poses we were able to hear her changing heart beat and see a dynamically shifting visualization projected onto her body.

The creators of this project describe how it works as follows:

In this experience, the performer wears a Polar pulse sensor and Moteino wireless transceiver while performing. The transceiver communicates wirelessly with a second Moteino transceiver connected to a computer. The pulse is transferred serially to a P5 program with both audio and visualizations.

The audience hears the sound of a heartbeat timed with the performer’s pulse. The visualization, also reacting to the pulse, projects from the ceiling onto the performer, surrounding area, and any audience members that have come in close.

You can also read more here.

Heart rate sensors can be difficult to work with from an interaction perspective. While they are really neat, you’ll often find situations where you need to run in place just to see a project do its thing. What I like about “Beats Exposed” is how sensibly this sensor is contextualized. Aerialist silk performance combines movements that require significant strength interspersed with moments when the performer arrives at and remains suspended in a particular pose. The result is that the performer’s heart rate is constantly going up and down, making it a fabulous datapoint to reveal to the audience.


For those looking to get started working with heart rate sensing,  Pulse Sensor Amped is a great part for beginners. It is an optical heart rate sensor that connects directly to the analog input on any microcontroller. The Polar T32 Heart Rate Transmitter (which was used in “Beats Explosed” is a little more advanced but more accurate. It is available in this starter pack. Learn how to get started with it by checking out Becky’s Heart Rate Badge project!

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