Monthly Archives: November 2015

Brain Tracking, Psycho, and a Pig’s Head

I’ve always loved Halloween: the macabre, the colour, the scents and sounds of autumn. When I think “Halloween” the image of  sinister jack-o-lanterns, crows, and yellow leaves come to mind. This year, the holiday featured a different kind of delight: headwear that tracks your brain waves, a screening of Psycho accompanied by a live orchestra, and a dance party with a talking pig’s head, where you could sign-up for your own funeral.

People standing in an alley, looking at the buildings

Psychology on the Street walking tour

Psychology on the Street

The holiday fell on a Saturday this year and it took no time to fill up with festivities.  I started my day at the Urbanspace Gallery at 401 Richmond for Psychology on the Street. Since the summer, I’ve been fascinated by how urban design affects our day-to-day well-being. Combine that with my love of assistive technology and new gadgets, and you have one happy Nell. This walk promised to do both.

The walk was part of a university study on how different urban environments affect our state of mind. Each participant at the gallery was given a Muse electroencephalogram (EEG) headset and a smartphone with a tailor-made app for the study. My master’s thesis had been on eye-controlled technology when brain-control technology was coming onto the consumer market. I was ecstatic to finally  handle a Muse headband.

Muse headsets in hard cases on the floor

Muse headbands

The headband felt delicate in my hand and took some time to position correctly on my head. We calibrated it through thinking and association exercises, followed by playing some games on the phone app were were provided. Once we were all set-up, we were guided through the neighbourhood, stopping at specific locations to observe and perform tasks on the app. Tasks included rating out emotional response to the environment on a scale 1 to 5, word association, and occasional number games on the phone.

I found myself wondering how the study would reflect different perceptions of space. For example, one alley screamed “Photoshoot!” to me, while the Art Deco typeface used on an otherwise bland building captivated my attention during our minute of silent observation. How did our life experiences and professions affect our perceptions?

After the walk, we handed in our headsets and phones. The principal investigator gave a short spiel on the study. It wasn’t anything new really, having read the information boards in the gallery and listened to the feature Spark on CBC did a couple weeks back. I looked longingly at the galvanic skin response sensors we hadn’t got to use, and left.

Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a classic! My first introduction to Psycho had been a Royal Canadian Air Farce parody with a Furby, but when I saw the actual film later in life, a shower was never the same… Combine it with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and you have the perfect Halloween date!

I dressed up as a dark angel with black wings, a vamp dress, and my heel-less heeled boots. Matt wore costume make-up and ghoulish contact lenses, turning into a very handsome zombie. The theatre was full of people in costume,  including the symphony. One of the members was even dressed up as an actual shower – genius!

I had forgotten much of the film’s story and became totally engrossed in the film. We had excellent seats from which we could comfortably see both the screen and the orchestra below. Matt pointed out that it was all strings – no wind, brass, or percussion. I had never noticed that in the music before.

It was fantastic!

Dark stairwell lit by red lights

Eerie entrance to Ghost Hole

Ghost Hole

After the show, I met up with some friends at Ghost Hole, a Halloween party at the Jam Factory. The place was packed! I had difficulty navigating the crowds with my wings on, but everyone else had such elaborate costumes on that it didn’t matter.

There were abstract projections on the screen, sound art, and a band that reminded me of the Flying Lizards. At the door was a bloody ghost dancing next to a pig’s head mounted on the wall. Caitlin urged me to go talk to the pig. I was resistant at first, but was glad once she convinced me as it was highlight of the event for me! Once I approached, the ghost handed me a headset and directed me towards a mic between the pig’s teeth. The pig and I had then had a short but delightful conversation about the meaning of life, which according to the pig, was bacon!

My friends had signed up by SMS to have their funeral that evening. This involved being lead into a private room with a funeral director and an organist. The director had quick words with the ‘deceased’ before leading them to a child’s coffin. She would then make-up on the spot a hilarious speech based on whatever the deceased had isolated as her passions. This was followed by strobe lights and a masked devil jumping out from behind the curtains. It amused us every time!

I didn’t stay late as I was quite tired from a week of 5am wake-up calls. So, I took the bus home in the rain and curled up in bed. It had been a wonderful day! Perhaps the best Halloween since I paraded the streets with a pillowcase of candy as a child!