Wired up in my capsule to the moon
Last year I wrote about taking a waterproof iPod and headphones into a sensory deprivation chamber. I chose Biosphere’s album Autour de la Lune. It was a fascinating experiment. Borderline hallucinogenic and deeply relaxing, the total sensory focus on the ultra-minimal tones of Autour de la Lune was the closest I had ever come to being completely lost in sound. After that session I started wondering how linked my own body rhythms had become to the music during the hour of sensory focus.
Well, fast forward almost a year. A few weeks ago I went back to the tanks armed with a heartrate monitor in addition to the waterproof iPod. In I went, on came the album, and the simple EKG started logging.
The superimposed waveform on the heartrate graph is an example of info design awful enough to make Edward Tufte flatline. No, I’m not implying that the sonic peaks and valleys of the music corresponded with spikes (no valleys, thank goodness!) of my heartrate. Obviously the heartbeats per minute units have no relavance to the waveform heights. However, the time axis is in synch. So, you can see what my heartrate was at any moment in the music (song titles in bold black at top).
What to make of it? First the outliers at either end can be discarded as they are my elevated heart rate from entering and leaving the isolation tank. (It ain’t easy with all that gear and warm, hypersalty water sloshing around your nude body.) The first thirteen minutes are somewhat erratic as I’d expect from the acclimation phase. You bump the sides and basically spend a bit of time just calming down. Still, the music during this phase was somewhat erratic too. There’s not enough data to correlate my heartrate with the music, of course, but both do even out around minute fourteen. The end of the first song, Translation, is a complex, consistent drone and it is right at this point that my heartrate starts to level off. During Rotation, a “spikier” collection of tones, my heart rate became more variable again. The most interesting phase is next with the song Modifié. This is one of the subtlest tracks on the album and here my heartrate drops to its lowest point of the whole session. This is the hypnagogic state, the time when you can’t tell if you are asleep or awake, dreaming or thinking — the reason you’re in the chamber to begin with. From there, the heartrate warbles a bit (during Vibratoire, appropriately) and then begins a steady clim back up during Déviation.
Autour de la Lune (“Around the Moon”) is a concept album/tone poem heavily influenced by Jules Vernes’ novel of the same name. The novel, one of the earliest examples of science fiction, is a continuation of the story of a mission to the moon from his first lunar novel “From the Earth to the Moon“. I probably won’t get any closer to the actual surface of the moon than Verne did, but then again in the sensory deprivation tank I was strapped up with medical telemetry all astronaut-like, floating in a capsule of total isolation on my way to a place far away. My trip around the moon.
A word of warning. Both times I’ve done this I’ve had some pressure issues in my head and ringing in my ears for a few days afterward. I am not sure if it is due to the insert headphones, the low droning of the music, the saltwater, or a combination of all these factors. But it is annoying. The perils of spaceflight.
See also My Beating Blog, an interesting experiment where each post is accompanied by correspoding heartrate data.