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Information Experience Design (MA)

Ben Koppelman

I am a sound artist, DJ, storyteller, researcher and strategic thinker. 

I’m interested in the neuroscience of perception. The brain is not passive but actively predicts and  generates how we experience the world and our own bodies. I find this really enchanting, revealing an intimate and porous relationship with the world. I’m also interested in phenomenology and psychiatry, especially mystical experiences. 

To explore these interests, my practice involves spatial sound, audio illusions and storytelling.

Recent ambisonic projects include the Garden of Sensory Delights (IRCAM Forum 2023 in Paris) and Shema(nism): what lurks in culture's shadow? (IKLECTIK ArtLab London 2022). Both projects were audiovisual performances and collaborations with fellow IED student, Alexandra Topaz, who created the visual design. These projects also tapped into my religious Jewish upbringing. 

While spatial sound locates sounds on, and moves them around, a sphere of speakers, I have been exploring how to introduce speakers within the sphere to move sounds through it to create even more immersive effects. I recently completed a short 'Exploring Spatial Sound' residency with 4DSOUND

I enjoy short story writing, especially poetic forms and the discipline of flash fiction (less than 500 or even 250 words), as well as performing spoken word, including Riddle Road MarkE8 (at IKLECTIK ArtLab London 2021).

I DJ deep techno, including playing at clubs and sharing mixes that I often curate as narratives around short stories that I write. My first album, Anima Mundi, was released in late 2022 by the On The 5th Day label, and it was informed by an accompanying short story that tapped into mythic imagination.

I am the research lead for Kimatica Studio on Transcendence research and performance design. This project is exploring how new performative art experiences can be designed to induce states of transcendence non-pharmacologically.

My professional background includes public policy, having worked for ten years at the Royal Society where I advised the UK government and international organisations on a range of science and engineering policies, regulation and diplomacy. More recently, I’ve been working for startups, researching the governance of emerging digital technologies. I have a BA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University (history & philosophy of science) and a MA in Philosophy (of psychology) from King's College London.

'Perceptions are controlled hallucinations; hallucinations are uncontrolled perceptions (Professor Anil Seth, Being You)

According to one mystical tradition, ‘immanence’ is a veiled relationship to the sacred or divine that is experienced from within the material world (rather than transcending it).

Immanence: is reality an illusion? is an immersive listening experience that imagines a journey at the core of Jewish mysticism: Solomon’s Temple 3000 years ago though its main hall (Hekhal) and via the curtain veil up into ‘the room of words’ (Devir) where god’s presence (Sheckinah) dwelt that the High Priest King could speak to. Given the flower and tree engravings across its golden walls, this speculation draws on the tradition that the Garden of Eden was an allegory for Solomon’s Temple; Adam was the High Priest King; and the Tree of Life grew in Devir as a symbol of the goddess (Asherah).

The speculation is framed as a DMT trip- an intense psychedelic- given entheogen theories of religion and this touches on its main aim. A psychedelic renaissance is underway; huge funds are being invested into neuroscientific research that uses psychedelic drugs and brain imaging to illuminate the mechanisms of consciousness and new treatments for trauma, depression and other conditions. In a psychedelic future:

  • what should be our attitudes towards altered states of consciousness, such as mystical experiences?
  • what kinds of new spaces need to be designed to experience them?

Mystical experiences can involve hallucinations, so this speculation is the result of practice based research into sound design that as curious about how hallucinatory sound experiences can explore the nature and value of altered states of consciousness. In particular, what's like to:

  • hear inner and outer voices and other auditory hallucinations? 
  • experience ‘dual consciousness’ by being equally present in the external world and hallucinations projected onto it?
  • sense the presence of another (person or entity) that can accompany hearing voices? 

Unlike visual illusions, audio illusions have been less studied and under applied in artworks so I used audio illusions and hybrid techniques, such as convolution, to create hallucinatory effects; for example, hearing voices emanating from running water, white noise and fire. 

The listener sits within a ring of 6 speakers that plays a spatialised poetic narrative (‘outer voice’) along with vocal and field recordings, samples and synthesised sounds. This kind of composition is inspired by Sonic Theatre- ‘immersive sound worlds, intoxicating blend of music and storytelling, sound design, documentary and fiction’. 

At the same time, the listener wears bone conducting headphones that play binaural recordings (‘inner voices’). Although binaural recordings have been used in theatre productions, they have been played in over the ear headphones; bone conducting headphones have hardly been used. I also created ASMR sound elements to try and create a sense of presence.

Listen to the speculative sound experience
Launch Project
Immanence: audio This is a stereo recording of the two layers of sound and narrative- the compositions of the sound played on the speaker ring and bone conducting headphones have been collapsed into a single recording. Look out for: emanating sounds, e.g. water → Asherah/Shechinah (names of god) ~ 3:40 Illusion of ascent: ~ 4:20 Ego dissolution represented by vocable blurring ~7:35- 10:20

Warning: This section contains mature or explicit content.

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