PortraitXO is a music artist with synaesthesia who combines art, music, science and tech to create a multisensory experience that bring curiosities to your own senses.
PortraitXO manipulates exteroceptive senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste, to understand our interaction. As we wander, constant environmental input relays clues about all sorts of relationships, emotions, and crucial elements of both nature and nurture. Their outputs signal cues that help us to survive and thrive.
While a bodily scent could hint at kin, a rare amount of people have the ability to feel certain senses differently. Some may see abstract concepts like time projected into space around them. This unusual form of processing sensory details is known as synaesthesia, and it shapes the approach used by PortraitXO with her various media and music in her vivid creations
What is synaesthesia for you?
It is basically involuntary cross wiring of senses. The most common is grapheme-color when people see colors in letters and numbers – projected or associated. My strongest form of synaesthesia is between taste and sound, hearing flavors and vice versa. A more subtle layer I experience is color to flavor, then flavor to sound.
Everyone stores things in their memory a bit differently. I always easily remember details like colors, smell, design, texture, and how I felt about someone or something. My mom said I used to sing or hum a lot while eating and drinking, and I just assumed everyone could hear flavors the way I did. My senses simply have a hyper-focus on certain elements.
Some neurologists believe we’re born synaesthetic but we compartmentalize senses with age. I wanted to explore this and create immersive experiences to help communicate how people sense the world and ignite curiosity.
How does this relate to your craft?
I played music from a very young age and I nurtured it through classical piano, studio work, bands, and performing. Sound is everything to me. It’s an emotional way of understanding the world around us as we use it to communicate from the way we speak, listen, and respond to sounds of our voices and music.
When I was introduced to the diverse music technology in Europe, that opened a new world of innovative creativity. In London, I worked for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and Music Tech Fest where I got introduced to new musical interfaces and crazy ways of making sounds on the world stage. It changed my approach to music and electronic music lifestyle. Using emerging technology like AR/VR and AI equips me with interesting ways of expressing and communicating my art and fascination with science.
I like to research on improving the quality of life for people based on their reactions to my synaesthetic experiences and keep improving the next journey of engagement. It’s helpful for accessibility, user interaction, and immersive topics. What if you found out the combination of the color yellow and specific frequency calms your anxieties? Maybe you can design your home that suits the specifics of what helps you live a more peaceful surrounding.
What’s it like to write creative code?
I love working on concepts and test limits while ensuring user journies are delivered the best way. During the Synthesis project my team won at USC’s #CreatingReality Hackathon, the best thing about that experience was creating the code and sounds in real-time. Developers coded visuals as I created synaesthetic reactions to their color visuals, and then the coders adjusted the visual to fit more accurately. The concept was to translate the environment into sounds – a brain-music jam.
In Stockholm, I teamed up with composer Gadi Sassoon, neurologists, and EEG headsets with sensors to translate brainwaves into music. We translated brain activity into beats with my vocals, layered with effects triggered by brainwave feedback. The challenge is capturing accurate data since waves are super erratic which affects the scripting parameters to a sonic journey.
I draw inspiration from other artists like Robert Thomas, who has built AI based installations using reactions from the audience. He codes and composes simultaneously like lights and music that change based on brain activity in real-time. It’s so powerful!
How do you try to relate AI and emotion?
It’s always important to keep a human touch so relativity and emotional context remain at the core. There is an inherent ranking system and sensitivity is a must to properly manage tangible connections. The best approach is a hybrid model that encourages self-help and sustainability. I’m mainly interested in AI for music as a tool, and AI for social good – using AI to prompt meaningful conversations about social topics and transparent models that better humanity.
Last year, I worked with the UN and ShareTheMeal on a refugee project for World Food Day. Our campaign goal was to break stereotypes based on local learning and engagement through art and music. Soon, I’d like to create an AI-based multicultural social experiment with protective barriers, translations, and transparent reactions. One of my favorite experiments with huge impact was Curators of Sweden.
What is next on your radar?
I’ll break more boundaries, expand the refugee project, and build something useful and meaningful. My music will always be something I do for love, but I must keep evolving. Constant growth is so important. There is a lot of humanity in Berlin, community building, and thus, a bigger foundation of thoughts.
I’d like to create non-biased information for AI so that it can be tailored, and orchestrate our empirical processing while exploring it can inspire musicians. The glitches and random output of AI are magic waiting to come alive. Besides performing, I’ll finish my first interactive full-length album this year.
With mixed media and the talents of AI to help prompt new ways of thinking, Portrait XO sets a fast pace to innovation. By following her passion for music and combining it with science and new technologies, she holds the key to another mode of understanding interaction and emotion and wants to share her experience with the world. Harnessing the phenomena of synaesthesia as a protocol for expression, what unfolds become the layers of human storytelling into the next dimension.