Tools of the Trade: Nick Hasty, The EM Brace

In this new series, Rhizome invites artists to explain the nuts and bolts of their work. Our first contribution comes from recent ITP graduate and Rhizome's dynamo former Technology Assistant Nick Hasty. Here, Hasty describes his project The EM Brace.

The EM Brace is a wearable device for physically engaging with electromagnetic radiation emitted by the consumer and communication technologies that constantly permeate our bodies. The device attunes the body to the presence of electromagnetic frequencies through amplifying these frequencies and turning them into powerful sound waves that vibrate the wearer.

The EM Brace consists of a metallic enclosure that is worn on the back (fig a) attached to a pair of antenna gloves that fit on the hands (fig b).

Extending from the metallic enclosure are four flexible metal arms which wrap around the ribcage. The enclosure and arms are secured to the body via four straps that connect at the chest (fig c) through a four point harness. Putting on and using the EM Brace has been described as a mix of being strapped into a roller-coaster, scuba diving, and getting a massage.

Since the majority of our interactions with electronic objects involve the use of the hands, the antennas that pick up ambient EM frequencies have been embedded within a pair of gloves. These antennas consist of four inductive coil antennas, specifically telephone pickup coils. When the antennas enter an electromagnetic field, an inductive voltage signal is created within the coil. The frequency of this signal is the same frequency as the electromagnetic field in which it's produced, so the antennas' signal directly corresponds to the electromagnetic frequencies of nearby electronic devices.

The signal created within the coil is then sent from the antennas into a preamplifier circuit located within the metallic enclosure (fig d).

This preamplifier circuit, consisting of two Texas Instrument OPA134 IC op-amps placed in a series, boosts the strength of the signal so that it can be used by a second, more powerful, amplifier. This second amplifier, a subminiature, 40 watt mono amplifier, provides an even greater boost to the antennas' original signal.

Finally, the heavily amplified signal is outputted by a low-frequency tactile transducer, aka a "bass-shaker" speaker, which vibrates the EM Brace itself along with its wearer. The device is made of metal, and the density of this material allows these low-frequency sound waves to easily pass through the enclosure and arms so that the wearer of the device can feel the electromagnetic fields picked up by the antennas in the gloves.

The EM Brace provides a means of situating the body in relation to consumer electronics by making palpable the invisible flows of energy and information so ubiquitous in our electronic environment. Nearly any activity involving the handling or interaction with electronic objects, such as typing, making cell phone calls, plugging into electrical outlets, or using hand drills, produces a range of vibrational, and often audible, frequencies directly experienced by the wearer of the device. The EM Brace produces novel interactions between electronic objects and their users while accentuating the blending of human bodies and electromagnetic energy.

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