A Study in Hysteria – Process & Art Show

Working with the Digital Components

The Arduino Uno R3 was soldered and tested (fig. 1) with the Proto Shield, which was hooked up to the stackable components (fig. 2). These components included an Electrit Microphone Amplifier, an analog LED strip, and a mini metal speaker. We tested the Microphone with a script that printed it’s output to a dialog window. The challenge was, that it was measuring the sound levels much faster than anticipated, at an iteration of hundreths of a second, as opposed to a range of 1 to 3 seconds. With some adjustments to the code and a little math, the microphone was measuring the sound in the room for 1 second, averaging that with decibel range and outputting this average to a print window.

Now that the Electrit Microphone Amplifier was measuring the sound at a reasonable interval,  there was another problem. As it turned out, the voltage of the Arduino uno was not enough to power my LEDs without the use of transistors. so another order was placed and shipped overnight. The new transistors were then soldered to the board and tested with the LEDs, which worked beautifully. The the code could be altered with hexadecimal, producing the blue, pink, and red flashes for the heartbeat loop. Being somewhat dissatisfied with the default 8-bit tones of the Arduino, I sought out a heartbeat sound effect to use instead. Upon locating a high-quality heartbeat effect, I edited the clips down in Adobe Audition, timing them to three different timing signatures: a calm beat, an agitated beat, and a panic beat. (fig. 3)

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After testing the audio and LED flashes, I began to construct a logic tree of how the programming for the heartbeat loops would work. (fig. 4) In plain English it means: measure the sound at a set time interval. If the audio level is in the minimum range, play the calm loop and reset. If the audio level is in the mid range, play the agitated loop, reset. If the audio is above the max range, play panic loop, reset.

The Craft Components

After my order of semi-transparent silk was delayed thanks to the Thanksgiving rush, I had to seek out a local solution for a silk to use for my embroidery. I found a suitable off-white silk at Tennessee Quilts in Jonesborough, and stretched that over my hoops. After testing the LEDs behind it, I came to find that the diffusion of the LED point lights worked so well behind this fabric that the backside of it could hardly be seen once lit. I altered my embroidery design a bit, to accommodate this fact since the transparent fabric was not going to reach me on time for my art show. I printed and taped my design to the back of my forward-facing hoop with the LED strip sandwiched between the two hoops, which made a perfect light box for tracing it onto the fabric. (fig. 6) I began stitching my heart in red and blue embroidery thread. (fig. 7) In contrast with some embroidery projects, each stitch had to be perfect in the front, and in the back, since a stitch that might normally feed into another line showed in the backlight. (fig. 8)

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The Gallery Display

After screwing the two embroidery hoops together through the top wooden pieces, small gauge wire was wrapped around the tightening screws to hang the piece. The Electret Microphone was left external, taped to the wires that ran down to a gallery box which hid the digital components and a large speaker. As an added touch of design,  the wires were taped together with red electrical tape so they would resemble a vein. A video of the final display is embedded below.

Special thanks to Cher Cornet, Andrew Morehouse and  Jonathan Hounshell for helping make this project a reality.

Some folks playing with "A Study in Hysteria," my interactive LED Embroidery peice.

A video posted by karahannkiser (@karahannkiser) on

2 thoughts on “A Study in Hysteria – Process & Art Show”

  1. Tom Netherland

    Dear Karahann,

    Remarkable project. Upon first blush, I thought it seemed simple. However, as with many things rightly labeled as brilliant, that wasn’t the case at all. For one, the ingenuity in not only imagining such a display but also in constructing it such that you mimic the science of the heart as well as the heart of the heart floored me. Observing it proved deceptive in the sense that I couldn’t look away. Whether close or even across the room, my attention kept returning to your creation. I found my heart responding to it. The faster it beat, the faster mine beat. When it slowed, mine slowed. At times, it felt as if looking deep into my own chest at and for something that I haven’t really thought about much beforehand. I’ve thought about it since then, too, which art should do. It should compel reaction and subsequent thought. If that was your mission, then mission accomplished.

    1. Karahann KiserKarahann Kiser Post Author

      I was really floored by the response to this piece. It was so much fun watching people play with it and try to startle it. I think it’s remarkable that your heart reacted to it. One of my professors mentioned that after reading the artist statement he felt guilty for yelling at it – a humanity response for a simple machine!

      This project fueled the direction of my work in the future, which will further the interplay of hand-made and digital elements. I like making art that can be perceived as aware of the viewer, to further subvert the constant distraction that technology poses and use it as a bridge for ideas.

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