Amanda Gregory, Explorer of Consciousness
Classically trained singer collaborates with neuroscientists to create interactive performances
By Melody Pezeshkian
A bald, blue-eyed singer weaves his way through the crowd. Communicating without words, she invites the delighted audience into a transliminal communion. Pointing to the distance, she invites the audience to interpret which visuals can match the sounds of her voice.
She then dons a white wig and takes the stage in a 12-foot-tall white dress created by artist Patrick Renner, metamorphosing into a richly decorated entity. Imagery comes to life; the patterns blend in behind her and her wig changes color in sync with her voice thanks to technology and video art from Bradley Muñoz and Jonathan Jindra. Finally, the public can drop its speculations and immerse themselves completely in its universe.
“I was describing an entity from another dimension,” explains digital opera artist Amanda Gregory to explain Xenoglossia, the performances described above. Shown at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston in 2015, this collaboration with musician Zárate Zaaló is just one of the many unorthodox approaches Gregory uses to engage audiences and foster a playful atmosphere in his performances. With his distinctive blend of digital visuals and psychoacoustic audio, Gregory is a regular at events such as Burning Man, Lightning in a Bottle, NeuroLeadership Summit, and the Google I / O conference. While this places her firmly in the league with the cutting edge of performance art, her fascination with contemporary music and psychoacoustic experimentation hasn’t stopped her from following her penchant for classical music as well, which she does. has performed in more conventional venues in Germany and Italy.
Born in Houston, Texas, Gregory now considers Santa Barbara his home. She teams up with other creators and scientists at the Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science, and Technology (SBCAST) and UCSB’s META Lab to create sound experiences that aim to explore beyond the known limits of the mind. One of Gregory’s regular contributors is Alan Macy, biomedical engineer and founder of BIOPAC Systems, a company that develops medical software in Santa Barbara. Macy describes what he calls a brilliant collaboration with Gregory: “We have discussions going on about pattern, resonance, coherence, physiological cycles, haptics and music.” All of his musical performances are scientifically informed, drawing inspiration from neuroscience, music theory and psychology.
Gregory started singing at the age of 7 after finding out she had been adopted. “All of a sudden I imagined I could come from this singing family,” she says of how she started to put together a personal creative lineage. After her first vocal trainers praised her for her natural vibrato, Gregory began classical singing training for opera. As a result, her sound has since evolved into a vibrant and richly performed opera voice. Although she briefly considered the fields of marine biology and forensics, she ended up enrolling in the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. Yet her curiosity led her to continue to explore the question of “who we are as humans”, which ultimately influenced her unique creative path. Being an artist, she says, is her “way of bringing a microscope to the human experience.” As a graduate student, her classes focused on the world of contemporary classical music and modern opera – a genre that “is often heavily influenced by mathematics.” Thanks to her education, she “began to be curious about the vibratory element of music”, in particular that “everything has a pitch… every sound has a pitch that it makes”.
Contemporary music attracted her because she felt that “what was done before was somehow too traditional”. This interest, combined with his classical training, led him to join the New Classical Project, a multimedia performance group aimed at a younger audience. This creative alliance marked the shift from a standard contemporary classical performance to a more multidisciplinary approach. As a multi-faceted designer, she embraced change. “I realized after my master’s program that there was a place for these more unusual media combinations. “
In 2013, she joined the Knells, an award-winning rock art ensemble. She liked the way the Knells “explored the mathematics of Pythagoras and Escher” in their songs. As a result of this experience, his own work became more kaleidoscopic and experimental. It was then that she began to skillfully combine classical music, digital art, movement and science in her immersive performances.
New ways of seeing
Today Gregory finds himself at the forefront of a movement to engage sound dynamics and the scientific study of consciousness in the world of performance art. His artistic knowledge and musical expertise add a vital dynamic perspective to both fields. Crossing the roles of singer, artist and scientist, Gregory adds invaluable depth and understanding to each. The intersection of science and music is a nascent field budding with innovation; Gregory finds himself an intermediary between two realms, fluent in the languages of technology and music.
When I met Gregory in June, she dropped a large filing cabinet on her desk, completely filled with her recent creative projects and ideas. When I asked her what her last venture was, she described a performance she is giving at the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute that will explore intelligence and cognition in humans and plants. If there’s one thing that ties his vast body of work together, it’s precisely what diversifies it in this way – its seemingly endless exploration.
Gregory explains this as a commitment to “find new ways of seeing”. “Any way I can feel and experience life in a new way helps me open new doors,” she said. Overflowing with the potential for unexpected discoveries, her interactive performances are more unifying than you might think. When asked what appeals to her about these performances where she and the audience interact, Gregory said that was the way “in the end we come to this place of unconditional love and a feeling of freedom. “. Despite his often alien and futuristic subject matter, Gregory nonetheless summons an intuitive and deep sense of oneness and harmony into the room.
The audience for his performances leaves after gaining a unique shared experience in addition to witnessing a stellar musical performance. His productions explore unknown fields, forcing listeners to question their internal states and potentially to overcome mental blockages to new spaces of consciousness. Summarizing it all can be difficult, but for Gregory, there is an answer. She told me that if she “could only say one thing that they [her audience] could have or be or feel or experience, that would be love.
A voice out of nature
Gregory attributes the “wonder and awe” of his work to its deep connection to nature as a source of “themes to explore in musical experiences”. At the Verge-18 energy conference in 2018, she used a machine to “buckle up [her] voice to make it sound [it] came from nature. The conference, as described on its website, “brings together a diverse audience to explore the opportunities and challenges of decarbonizing global energy systems.” Gregory is also a member of a unique collaboration, the Design Science Studio for global creators, organizations and initiatives to work together to imagine, collaborate and create a regenerative future by championing sustainability.
In April 2019, she started working at the Spatial Sound Institute in Budapest on a project called Atlas of Emotions, which started as an online visual tool commissioned by the Dalai Lama and has evolved into an “immersive sound project in partnership with the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, MONOM and Google AI”. She describes the project as an “embodied understanding of our emotional experiences,” where the team “mapped the sound of the waves to sweep the room with my arms. I could lift my hands to the sky as the sound of the waves transformed into the sound of rain; beating my fists would create the sound of thunder; opening my palms would fill the room with the sound of birds. This high-tech level of synesthesia aims to explore the “ever-changing flow of human feeling”.
It was through Atlas of Emotions that she met Dr. Mike North, a researcher at the Santa Barbara Center for Arts Science and Technology (SBCAST), and that prompted her to move here. For Gregory, Santa Barbara provides an ideal location for making connections between scientific research, nature and art. Her career as a musician has been filled with synchronicities. This trip, she says, “inspired me to envision the possibility of love beneath it all somewhere, one way or another.”
With Dr North, she began to collaborate with SBCAST’s I / O Lab, which she described as “a bit of a dream” to her, “to finally be able to do some real research on the fundamentals of sound, vibration and frequency. . “Her journey has led her to also collaborate with her fiancé and professor at UCSB, Dr. Jonathan Schooler at the META Lab at UCSB, producing Meta Music. “Meta Music includes a series of audiovisual compositions designed to translate scientific findings and theories of consciousness, offering benefits such as increased openness to experience and mindfulness. While performing Meta Music, Gregory improvises live to create psychoacoustic effects that can induce meditative experiences for listeners. Gregory envisions that Meta Music could eventually be used in interactive art gallery installations and even therapy.
Gregory also hosts immersive online performances which are thus accessible to a wider audience. While his in-person performances are truly unique, much of the captivating and immersive aspects of his performances translate virtually, especially with headphones.
As the collective experience is the hallmark of his performances, Gregory defends the current return to work in person. During our last conversation, Gregory had just hosted a Silent Disco at Leadbetter Beach for his birthday, hinting that a more public Silent Disco is on the way.
To find out more and potentially participate in this Silent Disco, visit amandagregory.com, where she posts samples of her performances and lists upcoming events.