View Mobile Site


show nav
View Desktop Site


Cadillac Charged Branding

A showcase of the visionary technology and design driving innovation throughout all aspects of our culture and creating the next generation of luxury, which is smarter, personalized and free of compromise.

Charged: Redesigning an Icon
Charged: Troika
I'm a cadillac charged article.

Neil Harbisson and Cybernetics in the Arts

How this man—a colorblind cyborg—is sharing his ability to "hear" colors with the rest of the world

by Nara Shin in Tech on 05 May 2014

While the term "wearable technology" might make you think of a fitness tracker or Dick Tracy-esque talking wristwatch, Barcelona-based artist Neil Harbisson wears an antenna that is permanently implanted in his head. Diagnosed with achromatopsia (complete color blindness) as a child, Harbisson had been searching for a way to experience color further than the greyscale he knew. The sensor at the end of his antenna reads wavelengths of light, or colors, and converts them into a sound frequency. Different colors translate into different pitches and Harbisson can even "see/hear" colors outside the visible spectrum, such as infrared and UV light. The sound's volume indicates how vivid the colors are.


The device, which Harbisson calls his "eyeborg," has become much more than just a tool to aid his visual impairment. It's transformed the way he interacts with the world—a trip to the supermarket can feel like a night club, with so many brightly colored fruits and vegetables. An outfit for the day is selected based on the major or minor chord he wishes to express. By enhancing his capacities as a human through this device, Harbisson self-identifies as a cyborg—and the UK government considers him one, too, allowing him to include his eyeborg in his passport photo.

Now, Harbisson's goal is to share this unique experience through his artwork and musical performances, which blend both visual and sonic elements. In "Colour Scores," Harbisson "converts" well-known songs, from Beethoven's "Für Elise" to Justin Bieber's "Baby," to the colors he visualizes. (John Cage's silent 4'33" is, unsurprisingly, all black and white.)

In 2010, he founded the Cyborg Foundation with his longtime collaborator and friend, choreographer Moon Ribas, to encourage others to explore this new realm of cybernetics in the arts. Harbisson's belief is that society shouldn't just be improving gadgets and making computers and mobile phones more powerful and faster, but writing apps for our own bodies to extend the senses. Imagine a day when one can have a dog's sense of smell, or a cheetah's hearing—and use them to create art. We spoke with Harbisson over Skype to learn more about his life as a cyborg activist.

What does the weather sound like where you are? It's pretty rainy and gloomy here in New York.

Very loud today, because there's lots of bright colors—it's very sunny.

Your eyeborg has been updated multiple times since its 2003 inception. What is the current set-up and what are your future plans for updating it?

In front of my eyes, there's a color sensor that picks up the light frequency and it sends it to the back of my head. I have three holes in my head; one is for the audio entry and the other two are for the antenna. Now, I need to use a very small battery [changed every] 4 or 5 days; it depends if there's lots of colors or not. But the next stage is to charge it with my blood circulation so I don't need to depend on external energy; I can use my own body energy.

Can you tell us about your musical background?

I was trained as a pianist, so I studied piano and classical music, and then I went to England to study experimental composition [at Dartington College of Arts in England]. That's where this project started. This antenna is basically a musical instrument installed in my body. Experimental music.

Yet it's almost misleading to call you just a musician, or just a visual artist.

In my case, there's no difference between the visual world and the sonic world—they're the same. When I hear music, I perceive color, and when I have colors in front of me, I hear music. So it's in all the same field. If other people start experiencing or experimenting with other unions of senses, then it might happen that we'll start seeing new art forms.

You also collaborate often with choreographer Moon Ribas. Can you explain how you two work together?

Moon has her own cybernetic extension. She can feel earthquakes through a sensor that she has attached on her elbow, so at her last performance, whenever she felt an earthquake, she started dancing. The sensor is connected to online seismographs [around the world], so wherever she is, she will feel an earthquake. So there's usually earthquakes every 10 minutes, or 8, or 12. It depends; she's constantly feeling them.

Depending on the intensity of the earthquake, the dance evolves. I was there putting sound and music to the information that I got from the earthquake, as well. I played the note equivalent to the frequency of the earthquake, and I also used the color light of the same frequency on stage.

You and Moon head the Cyborg Foundation. What are some of the projects the organization is overseeing?

There's another project that is about sensing what is behind you. In Barcelona, they are developing these four sensors that attach to the head, and then whenever someone gets close to you, it vibrates. It allows you to feel presence behind you or around you, without using your eyes.

How about the activism part of the organization?

It's just defending basic rights; it's not creating new rights for cyborgs. We want to be sure that no one is discriminated because they decided to use technology as part of their body. [For example], even though I explain that my camera doesn't film, sometimes they don't allow me in [museums]. It's just trying to make people aware that cameras are not only used to film things; in my case, I'm using a camera for something completely different. I'm not interested in filming anything.

Has there been a time where you've been overwhelmed by hearing colors?

Well, just a moment ago! I was trying to connect to a telephone through my antenna. We were just testing this and I got a bit confused because I think I was receiving sounds from somewhere else, and then I was hearing colors, then having a phone call—it was a bit chaotic!

Update: Harbisson recently had British comedian Ruby Wax call his head and uploaded a video online.

Images courtesy of Moogfest


Get Cool Hunting delivered to your inbox every weekday morning

Cadillac Charged Branding

A showcase of the visionary technology and design driving innovation throughout all aspects of our culture and creating the next generation of luxury, which is smarter, personalized and free of compromise.

Solaire Generation

Depending on where you live, parking lots can either feel like a terrific waste of space or woefully inadequate for city needs. Still, they are everywhere, not to mention a critical component of urban planning. Since 2008, Solaire Generation has...

Lowline and the Remote Skylight

As the most talked about urban planning project in NYC of recent times—alongside the Plus Pool, perhaps—the Lowline continues to capture the attention of the creative community and beyond through its development from concept to construction. In the...

Shindo Laboratory

The 2011 documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" at first appears to be a film about an 85-year-old sushi chef and his world-famous dishes, though it's really about a man's lifelong quest to continually make better sushi—to continually strive to master...

Jim Campbell in NYC

While the boundaries between contemporary art and technology have grown increasingly blurry—thanks to everything from biologically-inspired knitted structures to oil that "defies" gravity—there are, surprisingly, only a handful of artists who delve...

Isaïe Bloch

At the most recent 3D Printshow in London, artist and architect Isaïe Bloch took top honors as Artist of the Year with his work "Satire." The intricate sculpture is just one of many that illuminates his multidisciplinary mastery, magnetizing vision...

Lucy McRae

If Lady Gaga were to give up the music and focus solely on design she might look a lot like Lucy McRae, whose artistic biotech-tinged productions make today's wearable technology look like candy bracelets. The self-proclaimed "body architect's" creations...

Daguerre's American Legacy

Following two highly acclaimed runs at museums in greater-Paris, photo-historian William B. Becker's collection of daguerreotypes—the first widespread photographic process involving imagery cast upon a highly polished silver surface—is about to make...

The Smartest Home

In recent years, the ways in which we as culture interact with technology has shifted. Much in the same way the iPhone completely changed how cell phones, cameras and music players are considered, devices like thermostats that learn how warm you...

Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken

The first signs of spring are just starting to show in the low mountains of the Jämtland region of Sweden (600 kilometers northwest of Stockholm) and the stores of preserved wild grasses, cured calf liver and other uniquely Scandinavian delicacies...

inFORM, a Revolutionary Design Tool

Virtual reality has made huge strides over the past few years, but for pioneers like the scientists at the MIT Media Lab, digital simulations have begun taking actual, material shape. Formally known as the Tangible Bits project (which was presented...

Leo Villareal Interview

by Michael Slenske Two decades ago, New York-based light sculptor Leo Villareal attended Burning Man (the annual week-long art event in Black Rock City, Nevada, which culminates around a wooden sculpture of a man set on fire) and the experience changed...

Sougwen Chung

Sougwen Chung has always had an affinity for computers and digital technology. The artist had her first website at the age of ten—"an oddly personal site," she recalls. In addition to the language of code, Chung is also conversant in music. Her father...


Racing out on the ocean, the wind can whip mercilessly and consistently, throwing an endless barrage of sea-spray and hurtling your craft faster than its sails and keel can handle. Other times, a swirling gust changes directions without notice or...

The Future of Flying

Early this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began rolling out an ambitious overhaul program targeted at streamlining the passenger experience. Called NextGen, the initiative aims to usher in the next generation of air travel. Drawing...

Shih Chieh Huang

Since Marcel Duchamp and his bicycle wheel (and urinal), countless artists have included daily objects into their work. There may only be one, though, who uses them to create bioluminescent "living" organisms. Taiwanese-American artist Shih Chieh...

HYT Watches

It was 2012 when Swiss watchmaker HYT (short for Hydro Technology) shocked the industry with its H1 wristwatch, but the initial design for the first watch to indicate time with liquid began almost a decade prior. That's when company founder Lucien...

Ingo Maurer Interview

Few industrial designers have earned a foothold in the greater creative culture like Ingo Maurer, the German-born, New York-based designer of lighting and lighting installations. In the decades since founding his own design practice, Ingo Maurer...

Solar Impulse 2

It's staggering to think that, within less than a century, we've gone from Charles Lindbergh piloting the first solo transatlantic flight—Long Island to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis—to two Swiss adventurers on the cusp of circumnavigating the...


Founded by three friends upon graduating from London’s Royal College of Art in 2003, Troika is a collective and Cool Hunting favorite whose work continues to forge new ground in art. Installing site-specific projects everywhere from Mexico City...

Neil Harbisson and Cybernetics in the Arts

While the term "wearable technology" might make you think of a fitness tracker or Dick Tracy-esque talking wristwatch, Barcelona-based artist Neil Harbisson wears an antenna that is permanently implanted in his head. Diagnosed with achromatopsia...

Redesigning an Icon

Since its founding in 1902, Cadillac has stood as an American icon of automobile design that hails straight from the heart of Detroit. When the future-facing brand unveiled its sleek, modern new insignia design on the 2015 ATS Coupe earlier last...

Ressence Watches

The world took note when Benoît Mintiens, founder of the Antwerp-based Ressence watches, released the Type 3 watch at Baselworld in 2013. The industrial designer had constructed a watch like no other; the watch face appears to dance across its crystal...

Indie Wearable Tech Brands

As companies like Nike, Google, and Apple rush to be at the forefront of wearable technology, a group of startups and tech incubators are making a strong case for why consumers may need to look elsewhere for the next big thing. With products emerging...

The Future of Cadillac Design

At some point in the last decade, Cadillac made a conscious decision to not be all things to all people. By sharpening silhouettes, narrowing lines and hardening angles, the cars developed an entirely new personality, one meant to attract a more design...

Five Next-Gen Digital Cameras

Since the first widely available digital cameras hit the market in the early '90s, the technical leaps made in the field of digital photography have been exponential. Today smartphones house cameras with sensors that dwarf those of high-end models...

Cory Arcangel's Art and Apparel

by Michael Slenske In the early 2000s, Buffalo-born artist Cory Arcangel hacked the Hogan’s Alley video game and replaced the Nintendo gunslingers with silhouettes of Andy Warhol, Colonel Sanders, Flavor Flav and the Pope for a cheeky piece he called...

Bryce Wolkowitz Interview

Slightly obscured by the glare of the gallery’s impossibly tall and tinted windows, the lines of Robert Currie’s wiry, site-specific installation stretch toward the entrance of Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. Unassumingly elegant, Currie’s sculpture looks...

Charged Video:
Aerosyn-Lex Meštrović

With an extensive background in calligraphy and graphic design, New York City–based artist Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic elegantly meshes the two visual forms across an array of media. Strongly rooted at the base of all his work is a visceral connection...

Smart LEDs for the Home

Bright ideas are coming from every design sector, as engineers, artists and scientists join industrial designers in creating the technologies and products that will define the future of light. Today, it's inherently progressive industries like LEDs...

High-Tech Summer Essentials

Whether your summer plans have you headed overseas for a safari or only as far as the backyard, smart tech is getting more clever and more seasonally conscious. From air conditioners that know when you're on your way home and can be operated by smartphones...