Studying the neuroscience of live performance

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The question of what makes live experiences special will be explored in a new €1.9m EU-funded project led by Goldsmiths, University of London.

Photo by Camilla Greenwell of Katye Coe and Matthias Sperling performing 'No-How Generator' by Matthias Sperling

‘Liveness’ is central to dance, theatre and music performance – and to political rallies, sports events, reality TV and university lectures – but what exactly sets live experiences apart from recorded ones? How is our understanding of ‘liveness’ shaped by social media and new immersive technologies like virtual reality?

The NEUROLIVE project, funded by a €1.9m (£1.6m) ERC Consolidator Grant, will be led by Goldsmiths cognitive neuroscientist and professional dancer Dr Guido Orgs, with choreographer/performer Matthias Sperling and Siobhan Davies Dance.

The project will utilise theories from theatre and performance studies, mobile neuroimaging methods and artistic research in performance-making to study the live experience.

The research team is completed by Dr Jamie A. Ward, expert in wearable sensor technologies (Department of Computing, Goldsmiths) and social psychologist Professor Daniel C. Richardson (Department of Experimental Psychology, UCL).

Over five years, the NEUROLIVE research team will explore how liveness is generated and experienced. Across a series of newly created dance performances, it will study the minds, brains and bodies of performers and spectators during the experience of live events.

The project combines motion capture, mobile brain and body imaging, audience experience measures and machine learning techniques to produce a measure of ‘liveness’ that is grounded in the live performing arts, yet applicable to new and not yet developed digital technologies. 

NEUROLIVE develops a new kind of transdisciplinary collaboration, in which artists and scientists co-design artworks and scientific studies, including live dance performances, psychological experiments, and artist-led research workshops, culminating in a ‘liveness handbook’ – a critical guide to understanding live experiences in the digital age. 

Art and science are closely integrated throughout the lifetime of the project. Artistic research will contribute to the experimental design of psychological studies in the lab and scientific principles and methods will feed into the making of dance and choreography. 

Beyond dance and choreography, NEUROLIVE will explore liveness across a range of performance situations, including stand-up comedy, reality TV shows, online lectures, political rallies and live music recordings.

Read more on the ERC website