Ben Neill has recently been appointed a Nokia Bell Labs Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) Artist in Residence, where he is exploring new modes of emotion transfer and communication between people using music, visual media, movement, and hybrid instruments.

Bell Labs has a long history of fusing technology and the arts. In fact, Bell Labs pioneered the fusion of the creative with the technologist long before Artists-In-Residence (AIR) and STEAM (STEM with an A for arts) became popular. Just a few examples are given below:

  • It starts in the 1930s where we collaborated with the famous conductor Leopold Stokowski from 1931–1932 on the first transmission of stereo sound.
  • Then in the 50s and 60s some of the pioneering artists of the time such as James Tenney and Lillian Schwartz were long time AIRs at Bell Labs and developed the first computer graphics, computer art and computer sound.
  • Then in the mid-60s two Bell Labs engineers (Kluver and Waldhauer) joined forces with renowned artists such Rauchenberg, Cage, Whitman, and others to form the seminal 9 Evenings of Theater and Engineering which led to the creation of the Experiments in Arts and Technology (E.A.T.org) organization. The 9 Evenings and the E.A.T. movement inspired, to this day, generations of artists that look to fuse technology into their art. These engagements carried on into the 80s and around that time the organization’s energy dissipated.

We recently reenergized our Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) program and today we have many longer-term Artist-In-Residences (AIRs) and short-term collaborations with artists across the world. Our mission within the modern E.A.T. program is to create new modes of empathic communication such that we can share emotions, sentiment, cognition and experiences between people. The goal is to break down barriers that exist between people/race/culture/religion by enabling higher order modes of communication beyond our basic spoken and written word. Our goal is to invent technology that will augment our senses and enable new forms of communication, interaction and sharing between people.

Our AIR program involves deeply embedding the artists within our research community for the best part of a year. We provide studio space, access to world leading scientists and access to world leading technology. The artists take part in team and project meetings where there is an overlapping interest and they become extended team members to foster the greatest levels of collaboration. We also provide equipment and materials budget to accelerate and realize their creative ideas and we support a large scale and highly visible realization of the art created during the residency.