What is hidden in a breath?

The research proposed here is inspired by Evrim Kavcar’s Records of Breath, an art installation that consisted of sound art, watercolor paintings dried by breath and two books that spoke about states of violence, loss and mourning. It concentrated on an interview with a psychologist, who took the artist through the memories of a collective loss under the state violence, to her personal loss. Out of this session, only the breaths of the artist are maintained for this art piece. Listening to the sharp intake of these breaths with all the tension, and the indescribable subtleties that powerfully signaled the distress of the artist is a transforming experience for the audience. The artist has achieved this by working on individual sound files in meticulous detail. Our first question is, can we apply this approach on a much grander scale, across traumas from various cultures, geographies and timespans, and gain a new insight by analyzing breathing patterns of thousands? This question is supported by a number of domain-specific questions. Can we create paralinguistic analysis tools that psychologists can use in diagnosing and treating trauma victims? Can we create a new artistic approach that translates the results of a multidisciplinary research into somatic multisensory experience that generates a common ground for the public to relate to the experience of the other?

Figure: Visualization of Breath (red), Silence (Green), Speech (Light Blue) Patterns

In Figure 1, each line represents one survivor’s speech segments, where light blue circles are speech, red circles are breathing, and green circles are silences. The data comes from oral history archives from different events described in different languages. The horizontal dimension shows the time (the longest segment is one and a half minutes), and the circle radii are proportional to duration. On the left side, the normal speech segments are aligned, whereas the ones on the right side are emotionally charged. Typical features in the latter include long silences, pierced by deep breath -especially before telling about the most traumatic event-, sometimes frequent and sharp breathing. As expected, even in such a small sample size, certain characteristics prevail: for instance, personal speech patterns are different, and set the tempo of the speech as well as breathing, but within the personal tempo, deep breathing emerges. Some of these patterns are not heard while listening to the video/audio recordings themselves, but become visible only after the annotated portions of breathing patterns are visualized. Cultural approaches to trauma and disasters might dictate the way events are described, but this small sample suggests the possibility that the breathing and silence patterns that occur while telling a traumatic event are shared across cultures. A much larger scale empirical investigation will follow.


2019. Predicting depression and emotions in the cross-roads of cultures, para-linguistics, and non-linguistics. H. Kaya, D. Fedotov, D. Dresvyanskiy, M. Doyran, D. Mamontov, M. Markitantov, A.A. Akdag Salah, E. Kavcar, A. Karpov and A.A. Salah. Proceedings of the 9th International Workshop on Audio/Visual Emotion Challenge, AVEC'19, co-located with the 27th ACM International Conference on Multimedia, MM 2019, LILLE.

Author P

2019. Hidden in a breath: Tracing the breathing patterns of survivors of traumatic events, A.A. Akdag Salah, M. Ocak, E. Kavsar, H. Kaya, A.A. Salah, DH 2019, Utrecht.

Published Version & Abstract