Neil Harbisson

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Neil Harbisson
Born (1984-07-27)27 July 1984[1]
United Kingdom
  • United Kingdom[2]
  • Ireland[3]
Known for
Notable work
  • Sound Portraits, Colour Concerts, Colour Scores, Capital Colours.
Movement Cyborg art
  • 2016  Tribeca X Award[5]
    Tribeca Film Festival, New York
  • 2015  Futurum Award[6]
    Futurum, Monaco
  • 2014  Bram Stoker Gold Medal[7]
    Trinity College, Dublin
  • 2013  Focus Forward Grand Jury Award[8]
    Sundance Film Festival, USA
  • 2010  Cre@tic Award 2010[9]
    Tecnocampus Mataro
  • 2009  Phonos Music Grant[10]
    IUA Phonos, Spain
  • 2005  Best Performing Story[11]
    ResearchTV, UK
  • 2004  Innovation Award 2004
    Submerge (Bristol, UK)
  • 2004  Europrix Multimedia Award[12]
    Vienna, Austria
  • 2001 & 2010  Stage Creation Award[13]
    IMAC Mataro, Spain

Neil Harbisson (born 27 July 1984) is a Catalan-raised, British-born[14] avant-garde artist and cyborg activist based in New York City.[15] He is best known for being the first person in the world with an antenna implanted in his skull[16] and for being officially recognized as a cyborg by a government.[17] His antenna uses audible vibrations in his skull to report information to him. This includes measurements of electromagnetic radiation, phone calls, music, as well as video or images which are translated into sound.[18] His wifi enabled antenna also allows him to receive signals and data from satellites.[19]

Since 2004, international media has described him as the world's first cyborg[20] or the world's first cyborg artist,[21] for expressing himself artistically through a new sense created by the permanent union between electronic components and his brain. In 2010, he co-founded the Cyborg Foundation, an international organisation that defends cyborg rights, promotes cyborgism as an art movement and supports people who want to become cyborgs.[22] In 2015 he co-founded Cyborg Nest,[23] a company that creates artificial senses to extend the perception of reality.[24]

Early life and career[edit]

Harbisson is the son of a Catalan mother and a Northern Irish father.[25] He was born with an extreme form of colour blindness that results in his seeing in grayscale. He grew up in Mataró in Catalonia, Spain, where he studied music and art[26] at various schools.[27] He began to compose piano pieces at the age of 11[28] and, at 16, began studying fine art at the Institut Alexandre Satorras, where he was given special permission to use no colour in his work. His early works are all in black and white[29] and these were the only colours he used to wear.[30]

At the age of 18, Harbisson climbed a tree in Mataró to save three trees from being felled.[31] He lived in the tree for several days,[32] supported by over 3,000 people who signed a petition to maintain the trees.[33] After days of protest, the city hall announced the trees would not be cut.[34] At the age of 19, he moved to England to study music composition at Dartington College of Arts.[35]


Cyborg Antenna: In 2003 Harbisson started a project at Dartington College of Arts with Adam Montandon to develop a sensor that transposed colour frequencies into sound frequencies.[36] Neil memorised the sound of each colour and decided to permanently attach the sensor to his head.[37] Peter Kese, upgraded the sensor to 360 microtones and added volume levels depending on colour saturation levels[38] and Matias Lizana, developed the sensor's software into a smaller chip.[39] The antenna implant was rejected by bioethical committees, which is why it was implanted by anonymous doctors.[40] Harbisson's antenna, which has been permanently attached to his head since 2004, is osseointegrated inside his skull and sprouts from within his occipital bone. It allows him to hear the light frequencies of the spectrum including invisible colours such as infrared and ultraviolet. The antenna consists of two antenna implants, one vibration/sound implant, and a Bluetooth implant that allows him to connect to the internet and therefore receive colours from satellites and other people's cameras, as well as receive phone calls directly into his skull. [21]

Cyborg passport: In 2004, Harbisson was not allowed to renew his UK passport because his passport photo was rejected. The UK Passport Office would not allow Harbisson to appear with electronic equipment on his head. Harbisson wrote back insisting that the antenna should be considered part of his body as he had become a cyborg. Letters from his doctor, friends and his college were sent to the passport office to give him support. After weeks of correspondence Harbisson's antenna was included.[41] Harbisson states that he became a cyborg when the union between his organism and his antenna created a new sense.[42]


There are currently five people in the world who are allowed to send him images, sounds or videos.[43] The first person to call his head was Ruby Wax.[44] The first public demonstration of a skull transmitted image was broadcast live on Al Jazeera's chat show The Stream. The image, a selfie sent from New York by model Isaac Dean Weber, was received and identified by Harbisson as a face.[45] In 2011 the antenna was damaged by police who believed that Harbisson had been filming them during a demonstration in Plaça de Catalunya, Barcelona.[46][47] Harbisson filed a complaint of physical aggression, as he considers the antenna to be a body part.[48]


Neil Harbisson conducting a colour concert at Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona (2014)[49]

Harbisson's art work has been ranked together with the works of Yoko Ono and Marina Abramovic as one of the 10 most shocking art performances ever.[50] His work is focused on the creation of new senses and the creation of external art works through these new senses.[51] His main works have been exhibited during the 54th Venice Biennale[52] at Palazzo Foscari (Giudecca 795),[53] Savina Museum of Contemporary Art (Seoul),[54] Museumsquartier (Vienna), CCCB (Barcelona),[55] Bankside Gallery (London), Pioneer Works (New York City),[56] Royal College of Art Gallery (London), Centre d'Art Santa Mònica (Barcelona),[57] Pollock Gallery (Dallas),[58] and at the American Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore),[59] among others.[60][61]

  • Performances: Harbisson's first performance as a cyborg was Piano Concerto No. 1, in which he painted a Steinway & Sons grand piano with different colour paints and used his antenna to play the frequencies of the colours. With his next composition, the Pianoborg Concerto, the piano was prepared by attaching a computer to the underside, and positioning an antenna above the keys. When a colour was shown to the antenna, the computer picked up the frequency and relayed this to the piano, which then played the corresponding note. Neil said, "The piano is playing the pianist."[62]
  • Audio: Harbisson has created a series of audio files from the colours of celebrity faces. Each face creates a unique micro tone chord depending on its colours. To create the sound portrait Harbisson stands in front of the person and points his antenna at different parts of the face, he then writes down the different notes he hears and later creates a sound file. Since 2004, he has created live portraits of, among others, Prince Charles, Woody Allen,[63] Antoni Tàpies, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dame Judi Dench,[64] Moby, James Cameron, Peter Brook, Al Gore, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Macy Gray, Gael García Bernal,[65] Alfonso Cuarón, Ryoji Ikeda, Gabriel Byrne,[66] Steve Reich,[67] Nicole Kidman, Dame Evelyn Glennie,[68] Steve Wozniak,[69] Tracey Emin and Giorgio Moroder.[70]
  • Paintings:
    Sonochromatic Records exhibited at Pioneer Works, New York (2014)
    Hearing colour also means that everyday sounds, such as voices or music, become associated with colours too.[71] Colour Scores are a series of paintings where Harbisson paints what he hears, from music to speeches.[72] In 2007, Harbisson hitch-hiked around Europe to find the main colours of capital cities,[73] visiting more than 50 countries.[74] He scanned each capital until he was able represent each city with two dominant hues.[75] In Monaco, it was azure and salmon pink; in Bratislava it was yellow and turquoise; and in Andorra it was dark green and fuchsia.[76] Under the title Capital Colors of Europe Harbisson has exhibited the colours of each capital in several European galleries[77] including Spain, Andorra, UK, and Croatia.[78]
  • Studies: In 2009 Harbisson published the Human Color Wheel based on the hue and light detected on hundreds of human skins from 2004 to 2009.[42] Harbisson states that humans are not black or white, humans are orange. Human skins range from very light to very dark shades of orange-red to orange-yellow.[79]


Neil Harbisson giving a talk at the Science Museum, London, 2015

Harbisson is in the cast of Adam Green's Aladdin, an independent film directed by Adam Green and starred by Macaulay Culkin, Natasha Lyonne, Alia Shawkat and Francesco Clemente among others.[80]

Harbisson has collaborated extensively with Catalan choreographer Moon Ribas in a series of devised theatre and dance performances such as Opus No.1, premiered at London's BAC Theatre, The Sound of the Orange Tree,[81] premiered at Barcelona's Antic Teatre[82] and Walking Colours.[83]

Harbisson's first colour-to-voice performances were in collaboration with Icelandic musician María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir. In their performances, María used a computer to hear and sing the colour frequencies that Harbisson used while creating live paintings on stage.[84]

Harbisson has collaborated and performed with Catalan musician Pau Riba with whom he shares the same interest in cyborgs.[85] They first performed at Sala Luz de Gas (Barcelona), followed by other performances.[86][87] One of their projects is Avigram, a structure of 12 strings, one string for each semitone in an octave, installed on a roof of a farm. The installation is recorded 24 hours a day and a melody is being created depending on which strings birds decide to rest on.[88]


Impersonator of Neil Harbisson on Hong Kong TV show.

Harbisson has contributed significantly to the public awareness of cyborgs, transpecies, artificial senses and human evolution by giving regular public lectures at universities, conferences and LAN parties sometimes to an audience of thousands.[89] He has taken part in science, music, fashion and art festivals such as the British Science Festival,[90] TEDGlobal,[91] London Fashion Week,[92] Sónar,[93] and NeoTokyo Festival[94] among others.[95] He has become trending topic on Twitter[96] in several occasions.[97][98][99] He has appeared on TV documentaries such as Daily Planet by Discovery Channel,[100] Documentos TV,[101] Redes; and in specific documentaries about his life such as La importància dels colors,[102] and El Ciborg dels Colors,[103] as well as on a number of chat shows including NBC's Last Call with Carson Daly,[104] Richard & Judy, Buenafuente,[105] Fantástico[106] and on the Belgian comedy show Scheire en de Schepping. He has taken part in radio programmes on New York's Public Radio International,[107] BBC World Service,[108] Cadena SER,[109] and has contributed in newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times,[110] The New Scientist,[111] Wired,[112] The Scientist,[113]The Red Bulletin,[114] Modern Painters,[38] ¡Hola!,[115] and Muy Interesante.[116]

In 2013, Cyborg Foundation[117] a short documentary film about Neil Harbisson and the Cyborg Foundation, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival's Focus Forward Filmmakers Competition.[118] Since 2014, The Sound of Colours[119] a short film about Harbisson's life, is being filmed.[120] In 2015, Hearing Colors, a black and white documentary about Harbisson in New York was chosen as a Vimeo "Staff Pick" and became the 2016 winner of New York's Tribeca Film Festival X Award.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Registre El Maresme Issue 224, Summer 1984.
  2. ^ Neil's the first UK cyborg – official. It says so on his passport, Totnes Times, 1 December 2004.
  3. ^ Colourblind artist wants cyborg eye in his Irish passport, Belfast Telegraph, 15 May 2012.
  4. ^ "I listen to color", CNN, 10 September 2012
  5. ^ Éditorial "Hearing Colors wins Tribeca Film Festival award", Adweek, 21 April 2016
  6. ^ Éditorial "Un award pour l'artiste à l'antenne greffée sur la tête", Monaco-Matin, 4 November 2015
  7. ^ Fionn McGorry "Human cyborg visits TCD", Trinity News, 11 October 2014
  8. ^ Geli, Carles "Un documental catalán, premiado en Sundance", El País, 27 January 2013.
  9. ^ Martinez, Lluis "La Fundació Cyborg s'endú el primer premi dels Cre@tic", El Punt, 20 November 2010.
  10. ^ Becas Phonos IUA (Institut Universitari d'Audiovisuals), Universitat Pompeu Fabra [1]
  11. ^ "Cyborgs and Stem Cells triumph in research movie oscars", AIB News Archive, 26 April 2006
  12. ^ "Europrix Multimedia Awards 2004"
  13. ^ "Temporada del Monumental", Capgròs, 27 August 2010.
  14. ^ As told to Sally Davies, FT Magazine I'm a human cyborg – I can hear colour, First Person: Neil Harbisson I was born in Belfast but grew up in Catalonia., 17 August 2012.
  15. ^ Rawle, Tom "EXCLUSIVE: Human cyborg who hears colour is using antenna to 'see' space", Daily Star, 24 April 2015
  16. ^ Wade, Greg. "Seeing things in a different light", BBC, 19 January 2005.
  17. ^ CNN [2]
  18. ^ Jeffries, Stuart "World's first cyborg artist", The Guardian, 6 May 2014
  19. ^ Rawle, Tom "EXCLUSIVE: Human cyborg who HEARS colour is using antenna to 'see' SPACE", Daily Star, 24 April 2015
  20. ^ Radnedge, Aidan. "World's first cyborg", Metro, 2 December 2004.
  21. ^ a b Jeffries, Stuart "Neil Harbisson, the world's first cyborg artist", The Guardian, 5 May 2014
  22. ^ García, F.C. "Nace una fundación dedicada a convertir humanos en ciborgs", La Vanguardia, 1 March 2011.
  23. ^ Cyborg Nest
  24. ^ Minor, Jordan "North Sense implant turns you into a human compass", Geek, 27 May 2016.
  25. ^ Editor "Artist wants cyborg eye in Irish passport", Belfast Telegraph, 15 May 2012
  26. ^ FC "Més de 4000 espectadors ja han vist els Pastorets que acaben diumenge" Capgros 12–19 February 1999
  27. ^ JV "Alumnes del Campeny representen Terra Baixa" Crònica de Mataró 16 May 1998
  28. ^ Mas, Pere. "Neil Harbisson, ciborg de colors", Catalunya Ràdio, 25 August 2009
  29. ^ Brennan, Ciarán. "When what you see is not in colour", The Irish Times, 5 May 2008.
  30. ^ Bryony Gordon. "From black and white to colour . . . eyes opened to sound of socks", The Independent, 13 January 2005.
  31. ^ Ferran, Helena. "Un «cyborg» català al Regne Unit", El Punt, 5 December 2004.
  32. ^ de la Fuente, Antonia. "Barones rampantes de Mataró se instalan en árboles para impedir que los corten", La Vanguardia, 27 May 2001.
  33. ^ "Penjats pels arbres" Front page of El Punt 26 May 2001
  34. ^ Ferran, Helena. "Famós a Mataró per <<salvar>> arbres", El Punt, 5 December 2004.
  35. ^ Martinez Arias, Alberto. "Primer ciborg del mundo reconocido por un gobierno", Puntos de Vista,Radio Exterior de España, 23 January 2012.
  36. ^ Nadotti, Cristina. "Daltonici, mondo a colori con l'aiuto di "Eye-borg"", La Repubblica, 31 May 2005.
  37. ^ Alfredo M. Ronchi: Eculture: Cultural Content in the Digital Age. Springer (New York, 2009). p.319 ISBN 978-3-540-75273-8
  38. ^ a b Harbisson, Neil. "Painting by ear" Modern Painters, The International Contemporary Art Magazine pp.70–73. New York, June 2008.
  39. ^ Sanchis, Ima. "La veo en blanco y negro pero la oigo en colores", La Contra de La Vanguardia, 10 July 2010.
  40. ^ BROKEN LINK Millás, Juan José. "El Cyborg del Tercer Ojo", El País, 15 January 2012.
  41. ^ Miah, Andy / Rich, Emma. The medicalization of cyberspace, Routledge (New York, 2008). p.130 ISBN 978-0-415-37622-8
  42. ^ a b Serra, Laura "No som blancs ni negres, tots som taronges" Ara, 19 January 2011.
  43. ^ Williams, Alison "Cyborg Series #1", Not Impossible Now, 29 October 2014
  44. ^ [Shin, Nara "Cool Hunting: Neil Harbisson", Coolhunting, 5 May 2014
  45. ^ The Stream"The World's First Cyborg", Al Jazeera, 27 November 2014.
  46. ^ BBC News – The man who hears colour
  47. ^ Twitter / @NeilHarbisson: Eyeborg broken by police a …
  48. ^ Twitter / @NeilHarbisson: Secret police have just br …
  49. ^ Vodafone "First color conducted concert", Firsts, January 2014
  50. ^ Jones, Jonathan. "The 10 most shocking performance artworks ever", The Guardian, 11 November 2013
  51. ^ Editorial Board. "El Artista que escucha los Colores" BBC Mundo 27 May 2010
  52. ^ Editorial Board "Eyeborg" Venice Connected June 2011
  53. ^ Giorcelli, Rosalba. [3] (Italy), 16 June 2011.
  54. ^ "Color Study", Art Korea TV, 4 August 2015
  55. ^ Farré, Natàlia "Viviremos en otro planeta?, El Periodico, 7 October 2015
  56. ^ "Neil Harbisson: Cyborg Artist at the Creative Frontier", Master Dynamic, 18 September 2014
  57. ^ Frisach, Montse "La Música del Món" Avui 30 April 2012
  58. ^ Escobedo, Lee. "From A-Z" Arts and Culture Texas Magazine October 2015.
  59. ^ Scharper, Julie "AVAM's 'Human, Soul & Machine' explores technology's power", The Baltimore Sun, 6 October 2013
  60. ^ Pedrico, Marta "Poner color al sonido..." La Vanguardia 7 October 2011.
  61. ^ Bosco, Roberta. "El Pintor que oye colores" El País 18 May 2005.
  62. ^ Woodcock, Jo. "Cyborg student, the first at Dartington", Life After Dartington, page 10, Issue 26, Summer 2005.
  63. ^ Bergós, Mónica "El primer 'cyborg'", El Correo, 15 May 2010.
  64. ^ Editor "Neil Harbisson, Sentidos Cosmicos", Abrigo Portatil, Num.5. Brazil 2016.
  65. ^ Pesantes, Karla "Todos deberiamos queres ser cyborgs" Vistazo 19 October 2011
  66. ^ Davies, Sally "Encounters with the Posthuman",Nautilus, 29 April 2013
  67. ^ "Neil Harbisson creating a sound portrait of Steve Reich in New York
  68. ^ "Neil Harbisson creating a sound portrait of Evelyn Glennie"
  69. ^ Bryant, Ross "People will start becoming technology says human cyborg" "Dezeen Magazine" 20 November 2013
  70. ^ "Neil Harbisson creating a sound portrait of Giorgio Moroder
  71. ^ Pearce, Marcus. "The vision thing: Art and illusion", The Guardian, 22 September 2008.
  72. ^ Jarque, Miquel "L'art de pintar els sons", Catalunya Ràdio, 8 May 2010.
  73. ^ Marković, Stjepan. "Prvi sluzbeni covjek kiborg cuje trideset i sest boja" 24 sata pp.12–13, 17 December 2007
  74. ^ Brooks, Richard. "Colour-blind artist learns to paint by hearing", The Sunday Times, 24 February 2008.
  75. ^ Dee, Michael. "Neil Harbisson – en kunstnerisk kyborg", Kunst for alle, p.32-35 Issue 3, 2009.
  76. ^ Bojka "Katalonci "čudnim zvukovima" odredili boju Zagreba" Lupiga, 29 November 2007.
  77. ^ Marković, Stjepan. "Kiborg iz Engleske u Zagrebu 'slusao' boje" 24 sata Promotivni Primjerak Front Page, 17 December 2007
  78. ^ "Zivi sa zicama na vrhu glave" 24 sata Front Page, 17 December 2007
  79. ^ Hadden, Gerry "Color-Blind Artist Neil Harbisson Uses Webcam-Like Eyeborg to ‘Hear’ Color", The World, Public Radio International, 28 February 2012.
  80. ^ Cartelera Adam Green's Aladdin, La Vanguardia, 2016
  81. ^ Blanch, Anna "El món sonocromàtic d'‘El so del taronger' arriba a Mataró", El Punt, 17 December 2010.
  82. ^ Serra, Laura "No hi ha blancs ni negres, tots som taronges", Diari Ara, 19 January 2011
  83. ^ "Laboratori de creació: una cançó, un intèrpret, una dansa", Televisió de Catalunya, 29 April 2012.
  84. ^ "Carne Cruda","Radio Nacional de España", 2 June 2010.
  85. ^ Putx, Donat. "Mi madre es un cyborg", La Vanguardia, 28 January 2009.
  86. ^ Tramullas, Gemma. "Pau Riba invita a disfrutar de un orgasmo folclórico", El Periódico, 27 September 2009.
  87. ^ Bueno, Vern "Una performance porta 99 nous el dia 9 del 9, de 9 del matí a 9 de la nit", Capgròs, 8 September 2009.
  88. ^ "Tres artistes locals i Pau Riba creen una instal·lació a les Cinc Sènies", Capgròs, 22 Abril 2010.
  89. ^ Redaccion "7,000 geeks se despiden y superan un reto tecnologico", El Economista, 24 July 2011.
  90. ^ Pearce, Marcus "The vision thing: Art and illusion", The Guardian, 22 September 2008.
  91. ^ "I listen to color", TED Global, 27 June 2012.
  92. ^ "London Fashion Week Talks", The Galleon, October 2014
  93. ^ "Apps que marcan tendencia mañana en el Sónar", Euroxpress, 12 June 2012
  94. ^ Europa Press "La música electrónica se cuela entre el arte moderno", El Mundo, 11 September 2011.
  95. ^ Redaccion "A historia do mozo que escoita as cores, no ALT", Galicia Hoxe, 12 March 2011.
  96. ^ Trending Topic Twitter
  97. ^ Redacción "Harbisson: el joven que escucha colores", El Economista, 21 July 2011.
  98. ^ "Mesh Conference Coverage, by /newsrooms". /newsrooms. Retrieved 2015-12-24. 
  99. ^ "Neil Harbisson - Today I became 'trending topic' in Spain... | Facebook". Retrieved 2015-12-24. 
  100. ^ "Art and Science", Daily Planet, Discovery Channel, 2 April 2009
  101. ^ "Ciborgs buy humanos", Documentos TV, Televisión Española, 12 June 2012
  102. ^ La importància dels colors
  103. ^ El Ciborg dels Colors
  104. ^ NBC, "Last Call with Carson Daly", 29 September 2014
  105. ^ Buenafuente, Andreu "La vida en blanco y negro", Buenafuente, La Sexta, 27 May 2010
  106. ^ "Homem identifica cores através dos sons", Fantástico, Rede Globo, 5 February 2012
  107. ^ Molinsky, Eric "Neil Harbisson, cyborg", Studio 360, WNYC, 4 November 2011
  108. ^ Bannister, Matthew "The Man who hears color, Outlook, BBC World Service, 23 January 2012
  109. ^ Beltran, P."Mamá quiero ser artista y ciborg", Cadena Ser, 16 January 2012.
  110. ^ Lee, Jennifer "A Surgical Implant for Seeing Colors Through Sound", The New York Times, 2 July 2012
  111. ^ Else, Liz "Cyborg makes art using seventh sense", The New Scientist, 29 June 2012
  112. ^ Finn, Christine "Cyborg enables color blind artist to hear his palette", Wired, 24 February 2008
  113. ^ Akst, Jef "The Sound of Color", The Scientist, May 2012
  114. ^ Rottenschlager, Andreas "The Sound of the Cyborg", The Red Bulletin, 22 February 2011.
  115. ^ Redaccion "El primer cyborg del mundo", ¡Hola!, 17 February 2012
  116. ^ Redaccion "Los colores tambien se escuchan", Muy Interesante, 31 January 2012
  117. ^ Cyborg Foundation
  118. ^ Pond, Steve "Cyborg Foundation" wins $100K Focus Forward prize, Chicago Tribune, 22 January 2013
  119. ^ The Sound of Colours
  120. ^ Sastre, Cristina "El Sonido de los Colores", El Mundo, 17 January 2014

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External links[edit]