Drum Treatment – Production Proposal



Despite being the original inhabitants of Turtle Island, a.k.a Canada, the customs of the Indigenous People are foreign in colonized settings. With the recent mass influx of Aboriginal from native Reserves into urban settings, healthy cohabitation must emphasize approaches that reconcile culture differences by hybridizing aboriginal and western customs. The field of medicine presents one area of critical interest in creating a cross-cultural environment. Sickness is an intimate and desperate time in anyone’s life. By combining native practices with western medicine, two disparately different cultures can build on the discoveries of the other and create an improved healing environment.

Drum Treatment is an interactive installation that includes artifacts from the Aboriginal and western medical culture. A Traditional Hand Drum, used in medicinal ceremonies, is used to represent the Anishnawbe healing practices. The Drum Teaching given by Steve Teekens, Drummer in the Red Spirit Singers, explains its metaphorical representation of our mother’s heartbeat. Beating on the drum reminds us of our home within her womb. The sense of belonging produces medicinal effects on the psyche of patients. An Electrocardiogram (ECG), used in western hospitals, typically represents the heartbeat’s pump action. The heart, an organ the size of our fist, is vital to life. Depending on the owner and their fitness, the heart’s pulse can come in a variety of shapes. In Drum Treatment, a Piezo sensor (vibration sensor) detects beat pressure and tempo within a broad gradient range and triggers heart pulses of different shapes and sizes. In an effort to make the piece as truthful as possible, Dr. Rob Nolan, Behavioural Cardiologist at Toronto General Hospital, was consulted to come up with pulse shapes. The Arduino Microchip Controller picks up the signal and sends it to the Arduino IED. A program labels beat clips and sends the label to Processing Program. The label associated Pulse scenario is visualized on the ECG monitor. Concurrent to each beat, a background audio combines the sound of a heartbeat and the tone of a typical ECG. The piece uses tactile, visual and audio components that produce and multi-sensory experience. The piece has simple technical components, however, the concept is clearly communicated by the cultural definitions invested in each component.[1]

The piece has undergone two formal critiques since September, which resulted in two large transformations. In early November, feedback from the Proof-of-Concept Critique was provided by New Media Artists: Jessica Field and David Rockeby and Ryerson Professor: Kathleen Pirrie-Adams. Motivation to provide the audience with the power to control pulses resulted in the piece to become reactive. At the User Test Critique in early December, User Experience Consultant Ilona Posner encouraged further changes to the ‘control’ aspect. She proposed to give the ECG modularity. The piece shifted from being a dialogue between two artifacts, to becoming a relationship that is characterized by active and static periods. This can be seen by the presence on a pulse on the ECG without a user drumming. In addition, the significance of a ‘flat line’ was raised and whether it fit within the concept framework. Relationships never die, but instead experience a range of activity including stagnation. Ongoing research is being made into different pulse scenarios based on beating activity and the user’s experience. The pictorial element used in previous versions might be removed since it makes the idea “too literal.”[2]

The western healthcare setting has been criticized for under-emphasizing the psychological component of healing. Aboriginal healing arts has been criticized for lacking validity. More and more research is revealing recovery as a holistic experience, physical, mental and spiritual. Aboriginal culture is rich in spiritual elements. Western culture is focused on physical elements. Combining the two cultures moves us towards an improved healing experience. Furthermore, Indigenous people leaving the reserve should not suffer from alienations during a critical time in their life. By bringing attention to the possibility of collaboration between the cultures, not only will the Canadian identity be strengthened, we will be working towards a more inclusive environment.


[1] Ilona Posner, User Experience and Usability Consultant. 2012.

[2] Lila Pine, Program Director, New Media. 2013.

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