The Electromagnetic Fountain

EMF update – ROOM 313

leave a comment »

Room 313

I am sitting in room 313 at Thon Høyes Hotel in Skien, Norway, waiting for all the other guests to go out and have fun on Friday night so the wireless net connection goes faster and I can update my blog. I’m a bit lonely, but it is a very friendly hotel down by the water. My room is moderately sized and quite cozy really, with just enough space for me and all my clothes and equipment that I have been carrying with me from place to place for the past 9 weeks. There’s a telly, a desk, a single bed and a couple of chairs and a spacious bathroom. I have my espresso machine with me so I can make good coffee when I want to.

Breakfast and dinner

Each morning I eat breakfast in the restaurant, and make a packed lunch of fruit, sandwiches and yogurt before setting off to the old warehouse down the road at Klosterøya provided kindly by Bautas Equipment Rentals to work on the EM fountain. The warehouse is huge, cold and inhabited by several pigeons, but I like it, and the staff at Bautas are extremely friendly and supportive.

Each evening I eat the dinner of the day accompanied by one glass of wine (house red or white, according to the dish on offer) before coming up to my room to plan the next day, and then falling to sleep in a heap. Each day brings with it a new and unexpected hurdle to overcome.

Programming (max/msp) with Trond at BEK

Having been here almost a week to work on the fountain construction at Frank Ralles workshop, I took the train to Bergen to work on the programming of the fountain with Trond Lossius at BEK (Bergen Centre for Electronic Art), who, having invited me to give two presentations of my project earlier, offered to work with me for three days on the matter. One of the main issues was to devise a way to get meaningful data out of location-sensitive, unpredictable sound data that flows from the detectors designed by Martin – and then find a meaningful way to map the results of the data onto the fountain’s mechanisms. We encountered a series of technical malfunctions in relation to the detectors, the origins of which are too complicated to go into here, with many unknown variables/causes. Anyway, I will cut through them and move on to what we ended up doing, but before doing so I would like to mention one thing. Working with the detectors and the analysis of the signals revealed, amongst other things, how bodies moving through electromagnetic fields alter the fields themselves. This is a fascinating (re)discovery that could be picked up on later. Water jets could, for example, follow people around as they moved through the fields picked up by the detectors. There are a lot of potentials to address in the future.

We worked on the most reliable detector, and the one that eventually gave the strongest signals – the VLF sniffer with 2m coil antenna. This one picks up and delivers strong signals of EM fields in its very close proximity and gives delicious sounds. We put a mobile phone directly over the antenna nose to create a continuous input signal. Plugging the audio output from the sniffer into the audio interface (amplifying it) and the mac mini, we analyzed the brightness, loudness and noisiness of the sound signal in various ways, visualizing it and looking/listening for significant changes in the signal. As a new change occurs, the fountain valves adapt a new pattern/sequence. Each sequence resembles a “classic” fountain choreography, but because the rhythm is dependent on the quirky rhythm of the network signals it is all a bit off beat. This is of course all theoretical right now. The fountain is not here physically, and we can only watch what is happening on the screen, but it looks and feels very promising.

Each jet pattern circulates either clockwise or anticlockwise. When the mobile phone receives a call, or a signal from elsewhere produces a dramatic change, then all valve jets of the fountain are programmed to “flash” open and closed. Applying an autoscaler to the data became very interesting in relation to this behavior. As it takes time for max/msp to re-calibrate the signal from memory/buffer it is as if the fountain must recover from a trauma, or an exertion, before moving back to its pulsating mode.The mobile phone also acts as sensor/antenna for other data flows – though it is difficult to say exactly what they are and where they come from. So, in the light of the time scale and demands of getting the EM fountain ready for public exposure, this solution (a mob mounted directly on the antenna nose) has become the basis for the second EMF prototype.

This solution focuses mainly on direct human interaction, but has some environmental influences too. When leaving BEK I had an ambition to utilize at least one other of Martin’s sniffers to get more of the environmental influence in the picture, but after today’s discoveries I am not so confident about this ….

Yesterday – back in Skien

Returning from Bergen on the night train on Wednesday evening, I dumped my stuff at the hotel, was picked up by Atle Barcley (ROM3/ producer) and driven to the warehouse to see the work that had been done during my absence. It looked great but the chamber that holds the electronic gear had been sealed with a bolted panel, rather than a locked door. Having noted this we rushed around finding a table, chair, as well as a drill and bit/chimney with which to open the chamber.

Bautas Warehouse Work station

I hooked up my mac to the fountain to assign DMX channels, etc, to the electrical components – valves, lights, pumps – with some success (pumps and central light were connected, great! Only the solenoid valves and 5 jet lights to go. By that time I was cold and tired, but optimistic enough to phone Marius the Electrician to tell him of the success.

Today ……

Today I have sworn like the devil, and cursed every living creature on earth – and then, after a while, repented.

Next morning (today) I meet Marius. We correct the dmx addresses on the rgb light controller for the jet lamps and the solenoid valve switch box. All is working fine, it seems. Excitedly, we start to fill the fountain bowl with water (it has taken a long time to get to this stage) ……

Filling the bowl

….. and with horror find that two streams of water are flowing out of the hexagon hole in the centre of the fountain base over the floor. After a short period of disbelief and panic, we cut off the electric power and investigate further. There are two open holes that should have been closed in the centre of the bowl. They are for the cables that will run from the 2 rgb lamps that have not yet been delivered, to their power supplies in the electronics chamber of the base. PHEW. However, we also discover that there is water leaking from the tubes connected to the water pump system. DAMNATION.

Leaky pump

Marius fixes the plumping. He fills the empty holes with cables.

Fixing holes 2 Fixing holes

We fill the bowl with water and try out the pumps. Instead of a 4 m jet flowing out from the central pump, a pathetic 4 cm dribble appears. HELVETES FAEN! (very naughty Norwegian swearing). And even though the switch box is working in accordance with the software signals, the valves do not open or close, neither does the water pump that supplies them seem to be responding. SATANS HELVETES FAEN! (okay, so this means “the devil’s hell devil” – an overkill I agree, but I was very disappointed, and there aren’t that many Norwegian swear words to choose from if you don’t want to get sexist).

After much investigation and telephone calls, Marius the Electrician-and-Plumber-and co-problem solver and I conclude that:

1. The pumps are too weak.

2. The tubes supplying them are to wide and long.

3. The solenoid valves welded into the fountain are not the ones that should have been ordered, requiring 250v instead of 12v power.

(More swearing in English this time, but I’m too ashamed to repeat it.)

I call Atle who arrives as soon as he can.

Inspection

I am mad at almost everybody, including myself. I calm down and apologize – admitting that everyone on this project is entering new ground and stretching themselves in one way or another. It is a case of learning by doing – and doing it together, over coming differences, ambitions and expectations. Looking at the world today that must be a good thing.

Looking at the problem from different angles, we put the water supply tube directly into the central hole (that feeds water to both the cnetral pump and the pump for the 5 valves) in the middle of the fountain bowl, turn on the water and activate the dmx signal that controls the power supply to the pump. The water jet jumps straight up, high into the air. Lovely! So a 3rd pump that sucks water down to the 2 other pumps would solve the pressure problem.

We make a plan to resolve the problems on Monday.

The rest is to follow ……

Forever Till the End

EPILOGUE

Last night Søren Jessen, a good friend to my sons, died as a result of cancer and the effects of kemo therapy. I can hear his very distinctive Danish accent clearly, and recount the colourful stories my sons came home with when visiting him in the countryside in the summer holidays. It is very humbling news.

Advertisements

Written by ajsteggell

October 17, 2008 at 11:09 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: