The Electromagnetic Fountain

Archive for the ‘shapeshift’ Category

Sound analysis

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I have been using Aleksander Refsum Jensenius’s max/msp sound analysis software to analyze digital and analogue signals that I have recorded with my detectors. When I see the sound rendered from different perspectives – loudness (spectral energy), brightness (spectral centroid), noisiness (spectral flatness), sonogram, pitch (estimated), onsets and as musical notation – in this way, I get to know more about the character of each of the various field recordings. The screenshot below is one moment of detecting the electromagnetic activity when I make a call on my mobile phone.


From this exercise I hope to glean some ideas about how to treat the data that will come in from the fountain’s detectors, and how this will control the various water valves of the fountain.

The digital signals are on-off and squirty – like premature ejaculations, while the anaolg signals are continuous and surgey and can be more kind of slowly orgasmic. What I am currently thinking of is passing each peak of the digital signals sequential to the small valves close to the circumference of the fountain bowl. As the peaks happen so fast, I figure that this is the best way of signal distribution – it allows for time for the mechanics of the each of the valves to respond before getting new input. Right now it seems like either the pitch or noisiness signal analysis methods would be the most useful way of controlling the valves. Pitch/peak opens a valve and sends a water jet into the air, the height controlled by its value, and then the valve closes fast to get a “drop”.

If you want to try this out, download the sound of my mobile (unedited from dv cassette/7.89mb) and then open/run it in Aleksander’s sound analysis patch. There’s a osx stand alone version, (1.6mb), so you don’t need to have max/msp installed on your mac.

Written by ajsteggell

March 17, 2008 at 10:49 pm

Electromagnetic Fountain

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This summer I’ve been prototyping the electromagnetic fountain idea, which has now changed its name back from the Screaming Fountain to simply the Electromagnetic Fountain.

Here’s the first description …….

Every city has its own invisible twin-city – an architecture in flux made up of electromagnetic waves emitted by its numerous electrical facilities, transmitters and receivers. The Electromagnetic Fountain is a small-scale, transportable fountain that responds to these waves to form an ever-changing aquatic choreography.

Fountains generally perform aesthetic functions. When they are placed in urban spaces the intention is often to bring an oasis – an experience of nature, into the city. Observing and listening to fountains can be a mesmerizing and contemplative experience, but the repetitive patterns can also seem arbitary and without meaning. The dancing water of the Electromagnetic Fountain is neither predictable nor random. It draws on data derived from the detection of electromagnetic activity in its immediate surroundings (wireless technology such as mobile phones and surveillance equipment, tram lines, traffic lights, antennas, etc) to control the dynamics of the rise and fall of its water jets. In other words, it is the electromagnetic nature of the city that is reflected in the fountain. Like the wind, it is invisible. Unlike the wind, it is not often perceived or reflected over. By gazing at the fountain, the ethereal body of the invisible twin-city is revealed in a poetic and enigmatic way.

However there is a flip side to the story. The electromagnetic spectrum is a highly fought over private, commercial and political territory, and the increasing use of wireless technology has given rise to concern over environmental and health issues. Perhaps the fountain can function as an unusual information display system; an electromagnetic barometer for those who encounter it.

The fountain will be constructed in a portable format that resembles a satellite dish; a circular bowl of approximately 2 m in diameter that rests on a pedestal of about 45 cm high. It is equipped with devices for detecting and digitizing man-made electromagnetic activity in the near vicinity. This data is used to control an electric water pump as well as six water valves so that the water jumps and drops to evoke the feeling of the incoming data. Underwater lights that also react to this data will be used to illuminate and colour the fountain. The fountain will be scented with the smell of ozone. All equipment will be stored and secured in the fountain’s pedestal, out of which will come one cable for connecting to a power supply, and a nozzle for filling and draining water.

Once the fountain is constructed, appropriate host-spaces will be found where it can appear for a limited period of time. Examples could be on a roundabout, in a city square, playground, school yard, shopping centre or gallery/museum. The aim is to find public spaces where diverse/interesting readings of electromagnetic activity are detected. That the fountain appears in any one space for a limited time only will bring a sense of performance to this project, and each space will produce unique results.

Written by ajsteggell

August 25, 2007 at 8:03 pm

The Screaming Fountain

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Michelle Teran has provided a name to my urban fountain idea posted earlier – the Screaming Fountain, I like it and I’ll keep it! At least for the time being. Anyway, since attending the Maxwell City workshop I have been doing some thinking about how to go about making the fountain, asking for advise from fountain folks from industry/design/art worlds.

One of the people I have contacted, and who I hope will reply to me, is Koert van Mensvoort who is part of a team in Amsterdam who worked on a Datafountain. It has 3 water jets controlled by the ebb and flow of the value of the yen, euro and dollar – (¥€$). The site provides some interesting information about how the fountain frame/design process went, I can’t find too much technical information about the pump, valves, nozzles, electronics and programming.

I have had several conversations about this project with my partner, Per Platou, who has questioned the relativity of my fountain idea in terms of art. Is it more relevant as public decor? Well …… my answer is that it could be both. A fixed fountain could fall into the last category, but a mobile fountain could be a performative work.

My current aim is to make a prototype fountain, self contained and relatively easily transportable. It can be placed in different environments/locations, indoors and outdoors in urban spaces. Each new location should produce different screams and dances. So the fountain’s activity is emergent. If I can produce a working prototype, and through it, get some attention, find a suitable location, perhaps I could move on to phase 2 – the fixed fountain – having more idea about the demands of making such a thing.

I’ve purchased a water pump (Nautilas 200) which can produce a water stream of up to 1.5m. The pump is controllable (more/less power) so I can hook it up to a Lanbox/dmx box and pass the sound data from the EM sniffers to my mac and then use this to control the pump activity. The splashing effect of a 1.5m jet needs a pond/container of 3m in diameter to catch the splash. I have no place to try out the pump in my studio here in Oslo, so I’ll have to wait until I go to a cottage by the sea in Old Bitch Bay, south Norway to do some experimenting.

I have suggested to Gisle Frøysland of Bergen Centre for Electronic Art (BEK) that I could bring my project to PIKSEL 07 – a yearly gathering of people working with Open Source audiovisual software, hardware and art – to get some input from other folks about modulating data/frequencies, etc etc. He thinks its a good idea, so I just hope I can afford to spend a week there ……..

Written by ajsteggell

July 15, 2007 at 3:07 pm

EM Urban Fountain – all things in flux

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Urban art idea

I’m thinking about a fountain with water valves controlled by magnet solenoids that open and shut to control various pressures of coloured water streams according to electromagnetic activity, with ambient light and sound controlled by nature’s own magnetic fields, modulated by interventions of human-made fields – all things in flux.

Around the fountain are comfortable seats. You can sit by the fountain when you make a call on your mobile phone – watch, listen, feel humidity, airflows, relax. (Here I’m thinking about the strange way people’s eyes move when they make phone calls with mobs – eyes fluttering around, as if taking in the immediate surroundings. Sometimes settling on something, someone – eyes seem to focus, but then looking straight through, as if scanning for another point to fix on.)

For those with high electromagnetic sensitivity (EMS) it could indicate good and bad times.

But how do you build a fountain? Some examples I’ve found are listed below.

Time fountain by Nate True
This is interesting – a time fountain kit where a combination of fluorescent liquid and strobe lighting is used to make it seem as if the flow of water changes direction (time in flux)

The time fountain:

Cybernetic fountain
And here is a patent claim for a cybernetic fountain (inventor: Emilio C. Alba):

Parker Hannifin Musical Fountain
[ …. A joint effort of Atlantic Fountains and Downing Exhibits of Copley Ohio, the fountain uses over 350 feet of Parflex tubing and hundreds of Parker Fluid Connector and Skinner Valve components. The 6ft pool has 30 nozzles & color lights driven by a PC, three octave MIDI keyboard or drum pad …..]

Instructions for how to build a musical water fountian:

Written by ajsteggell

May 18, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Ferrofluid Sculptures

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Ferrofluid Sculptures
Sachiko Kodama


[from the website: Ferrofluid is a very interesting material originally developed by NASA it has now found itself been used for a whole range of devices including dampers for controlling and stabilizing large building that move around in the wind. Whats also amazing is that they have such lovely visual qualities when magnetized. The term liquid architecture is used a lot in interactive architecture based on the ideas of how architecture becomes animated by adding the 4th Dimension of Time. Sachiko has taken this idea of liquid architecture more literally with these stunning sculpture made from Ferrofluid which changes its state by the introduction of electro-magnetic waves into the fluid turning it solid.]

Written by ajsteggell

May 4, 2007 at 9:58 pm