The Electromagnetic Fountain

Posts Tagged ‘physical computing

EMF video documentation form Article 08

leave a comment »

Finally here is my video documentation from Article 08:

Success! 6 jets working!

leave a comment »

On the last day of the second session and main EM Fountain work time in Skien, the 6 jets finally came into action. It took a long time to find out how to wire the dmx relay box to the relay box that serves the electronic valves with electricity ……

Relay box 1 Relay box 2

Fiddle 6 Fiddle 5

Fiddle 3 Fiddle 2

Producer Observing data

Smiles 6 jets!

What became clear when we saw the fountain in action was that it was most lively without a cell phone installed by the antnenna.  The antnenna picked up ambient disturbances in the electromagnetic environment and the fountain responded with a rich variety of chorepgraphic patterns, jet heights and light blinky-blinks. Then, when you come close-ish to the antenna with a cell phone, the feedback is instantaneously perceptible, with a uniform choreography and all jets on full height. It is beautiful and sense making. But it is hard to say if the fountain will react likewise when it is moved to a new location …..

I now have a break for a week (going to show the Emotion Organ at the ACM Annual conference and exhibition at Science World/Vancouver). After that I have another 3 full days in Skien where all the remaining things need to be done to get the EMF ready for meeting the public – not in the least is to see if it will run on its own steam for 24 hours and more. The first preview will be in Porgrunn town square on 8th November, where it will stand for 24 hours before travelling to Article 08, Stavanger.


Houston, we have one less problem

leave a comment »

It was a very busy day today.

It started with nothing much going on, so I fiddled around, adjusting this and that. Then Frank Ralle came and fixed the pump tubes. He also reminded me of something that he previously told me that I should do – get rid of the air in the pumps each time the water is drained out of the fountain bowl. Silly me. By 14.40 the central jet sprang out of the bowl reaching a height that must exceed 4m. Fab!

At 15.00 most of the NLI Engineering AS team turned up, as well as a journalist from the Weekly Technical Magazine (Teknisk Uke Blad) to interview us all and take photos. It was a pity that the relay box and the last 2 rgb lights hadn’t arrived, but at least one jet was behaving very nicely. The seance lasted about 2 hours, so I hope he’ll write some good stuff.

During the evening the fountain took part in an open day at Klosterøya – a good opportunity to get some feedback, even though the fountain isn’t finished yet. Several of the people who work at Bautas turned up which made me very happy. Below is the only half-decent photo I have of the fountain in operation. It doesn’t really give a good impression of the water jet, and shows the need for 2 more lights to capture the height of the jet at night.


Lastly, here’s a screenshot of the max patch for the EMF that was made with the help of Trond Lossius at BEK last week. (Some of the sub-patches can be found on my Flickr site. Click the image below to get there).


Written by ajsteggell

October 21, 2008 at 9:52 pm

Patching with Mattias

leave a comment »

Yesterday I brainstormed my ideas for controlling the EMFountian with Mattias, an MA student at the Academy of Fine Art in Bergen, Norway. The aim of the session was to make a plan for developing a simple control system for the fountain that can be developed over time. We ruminated together over using parts of existing max/msp/jitter patches which we have each developed for 2 different projects that used similar/related soft- and hardware elements. I put my patch for the Emotion Organ (made with the help of, amongst others, Piotr Pajchel) on the table, and Mattias brought out a patch he made for When You Hunger Number One, a sound/light installation by Asbjørn Hollerud.

This is what we ended up with.

1. Start by sending the sound from each sniffer through fiddle~ objects
(text taken from documentation file):

“The fiddle~ object estimates the pitch and amplitude of an incoming sound, both continuously and as a streem of discrete \”note\” events. Fiddle~ optionally outputs a list of detected sinusoidal peaks used to make the pitch determination. Fiddle~ is described theoretically in the 1998 ICMC proceedings, reprinted on

Fiddle’s creation arguments specify an analysis window size, the maximum polyphony (i.e., the number of simultaneous “pitches” to try the find), the number of peaks in the spectrum to consider, and the number of peaks, if any, to output “raw”. The outlets give discrete pitch (a number), detected attacks in the amplitude envelope (a bang), one or more voices of continuous pitch and amplitude, overall amplitude, and optionally a sequence of messages with the peaks.”

2. Let Fiddle find three groups of frequency ranges HIGH, MEDIUM, LOW, and scale them to DMX values.

3. Use the full range of values to control the manifold water pump.

4. Use the full range of values to control the central jet pump, but when passing from one range group to another, the output signal should be set to zero to create a water drop before it rises agian.

5. Asign HIGH range values to R, MEDIUM to G and LOW to B values to control the RGB LED lights.

6. Use the ATTACK signals to open and close the water jet solenoid valves.

Written by ajsteggell

September 21, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Electromagnetic Fountain – control system revised

leave a comment »

Following a discussion I had on the Lanbox email list I’ve modified the network/control set up for the Electromagnetic Fountain, cutting out one lanbox and adding a dmx relay box for the fountain valve control.


Product info for 8 output dmx relay box (I would need two of them) that can be set to solid state or  mechanical relay mode, manufactured by Milford Instruments Ltd can be found here:

Written by ajsteggell

June 21, 2008 at 2:40 pm

A patch and a model!

leave a comment »

I’ve just come back from 4 days alone at a beautiful cottage at Kjerringvik (Old Bitch Bay) on the coast of Southern Norway. Fantastic weather and very warm sea for the time of year. Apart from swimming I spent my time reading* and clearing up a max/msp control patch for the solenoid valves of the Electromagnetic Fountain. These valves should open and close when digital electromagnetic signals are detected. It’s not exactly rocket science on my part – based on a patch I made with Piotr Pachjel for the airbrush gun valves of the Emotion Organ project, with the “bucket object” (as suggested by Ellen Røed) – but I think it is a good start for work with my current plan of using a lanbox/junction box, etc.


(click for larger image)


An electrician had been working on the electrical wiring in the cottage just prior to my visit, and left behind a box of discarded cables and other bits and bobs. I used them to try and construct a small model of the fountain that showed its jets, bending and weaving copper wire with my fingers.

EMF model EMF model silhouette

Alchemic Fountain Design 3

So the red-tipped wires are meant to represent the detected peaks and troughs of digital signals, the white-tipped wires the amplitude of the detected analogue signals and the yellow-tipped wire, the total average of all detected signals. ( I am still trying to work out what I mean by “total average”).

The model is based on a suggestion at the meeting with NLI Engineering AS (see previous post); using 1 dry water pump located in the fountain base, as opposed to my idea of using several submersible pumps. The solenoid valves are also located in the base, each with its own pipe that extends into the watery bit, with a nozzle attached. Each nozzle lies just below the water surface. The “white” and “yellow” nozzles are also served by the same pump.

* Gravity’s Rainbow/T. Pynchon, Instruments and the Imagination/Hankins and Silverman, Infrastructure. The book of everything for the industrial landscape/B Haynes, and In the Desert of Desire. Las Vegas and the Culture of Spectacle/W.L Fox.

Written by ajsteggell

June 9, 2008 at 7:44 pm

2 more EMF designs ……..

leave a comment »

Alchemic Fountain Design 4 Alchemic Fountain Design 5

LEFT: This one is an inversion of the previous deign (see last post), where the circle and pentagon manifolds swap place. The pentagon manifold now gets the solenoid-controlled valves, reducing their number from 10 to 5:

2 manifolds
5 solenoid-controlled valves
16 nozzle
3 variable speed pumps

Fogger machine for surface effects
Fibre optic fountain bowl lighting
Water jet lights (halogen? diode?)

RIGHT: This one adds 5 extra valves/nozzles, though I haven’t worked out exactly what should control them. The simplest solution would be to connect them to the circle manifold, but they could also be connected in parallel to their adjacent pentagon valves so that the same solenoid could control two valves.This is the version I like best as it has the potential of incorporating all the shapes I envisaged: pentagon, star, circle.

Sound analysis

leave a comment »

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: issues

leave a comment »

One of the main issues I have been exploring over the past months is that of detectors/antenna solutions for the Electromagnetic Fountain. I have been using the detectors built by Erich Berger and Martin Howse for the Maxwell City workshop (Atelier Nord, Oslo 2006), as well as two consumer sniffers listed below.

Detects the pulsing emissions from wireless communications technologies (mobile phones, masts, DECT digital cordless phones, w/LAN’s, Wi-Fi, etc.)

  • Frequency Range: 50 MHz to 3000 MHz
  • Sensitivity: 0.01 volts per meter (V/m)
  • Output: Audio Loudspeaker, Audio jack socket
  • Controls: On/Off Switch, Volume

High sensitivity over a wide RF frequency range, with the ability to detect signals from wireless devices, cellular phones and covert “bugs” at more than 50+ feet, transmissions from “sealed” microwave ovens at 40+ feet, from walkie-talkies at 100+ feet, and from amateur radio transceivers at hundreds of feet.

  • covers 1 MHz to 8 GHz.
  • can be calibrated to detect different frequency ranges.
  • needle display allows the user to view signal strength measurements
  • audio output allows user to hear the difference in signal levels and distinguish between analog and digital signals.

Each detector has its own characteristic audio output.

What I am doing now is sniffing around with the different detectors and, by listening to the signals, trying to identify the source of the various emissions by ear. The next stage will be to experiment with how the signals from the different detectors can be processed and applied to the water jets of the fountain based on my current knowledge and hard/software. One of the main issues is to fathom out whether the fountain will be driven by several detectors dedicated to specific frequency ranges, or whether one detector with a large frequency range will be used. These activities can be used as a start point for communicating my ideas (through practical examples/demos) to other potential collaborating industry partners.

The second issue is whether the antennas should be in one position, or kinetic to create more dynamics as they pass through different el-mag waves/fields. Another alternative could be to include antennas that could be pulled out from the fountain by the public (envisaged as umbilical chords that connect the public to the fountain).

Klosterøya connection

I have previously posted some photos of antennas spotted in the close vicinity of Klosterøya in Skien, Norway, where I recently exhibited the Emotion Organ. Klosterøya is the home of a closed-down industrial site that is being transformed to accommodate a new industrial and IT centre. As part of this process is an initiative to establish a programme where artists can develop art/technology related projects in a “partnership” with industry actors who are willing to provide resources to aid the development and realisation of the projects. This initiative, called ROM3, is led by Gunn Marit Christenson (EZENS) and Atle Barcley (former leader of Atelier Nord). The Electromagnetic Fountain is currently being proposed as a pilot-project of this initiative. It is proposed in two stages:

1. The development of a small, portable fountain that will function as both a performance-related/public art work and a prototype for a larger fountain. Completion, November 2008.

2. A permanent, large fountain that will be situated in an atrium on Klosterøya looking out over the river. Completion, spring 2010.

This development has pushed the initial idea beyond a DIY project and into a larger, collaborative realm. At current I am considering the competence areas that could contribute to the development of the prototype fountain. These are split into 3 areas: Construction design, inputs and outputs.


Assistance with fountain construction design based on the original sketch and inspired by satellite dishes.

  • technical drawings
  • construction materials (fountain base, bowl and parts)


Detector/ antenna alternatives

  • one main detector/antenna that captures a wide frequency range, or
  • several dedicated detectors/antennas for different frequency ranges/analog and digital signals
  • is it possible to design pull-out antennas so that folks can wave them around in the air and capture different signals?
  • is it possible that the fountain antenna/antennas can be kinetic to pass through different waves to give more water fluxes?

Signal analysis and programming solutions

Energy solutions

  • mains
  • solar power – solar would be great! An efficient supply of solar energy would cut out the need for a power line to the fountain and potentially make it completely self-contained/stand alone. (Hydro are front runners in the development of solar cells, and are opening a new plant in Skien’s neighboring town, Porsgrunn.)


Hydraulic electrical valves

  • is it possible to use electronic valves in a portable fountain with one pump, or is it better to use several pumps in a self-contained fountain that has a bowl filled with water?
  • what kind of valves?
  • what kind of nozzles to use for different water jets?

Underwater lighting alternatives

Programming (alternatives)

Written by ajsteggell

February 25, 2008 at 2:02 am