The Electromagnetic Fountain

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EMF the news!

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Here’s a link to an article in “Varden” about the Electromagnetic Fountain, and the partnership with NLI Engineering Industry AS. (Norwegian only)

Written by ajsteggell

July 9, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Electromagnetic Fountain – control system revised

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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

Electromagnetic Fountain design taking form

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Today I had a meeting with the EMF project team (led by Øystein Lia, with Svein Kjetil Haheim, Espen Jorgensen and Geir Erbo Rougthvedt) at NLI Engineering Industry as located at Klosterøya in Skien, Norway, where I proposed, and we discussed the following water jet design and scheme for controlling the fountain:


water jet design

Each dot is a valve.
The valves of each pentagon are mounted on a manifold.

Each pentagon has a dedicated pump.
Each valve is controlled by on/off signals.

As each valve can be controlled individually, it’s possible to program a multitude of dynamic jet patterns. (Triangles, spirals, random patterns, star forms, curvy lines, etc, etc …..)

The height of the water jet is in relation to the pump speed, and according to how many valves on each one of the pentagon manifolds are open – the more valves that are open, the lesser the height of the jet.

The red dot in the middle uses a 4th pump and does not need a valve. The height of the water jet is controlled by pump speed.



Lanbox LCX:


CLS 4002 Digital DMX dimmer:

Alesis iO|14 sound interface:

Mac Mini Intel Core Duo:


Max/msp/jitter 4.6:

Apple remote desktop:

The main task for the project team is currently to find out of the options I have suggested are compatible with the products that they find most appropriate for the job, and that the total design is achievable both practically and economically. What is most challenging for me is to get around the idea that the hardware will be produced before I have had a chance to test various components, but never-the-less achieve a result that I can manage to test in prototype form (mock-up situations), and to keep the programming in the realms of something I can work on myself – and hopefully with some help from friends!

More research is needed for both these aspects of the fountain.

Regarding lights the best solution seems to be to light up each of the water jets with a ring diode underwater light. Colour changing diodes would be good, but possibly too complex/expensive for this phase of the project. A simpler option could be to have white diodes on the pentagon jets, with a red ring lighting up the central, big jet. Another option could be to give each pentagon its own set of coloured diode rings, but my fear is that the fountain will become too “disco” with this option.

2 more EMF designs ……..

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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.

Alchemic Fountain Design – simplified

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Taking out the main elements from yesterday’s brain storming, this is the current idea for the water features of the Electromagnetic Fountain.

Alchemic Fountain Design 3

Small dots on circle: respond to digital signals.

10 jet nozzles with controllable solenoid valves on a ring manifold with own pump.

As a peak signal is detected, a solenoid valve opens. When a new peak signal is detected it closes, and the valve next to it opens, creating an anti-clockwise circular motion around the edge of the fountain bowl. The height of the jet is determined by the amplitude of the signal.

Pentagon dots: respond to analogue signals.

Nozzle type: still thinking! But should be more expansive than the small jets of the ring manifold.

5 nozzles on a manifold with own pump. The pump is controlled by the amplitude of the of the detected signals providing continuous motion.

Big dot in centre: responds to the average value of all incoming signals.

I nozzle (or complex nozzle) with own controllable pump.

Frequency makes the water rise and drop, amplitude defines the height.

When a maximum threshold is reached, the fountain will perform on an automated program.


Surface fog or bubbly water: on high average total level the water surface could fog over or bubble.


– optical fibre lighting for the fountain bowl.

– checking out jet lighting potentials.

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: issues

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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