Wind-up birds sound recordings

As mentioned in a previous post, Wind-up Birds made an appearance in the foresty hillside of Fløien. Fløiensvingene (The Fløien turns) is a curly path up the steep hill (as steep as 25 degrees), starting at about 180 m above sea level, and ending at about 300m.
It is a city forest, blending the sounds of the city with sounds of nature, as well as the sound of all the people using it.
I quickly edited together a few sound recordings from various points along the path to give you an impression of how the wind-up birds blended into their environment.

They´re back

For the occasion of Festpillene i Bergen 2010, a flock of Wind-up Birds has taken over the mountain side of the Fløien mountain. More specifically along the windy, steep path through the spring-green forest called Fløiensvingene. They will probably stay a few weeks. This has created a lot of buzz among the people using the path, so I will try to spend as much time as possible there to listen to audience reactions.

They might sound similar to previous generations, but there has been a few changes under the hood: The wood blocks have this time been milled instead of glued, making them more robust. Thanks to Ivar Bergseth and his CNC mill!

I use a new set of xbee modules, the xbee 2.4 pro digimesh modules. This gives a more stable network and is much easier to work with than the previous firmware.

I made new more practical circuitboards, which I got manufactured at BatchPCB, making the job of assembling the woody boards much easier. This was my first attempt at working with Eagle PCB circuit design software, but I leaned heavily on Roar Sletteland´s previous PCB layout for the first generation.

Machine Music

Currently at Lydgalleriet in Bergen there is an exhibition by young british artist Felix Thorn.

Felix´s machines are music making sculptures, creating acoustic counterparts to electronic music. Check out the interview made in relation to his exhibition at Gasworks.

The installation of instruments reminded me of some very different projects, but the connection is the use of digital control systems to control mechanical instruments, so in principle they could be played with the same sequencer but producing very different results:

In 1998 I saw Matt Heckert´s Mechanical Sound Orchestra at the Ultima festival in Oslo. Heckert has background from Survival Research Laboratories and later moved to making music. In a statement about the Mechanical Sound Orchestra he writes about Machine sound: build machines that are playable, being remote controlled via a computer interface, and the performances consist only of sounds produced by the the machines in real time.

In contrast to Felix´s machines which takes up the corner of a room, Heckert´s gigantic instruments filled up a whole factory space. Here is a documentation I made from the performance in Oslo, called Flying at Sound.

David Byrne Play the Building is another type of machine orchestra, where the machines play the building:

“a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building, is converted into a giant musical instrument. Devices are attached to the building structure — to the metal beams and pillars, the heating pipes, the water pipes — and are used to make these things produce sound. The activations are of three types: wind, vibration, striking. The devices do not produce sound themselves, but they cause the building elements to vibrate, resonate and oscillate so that the building itself becomes a very large musical instrument.”

The devices are controlled by an organ, which made me think of something Charlemagne Palestine said about the organ as instrument in a presentation a few years ago. The organ, with its many pipes, are built specifically for a particular space and stays there for hundreds of years. So playing the organ is a way of playing a building in itself. It also contrasts to the mobility of laptop instruments, an organ is attached to a building.

Finally, I would like to mention Maywa Denki´s Tsukuba series (eventhough they are not controlled digitally as far as I know).  Maywa Denki is a combination of a company that makes gadgets/toys and produces art: Maywa Denki is a art unit produced by Nobumichi Tosa. Each piece of of Maywa Denki´s work is called “a product” and a live performance or exhibition is held as “a product demonstration”.

The Tsukuba series: musical devices played by physical movement of motors and/or electromagnets at 100V: Machine music materially performed by electric powered musical instrument. Here is the “manual” for the tsukuba in typical maywa denki style:

Controlling a xbee network using an arduino


As promised some days ago, here is the followup to the minimal arduino post. I share the arduino code used in controlling a znet 2.5/xbee series 2 network, as well as the schematics for the controller itself.

shift v2: relief projection installation

shift v.2, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

I decided to give my current series of relief projections a name, shift: moving from one place to another, changing the emphasis, direction or focus of something. It also has a loose relation to the idea of shapeshifting.
As mentioned in my previous posts about my relief projection projects, shift combines multichannel sequencing, audio generated from video (soundtransducer inside every box, the sound you hear is directly related to the video projected on that particular box), with masking/mapping a projection to fit physical objects. This creates a dynamic audiovisual landscape, a spatial light painting.
The software to create the installation has developed over almost two years and some workshops, and I have shown documentation of the development, but never exhibited it as a final work.
It is only this autumn that I have found the right opportunity to show it in an exhibition. I was invited to participate in the Total Aktion exhibition at Museet for Samtidskunst in Roskilde, Denmark. I had the opportunity to exhibit there in 2005 as part of Get Real, a exhibition with real-time art as the focus (which was also shown at Kiasma in Helsinki, Finland). It also resulted in the book where I wrote the essay “Within the space of a moment”.


Shift became a sort of drone installation, with slow light/colour changes of volume, sometimes cut off by sharp white planes. The video documentation is a cut version showing some of the different scenes. Here is a slide show of still images.

(youtube link to the same video, if someone prefers that)

The software used is an expansion of the videoprojectiontool available here.

Defining space with light

sonumbra by loop.ph

sonumbra by loop.ph

This week I went to a presentation with loop.ph, an artist research duo consisting of Rachel Wingfield & Mathias Gmachl.
Loop.ph combine biology,technology,textiles and structural elements into a wide range of projects, often collaborating with experts within their field. The last few years they have concentrated on constructing lightweight relatively large-scale structures (synetic structures which is supposed to be an improvement over Buckminister Fuller´s geodesic structures),  combined with light and solar cells (they are collaborating with a danish company making printable solar cells).
The result is quite fascinating: large dynamic volumes but with hardly any mass. Especially in their Sonumbra project the light patterns in the structure is defining a changing volume in space: Each thread is a line of light, which can be animated. Check out the video from the first animation test.

sidenote: It took me a while to realise that Mattias was the same guy I  knew from Farmers Manual from back in the 242.pilots days.

The wind-up birds continued

la forêt de Nouzhat Ibn Sima, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

The wind-up birds didn´t settle in the forest of Lillehammer.
Some of them went to the airport in Oslo, some of them to a park in Rabat, Morocco.
Two very different contexts in many ways:

Oslo Airport Gardermoen is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, and I was invited as one of two projects from the UT21 exhibition to be part of this anniversary.
The work was to be placed outside, in a passage between the parking area and the terminal building, a very busy pathway.

It was freezing, windy and wet the weekend it was installed. Of course everything at an airport involves heavy security, so I had a special permission card which I wore to avoid frightening passengers (bearded man climbing trees with electronics,wires and batteries). Actually I got a lot of strange questions, people wondering what these devices were against or for, was it to chase off the woodpeckers? When I explained that they were mechanical woodpeckers I got a lot of blank stares.
More images from the airport.


A week later I was off to Morocco, 25 degrees and sunny in Rabat, the capitol. There is a small art space there called l´appartement 22, run by Abdellah Karroum, which had been invited to present work at the first Brussels biennale. Abdellah decided to invite Anne Szefer Karlsen from HKS in Norway to curate some projects in Morocco, so she again invited Pedro Gomez Enza and myself to do projects in the frame of the Brussels Biennale, but in Morocco. It gets weirder.
Unlike the very organised airport project, things were a bit looser here. First we needed to find a location, and after some scouting I fell in love with a beautiful and strange park, on the outskirts of the center, la forêt de Nouzhat Ibn Sima( also known as le parc sportif), with lots of eucalyptus trees, cute fuzzy pine trees, mint tea houses and people exercising in the strangest ways.
Public art in Morocco isnt common and there had been quite a lot of discussion before my arrival as of what to do with permissions etc.
We ended up doing it without permissions, and therefore without a ladder to not draw attention on ourselves, and it turned into a strange undercover operation trying to set up woodpeckers in trees while pretending to do other things. We even drove around in a car while I was programming in the back seat.

I built a special version of the wind-up birds for this actionist installation. Basically I replaced the radio modems with a parasite brain (a timer and a light sensor), this made the birds more independent and maybe slightly more intelligent.
This actually corresponds quite well with the natural woodpeckers, some enjoy the company of its fellow creatures, while others insist on being alone.

more images from the wind-up birds in morocco, and some other images from morocco as well.

There are several types of natural woodpeckers in Morocco, but I unfortunately didn´t get a chance to see one.

wind-up bird(s)

Introducing a new species, the wind-up birds.
The wind-up birds are a flock of mechanical woodpeckers, having found their first home in a forest in Lillehammer, Norway as part of the UT-21 project.

How will nature treat them, with hostillity or acceptance? How will the wind-up birds adapt to heat/cold wet/dry conditions? Will small insects creep inside the circuitry creating possible short circuits, beetles eat the wood, squirrels use the wood slit as nut storage (or the roof as a slide?), birds use it as a shelter, etc.? Will they be treated as foreign objects or accepted into the local eco-system?
How do real woodpeckers react? Are they threatened, attracted, or not bothered? Will they use the roof as a pecking drum?
Initial tests indicate an attraction: it took 15 minutes for a real woodpecker to join a wind-up bird on the same tree.

Adding a layer to the perceived reality:
The sound of the wind-up birds easily fool humans. The initial reaction is surprise, and then bewilderment, as there seems to be a whole flock of birds communicating. Then the curiosity of trying to track them down, to localize the sound, becoming more aware of the surroundings, sharpening the senses.
This was the initial motivation for me, the movement of sound in a space, and the effort involved in trying to localize the source of the sounds which lead to a stimulation of our perceptive apparatus.
By introducing an element or layer which somehow relates to the environment, but still is a bit off (It is very unlikely to hear a flock of woodpeckers drumming at the same time, and it is usually restricted to the mating season in the spring), you perceive the reality differently. This could be called an animalistic alertness, one of the three listening modes described by Barthes  (Listening).
This project is related to my soundpockets project, and as with that work I feel it is somehow more interesting when people happen upon it by chance, instead of looking for a piece of art in the forest.

The development of the wind-up birds have gone through a lot of phases:
It was important for me that the sound produced was not playback of a recorded sound, but mechanically produced, so I looked at many different ways of creating resonance boxes and ended up with a construction resembling a wood block: a piece of wood with a slit. I ended up using a simple push-magnet solenoid for the mechanical part.
The first prototype was an arduino board, the solenoid and the woodblock, trying to find the right pecking frequency for the solenoid, and testing different woodblock designs.
I decided to add a roof, to protect the wood and circuitry from heavy rain.

Since the wind-up birds are communicating, they needed to be in a wireless network. I decided early to use the xbee radios which are programmable, low-energy, high speed radio modems which can work in a mesh network.
A lot of effort was put into creating and deciphering xbee datapackets to be used in the arduino/processing environment.
Energy consumption was an important factor in the project, since the wind-up birds would be in a forest with no access to electricity and should be active for a month. One strategy was to use low-power components. It´s amazing the difference between two voltage regulators for instance when they have to be on for a month(the difference in consumption was the size of the battery I ended up using for the whole project).
I also decided to use a low power version of the arduino, basically just the microcontroller chip running at half speed (which meant using a AVR programmer to program the chips).
The other important factor in reducing energy consumption was to make use of the xbee and arduino´s capability to go to sleep when inactive. I decided the wind-up birds would be pecking about every 5 minutes, and inbetween they would sleep. Also at night they would be sleeping.
After having decided upon the components to be used, I designed a prototype circuit, which was later made into a proper circuit board making it easier to mass produce the birds.
It took a lot of trial and error to get the wind-up birds alive and pecking in the lab, but I had a pretty reliable setup when I placed them in the forest. The challenge in the forest was to find interesting locations within the range of the network, and to find interesting pecking patterns. I ended up making a system where the pecking pattern is different everytime, so it wouldn´t become a simple playback of movement, but a dynamic system.

More images of the wind-up birds

thanks to Tom Igoe, Jeff Mann, Kristian Skjold and Roar Sletteland for helping me realize this project.

Here is a link to the first technical post related to the project, which covers how to program and hook up a atmega168 as a minimal arduino standalone, using the internal oscillator running at 8mhz and 3.3 volts.

relief projection 2008

This easter I got the opportunity to work in a large theaterspace (BIT Teatergarasjen) to continue my work on relief projection (or masked projection).
I made 9 plywood boxes to use as my projection objects, and worked with two projectors, having a total of 16 projection surfaces.
One of the aims for this session was to also work with sound (each object would double as a speaker), and to create a depth in the placement of the objects.
I implemented my nodio system into the projection patch, which made it possible for me to create sequences of movement.
There are plenty of images from the session here.

soundpocket 2: extremely local radio stations

soundpockets 2 illustration, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

This was the second project I made for urban interface oslo fall 2007.

I collected a library of field recordings I have made over the years. I set up an internet radio station for the project (using Nicecast), and played with different configurations mixing music and the field recordings, but ended up just using my own recordings.
I thought it could be interesting to stream internet radio, a global media, to very specific local areas. I found three locations in Oslo which would serve as the local radio stations. They were somehow connected to a clear visible cue in that location: A huge oak tree, a small sculpture, and a small pound in the roundabout. The range of the local stations would more or less correspond to these visual cues: If you saw them you would be able to pick up the signal from the radio stations. In numbers this would mean a range of 30-100 meters.
My original plan was to use the fm-senders for mp3 players which are mostly meant to be used to listen to the mp3 player through the car radio. This was partly because I was experimenting with solar energy as energy source, and because they were cheap. The range and quality of the signal wasnt good enough though, so I ended up getting the more powerful aareff fm transmitters .
The senders were placed with friendly hosts, letting me use their internet connection to pick up the internet radio stream.

The result was three very local radio stations sending out a continous soundtrack from other locations, so somehow these recorded locations came in dialogue with the physical locations of the radio stations.
The listening involved active participation from the public as you would need to tune in on your own radio to pick up the broadcast.

Soundpockets is a series of projects of intimate sound interventions in public spaces. By using fm radiowaves, soundbeams and miniature speakers to create local pockets of sound, the different projects have different scope and focus: creating private listening rooms, changing soundtracks of a location, displacement of time/or space and a bit of general disruption of everyday life.

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