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.

mikro performance

mikro performance, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

Mikro is a series of improvised performances using the immediate surroundings as raw material: A microscope captures everyday objects and surfaces like wallpaper, coins, clothing, furniture, newspapers and transforms it into an explosive universe of textures. Contact microphones and electromagnetic sniffers pick up unhearable sounds to create the live soundtrack.
Mikro is a collaboration between HC Gilje (video) and Justin Bennett (sound).
Performances so far:
Paradiso (Amsterdam), IMAL (Brussels), TAG (den Haag), DNK (Amsterdam), Bergen Kunsthall Landmark (Bergen), Laznia (Gdansk)


The Aleph installation reminded me of the installation Cloud that David Rokeby recently completed.

Cloud is a monumental kinetic installation hanging suspended in the Great Hall at the Ontario Science Centre. One hundred identical sculptural elements, arranged in ten by ten grid, are rotated at slightly differing speeds by computer-controlled motors. The elements slowly shift in and out of synchronization. When the motors are just out of sync, huge waves ripple across the space. When completely in sync, the work appears almost solid then suddenly almost invisible. When far out of sync, the sculptural elements float in apparent chaos. “

Synk at Dansstationen in Malmö

Synk, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

On Friday May 4th, I perform the piece Synk with Kreutzerkompani and Justin Bennett on sound. Synk was originally made in 2002 for the Ultima festival, but has been played quite a few times the last five years.

The idea of Synk was that no prerecorded video or audio would be used, only material sampled during the performance was allowed, to investigate live as raw material : to impose a structure on a live situation to allow for unpredictable results within that frame structure.

It creates a dialogue between the physical space on stage and the mediated space from the screen and speakers, and the relation between the memory and the present of a space.

More info on Kreutzerkompani and Justin Bennett

More images from Synk (click on the small images)


nodio composer, 2006

nodio composer, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

nodio composer is a composer/sequencer for realtime multichannel video and audio, developed in maxmsp and jitter.

The nodio composer system consists of 4 modules:
The client is installed on each node, and does realtime processing of image and sound.

The motor talks to the clients and coordinates them, and it sets an saves the state of the whole system, and plays back sequences.

The composer is the gui for the motor, so it allows the user to set and save the state of the system and to program and play sequences. the motor sends feedback to the composer about the current state of the system and the sequencer.

The simulator is a fully working simulation of the system. It contains the three clients, and shows the three screens and pans the sound according to which client generate the sound. It is a slight modification of the node clients, but is made to be easy to replace with updates of the clients. As with the node
clients, simulator communicates with the motor.

The system is intended to be operated in 4 different modes:
composer, standalone, performer and composer_offline.

each node has a client application, one of the nodes contains the motor, the
composer is on another computer.

standalone installation:
each node has a client application, one of the nodes contains the motor.
performer: each node has a client application. The motor and the composer is on another computer.

each node has a client application. The motor and the composer is on another computer.

composer offline:
When the network or individual nodes are not available, it is possible to run the composer and motor together with a simulator on the same computer.

Here is a video with documentation from one composition and a brief description of how it works:


drifter, installation 2006

drift_total, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

(Slideshow of more images from Drifter here)

Drifter is a 12 channel audiovisual installation: 12 nodes, each with a computer,flatscreen and speakers, are placed in a circle. The nodes are connected over a wireless network, but each node only relate to its neighbour: It knows when a image is coming and knows where to pass it on to. Images travel clockwise across the network. The images leave traces. The image and traces are processed in realtime individually on each node and a sound is generated from the video, based on a given frequency. There are 4 base frequencies for the sound distributed among the different nodes, creating chords.
Each node has the same set of rules for how to behave, but they make individual choices (using the dice analogy, all the nodes follow the same rules for what happens if they get a 1 or a 6, but they throw their own dice, which will get different results on the different nodes).
There are also a few states or moods which change on a global level: the change happens on all the nodes simultaneously, switching between nervous, relaxed or more intense behaviour.
The overall result is an everchanging surrounding audiovisual landscape.

The first version of drifter was developed for my solo show at Trøndelag Senter for Samtidskunst in march 2006, and then in april at Rom for kunst+arkitektur.

A documention video from TSSK:

A video explaining the principles of the installation:



Dense, installation 2006

Dense 01, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

(Slideshow of more images from Dense here)

A doublesided videoprojection on six vertical strips of half transparent material at different depths in a blackbox space. One projection creates downward movement and the other a movement from side to side, thus creating a video weave on the projection surface where the projections overlap. The audio is generated by the changes in the video, one a dry chirping sound which pans with the horizontal movement of the video, the other is created by the downward movements of the other video, creating a very loud, deep sound resonating in the space. Moving around in the space is like walking inside a videomixer, perception of image and sound changes dramatically as you move inside the installation.

The installation was comissioned for the opening of the 2006 season of Black Box Teater in Oslo, and was developed during my residency at Tesla, Berlin in autumn 2005.



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