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.


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.

UT-21: polish norwegian art project

UT-21 is an art project that invites 7 Polish and 7 Norwegian artists to work in Lillehammer- Norway, outside galleries and Museums.
The name UT-21 reflects two things:

  • UT can simply mean ”out” (of the Museum) or ”without title”

  • 21 refers to the fact that in 1987 there was a similar art project in Lillehammer with Polish and Norwegian artists and that in 2008 it will be 21 years since this took place.

‘UT-21’ presents interventionistic art which comprises land art, urban interventions etc. Interventionistic art means art projects which in one way or another include or reflect the physic, social or mental structures associated to a special place. The works are often characterized by being temporary and procedural. Points of contact with daily life and the surroundings we all relate to in a close and natural way, the landscape and the urban environment, may enable the communication between the work of art and the observer to become both more unpredictable and immediate than an encounter with art in a traditional setting. We want to create an exciting and intensive meeting between art and public, between art from Poland and Norway, in the tradition art outside galleries, in 2008 in Lillehammer.

Participating artists:

Jan Berdyszak, Teresa Murak, Janusz Baldyga, Egil Martin Kundøl, Marit Arnekleiv, Leszek Golec, Tatiana Czekalska, Marte Aas, HC Gilje, Elzbieta Jablonska, Anna Widén, Oskar Dawicki, Maciej Kurak, Maksymilian Skorwider, Grim Erland Lyng Svingen, Victoria Pihl Lind.

Images of some of the projects

the UT-21 website

Soundpocket 1: disturbing the soundscape


I made Soundpocket 1 as part of the exhibition urban interface oslo fall 2007.
From urban interface oslo blog:
“Hauntings? Dimension Doors? Time tunnels?
A boy heard what appeared to be the sound of a sheep coming from the wall of Strykejernet Art School.
A bartender at Blå was concerned when he heard running water like that from a leaking water pipe. The sound disappeared before he was able to locate it.
A seagull can be heard, but is nowhere to be seen.
Soundpocket artist HC Gilje is causing slight disturbances in the urban interfaces.”

Using a directional soundbeam to project a localized sound into a public space, this sound being only heard by the people within the sound beam which can be as narrow as 50 cm in diameter. It is similar to a lightbeam, only being sound instead. When it hits a surface it is reflected.
Soundpocket 1 was installed in a narrow passageway in Oslo, connecting two parts of the city. The soundbeam was mounted on a pan/tilt head making it possible to place the sounds very precisely in the passageway.

By bouncing the sound off surfaces, it seems as if the sound is coming from a window, door, elevator, a poster on the wall or just a more general presence. This made the piece into something which added another layer of sound to the existing soundscape, blending (sometimes disappearing) into the location.
Most of the sounds would appear to belong to the site, although dislocated (like the sound of the chandelier in the wind), the sounds of birds, telephones, babies crying, dogs barking, water running etc.

It was interesting to see how the piece was received. It was obvious for me that it wouldnt work very well as a typical art piece, it has a much more interventionist nature. I wanted it to be slight distortions to the regular soundscape of the passageway, and was pleased to see that the people who used this passageway regularly were noticing these disturbances. This could be described using the first of Barthes´ three listening modes: hearing involves “evaluation of the spatio-temporal situation“ and thus, it is linked to a “notion of territory“. It places the listener on alert when new sounds which dont´t “fit in” are heard.
By adding an extra layer of sound if also made people focus on the sounds which were already there.

The inspiration from this comes from when I studied in Trondheim in the 90ies, and I heard some stories about how a directional speaker had been used to cause a certain distress on a bridge over the local river: A person walking alone across the bridge suddenly hear whispering voices. An out of tune clarinet is projected into a marching band playing on the 17th of may (Norway´s national holiday).
If these stories are true or not, doesnt really matter, it is the idea of having a private experience in a public space which intrigued me.

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.