Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Otto's Ghost

some time ago i began to play with a solar sound circuit as research in autonomy, electronics, sound installation, etc. i had very vague feelings about how to build upon this project. this spring, i decided that my summer project would be to go for a truly embedded sound installation in the forest that surrounds our University of West Florida. it was very apparent that the many days of sun per year and dramatic shifts in the weather will create some manner of hybrid ecology of machine and nature as a resulting soundscape. in April, i applied for the Faculty Scholarly and Creative Activities Grant to seed the project. i applied for funding to pay for some new tools and to pay some summer assistants to help me realize the project. i am happy to report that it was funded.

so i commence this summer in flurry of buying new equipment and starting a tremendous research period to learn more about PCB fabrication, Surface Mount Technologies, and mass production. i am building a reflow oven, refining my circuit design skillz, trying new techniques in applying resists, experimenting with new etchants, learning to apply solder masks, trying out conformal coatings, etc., etc.

here are gory details, pulled from my application:

my project with the working title, Otto’s Ghost, is a sound installation constructed from dozens of small solar powered circuits placed into the environment of a wooded site. the site and devices form a hybrid ecology between nature (landscape, trees, etc.) and technology (‘chorus’ of miniature sound robots expressing a variety of chirps, buzzes, etc.) Each module of the group can have an individual sound profile from the variety of the on board photovoltaics and values of components used in each piece. the soundscape manifests as the overall composition of the different ‘sonic speciations’ in the group and environmental factors. the generative soundscape of Otto’s Ghost is additionally influenced by environmental factors (diurnal cycle, weather, etc.) situating the environment as a co­author in the score created by the installation.

Otto’s Ghost grew out of research from 2008, when i began to investigate autonomous machines and sound art in the installations of Ralf Schreiber (1996) who used the Schmitt Hex Inverter integrated circuit. the core circuit, the Schmitt trigger, is characterized by positive feedback where a portion of the output is fed back to input creating a loop gain (amplification) of the signal. this behavior was discovered by Otto Schmitt and documented in his 1937 dissertation on electrical propagation in nerve fibers of squid. Schmitt, now considered ‘a father’ of contemporary bioengineering, is also known for coining the term biomimetics.

Ralf Schreiber is a primary source in the application of these circuits as an aesthetic form. Like Schreiber, i am also using the oscillatory functions of the Schmitt triggers to create sound installations and feedback loops create chirps and buzzes. the current objective requires materials research to climate harden the devices to be implanted into the biological world. the project expands former research, first, in the transformation of the design and, secondly, by reinserting the machine embodiment of Schmitt’s inquiry as an element of the environment and a complication of the ideas of an ecology and (natural) systems to explore the aesthetics of an autonomous collection of machines as (machine­organisms).

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