Experimenting with pipe resonance phenomena, networked objects and cosmology…

Started on 24/11/2003

“Create a sound output device…” Royal College of Art brief

Inspired by ‘hoot-pipe’ lab experiments. These experiments involve placing coin sized, red-hot, pieces of wire mesh inside glass pipes.

“Vortices produced when the hot air rises off the [mesh] surface create instabilities in the air stream, resulting in low-amplitude noise. The resonant frequency of the particular tube determines which components of this noise are amplified.”

I successfully conducted the hoot-pipe experiment with a welding-torch and a piece of steel grid. My aim was then to control this curious process electronically.

The heat element within the tube needs to be over 1100 degrees celsius for decent tones to be produced. Initial experimentation with liquid gas burners, toaster elements, and filaments of tungsten and molybdenum produced unsatisfactory results. Gas burners were difficult to control and a bit ‘risky’; and electrical elements either did not achieve the necessary high temperatures that I needed, or did, quickly becoming dangerous…

Toner now comprises of a filament of nichrome wire inside a borosilicate tube. The wire was wound into two flat disks so as to provide efficient heat exchange with the air. The nichrome wire is connected to a car battery and a fat relay. When the relay completes the circuit the nichrome heats up to approximately 1200 degrees.

By the end of the project the toner was assimilated into a much larger system, using the sun as an input…

Solar flares are constantly erupting from the surface of the sun, numerous satellites and observatories monitor these flares. data from six observatories is logged and uploaded to the web every hour.

We wrote software (in Macromedia Director) that monitors this data and outputs certain commands to an external stamp microprocessor (that we also wrote new software for, the stamp is connected to a relay, the relay is connected to a car battery, the car battery is connected to the nichrome filiament…

solar flare > observatory > webpage > monitor program > stamp chip > relay > nichrome/car battery circuit = SOUND

A solar flare produces a corresponding tone from Toner, the volume of the tone proportional to the power of the flare; big flares produce long, loud tones here on earth whilst small flares produce only murmurs.

Toner as a ‘network object’ was refined considerably for the ‘interaction design interim show’: it was reduced to the borosilicate tube, nichrome wire, relay, car battery and two terminating ends of wire. Although the majority of these components were caged (safety was a constant issue), members of the public could touch the terminal wires (thereby connecting the circuit) and produce tones themselves.