University of California Santa Barbara, Media Arts and Technology
Some sketches and doodles made in Gamboa. Just some observations of the beautiful place and the beautiful peoplez.
I like sloths.
They move really slowly, and they seem to be smiling all the time.
I was really lucky to see at least two sloths every day during my 5 days there. They hang out in Cecropia trees and on fences.
I arrived in Panama in a state of panic. I had been stranded in SF for 31 hours before getting there … didn’t get much sleep at all during that 31 hours.
Leaf cutter ants are great. They’re always really busy, moving their pieces of leaves. If you try to block their highway with a stick, they’ll figure out how to work around it, and keep going.
Some times you just got to keep going.
My good friend and roommate Michal, who I met on my first night in Gamboa, was making some decorations for trees. She’s great. I like her a lot. We talked about buddhism, meditation, and … boys. Susan, our other roommate and good friend later joined the discussion. I liked staying in our little barrack when it’s raining outside. The rain sound gives me a sense of peace and comfort.
The little men on the roadsigns all have great butts.
Agoutis are a type of strange and cute animal native to Gamboa. They jump around places and seem to eat grass.
The Mimosa plants respond to touch rapidly. I’ve seen them in stores for sale when I was a child. Back then they didn’t respond as quickly. In China we call them “Shy Grass”, because they shy away the moment you touch them.
Michal used some power tools to drill holes in coconut shells. Some of them have rotten parts that are easy to break. She said “It’s funny how hard it is to penetrate it, but so easy to break it”. I though that was really interesting. Humans are like that too, especially their hearts.
Jen used a motion sensor for her project. I thought she said “emotion sensor”. I’d be down to have an “emotion sensor”. I can hold it in my hand and it’ll tell me how I’m feeling.
Peter gave a really great tour at Pipeline road. We walked through the rainforest and swam in a waterhole full of “kissy fish” (Red garra), at least that’s what they called it when I first heard of them. I’ve never seen them in the wild before. They come up and eat your dead skin, and they also bite on other stuff floating on the surface of the water.
Peter does research on Cecropia Trees. He told us about the the symbiotic relationship between the plant and the ants (leaf cutters if I remember correctly). The ants eat the tree, but they also protect the tree from animals. That’s why the sloths are so itchy all the time. It’s because the ants are bothering the sloths so they wouldn’t harm the tree. If you knock on the tree a few times the ants will come out of the hollow trunk and try to find where you were knocking, and get ready to attack.
On our last day we went on a tour to the native villages. A local guide gave another nice tour. There was a type of tree called the “Water Tree”. When you hit it you can hear the water inside of the trunk. The guide told us this type of tree grow really fast by sucking up all the water they can get. They grow to the size shown in my sketch in only a few years.
I bought a little sloth pendant made from Tagua seed, which is also called Vegetable Ivory. A little Israeli girl also wanted it … but she let me have it. She’s very nice. She also gave me a kitten to pet when we were in front of the field station.
Laser frogs are great. I forgot what they’re called scientifically. They make these laser sounds like “pew pew”, in the storm drains at night. I never saw what they looked like. But I enjoyed their little techno music sessions.
Shedding one’s skin in a new era is an artistic and bio- metamorphological project that I implemented at the Digital Naturalism Conference 2019 in Gamboa, Panama. It is a visual work with tropical rainforest plants, their shadows, and animals such as ants.
I used Performental Art, a combination of performance, environmental, and community art. The purpose of the method is to instigate a deep understanding of one’s own role in the ecosystem by observing, studying, analyzing, imitating, and blurring the distinction between the human animal and other natural beings and systems. In meditative work, I reflect on the possibilities of Posthumanism. How would I thank the earthworm that aerates the soil? What position do I adopt in relation to interactive technology? A critical examination of one’s lifestyle forces one to live one’s own art.
By a new era, I am referring to the Anthropocene, and humankind’s profound geological effect on a changing world. My work with the Biomimeticx2 team responds to these changes via research that attempts to discover in the nano-world biomimetic solutions to the management of eco-catastrophe. Macrocosmic photographic material shared by the DiNaCon community is analyzed, interpreted and combined with microcosmic material from biologists and other experts in various fields.
Through art, the project aims to bring us closer to a realization of our existence as part of a whole and to the recognition that, by destroying our environment, we are perpetuating a process of self-annihilation. The methods the project uses include artistic and biological metamorphoses – transformations – that have been implemented in performance and environmental art works. Openness to interpretation as well as tolerance of chance and contingency open the project up to wonder and the restoration of seasonal change.
During my time at Dinacon I was making radiophonic objects to create kind of living documentary installations working with radio waves, found and archive objects and sound, the so-called inanimate, the man-made and the natural. They are something like witness objects.
Somehow nothing feels so present to me as working with radio waves. Pulling radio waves, tapping in, circuiting, a translation. It is though rather an act of presence. Distance is compressed. There is a leap in time.
Wrapping the coil around the object also keeps one present. If you are counting the turns, as any good crystal radio aficionado is supposed to, you cannot lose yourself in the action fully. I sometimes did this canal-side. It feels like a mantra.
The pill bottle at the center of this pod I brought from my grandmother’s house in New York. Both my grandmother´s parents lived a time in Panama, emigrating from the West Indies, before coming to the States and meeting in a church in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, over 100 years ago.
My Grandmother´s thyroid was damaged as a child, burned through iodide painting, an experimental practice of the time. This left her with a permanent thyroid condition that she has been taking medicine for ever since.
Through this telephone headset you can hear the AM long-wave radio, recognizable as radio with help of the diode.
AM receiver consists of:
Two coils (copper wire 22): 1st band of 40 turns and 2nd band 30
1N34A Germanium diode
Telephone headset – headphones
Insulated wire: 50ft for antenna / 25ft for grounding cable
I decided for this iteration to record and collect audios that I would broadcast, some uncut and others collaged for future iterations.
To think about how these radiophonic objects could be I spend time in Gamboa´s Soberanía rainforest, sometimes recording alone and others accompanied by some of my Dina colleagues who made exploring a much more curious experience…
Mostly the village of Gamboa seems like a ghost town, abandoned structures and houses. You could easily walk the loop of the town without crossing another pedestrian.
But it does not sound like you are alone.
Two sonar worlds seemed to rule here – the balance unknown:that of the jungle, which the town is carved and shaved into, from inside the trees and grounds, the sky above – I think of my childhood books now rendering into words, within the collection of my first spoken, perhaps just after Moma and Dada and no, no, Rabía no – roaring, picking, tweeting, buzzing…
The other, sounds from the bordering canal. “Canal” is quite appropriate: a vibrating, tremble, something like a “horn blows low”. It is a recognizable machine-at-work sound. And water.
The other, sounds from the bordering canal. “Canal” is quite appropriate: a vibrating, tremble, something like a “horn blows low”. It is a recognizable machine-at-work sound. And water.
Does the nature remember, what?
The people remember the territory occupied. They remember who lived on which side of town. Pastor Wilbur explains: “The Black West Indians lived on this side…”
This town exists as an important drenching point. Here in Gamboa the land slides into the canal and must constantly be dredged.
I also often wander around Gamboa town and I sometimes go to Panama city for supplies. I record folks I meet, not on the street but along the way: the local sign builder; an American pastor recruited to preach in English over 40 years ago; a young man, the son of Panamanian canal engineer- one of the only in his position during those times when Americans ran everything to do with the Canal. And I collect sound archives.
The Americans came up with the locks as a solution for the canal project the French gave up on.
Matthew Parker: “[The canal] did not so much impact on the environment as change it forever. Mountains were moved, the land bridge between the north and south American continents was severed, and more than 150 sq miles of jungle was submerged under a new man-made lake. To defeat deadly mosquitoes, hundreds of square miles of what we would now call “vital wetlands” were drained and filled, and vast areas poisoned or smothered in thousands of gallons of crude oil.” – Changing Course, The Guardian
Many lives have been lost in the building of the canal most to accidents and others to yellow fever. The majority of lives lost were black men from the West Indies. Thousands died drenching the canal – over 20,000.
I recover items from the River Charge: flip-flops, obviously modern, so many types and sizes of flip-flops -there is something about shoes that are haunting – and find lots of pesticide containers and bottles of many different sorts too.
The first time I heard about Andy Q and Digital Naturalism was when I stumbled across a copy of “Hacking the Wild: Madagascar” from 2015 on the internet. I found it to be incredibly thought provoking and inspiring. The hand drawn zine illustrated a 10-day expedition of a small group of folks that included artists, designers, scientists and locals who were exploring the diverse ecosystem of Madagascar through the design of simple electronic hacks. The zine was a collection of photographs, sketches of prototypes and personal and collective deep thoughts. The DIY convergence of nature with analog/digital media as a way to not only experience the wild but to exist within it continued to resonant in my mind. After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017 and completely devastated the island, I started thinking more about DIY survivalist technologies — things you can quickly hack together in an emergency situation that could provide communication, power, food (especially things you can create with paper towel rolls).
Over the next year, I developed a project around this theme titled “Trading Systems: Bio-Economic Fairy Tales” that looked at the failures and inequities of human designed systems. It raised the question — what might it look like if non-humans were put in the driver’s seat of Puerto Rico’s reconstruction? The project engaged rather whimsical solutions to underscore the severity of the destruction and lack of support from the US government. Some of the design hacks included lemon batteries as a solution to the island’s non-functioning power grid and leveraging the earth’s own electromagnetic waves for communication through self-powered crystal/fox hole radios made out of household items such as lead pencils and razor blades .
So when the opportunity emerged this summer to participate in a Dinacon I was more than excited! I had big project ambitions for my 2 weeks in Gamboa but as it happened I was so enthralled with the energized, lovely human and non-human community and lascivious landscape that I got just a tiny bit distracted. I will admit that some of my luxurious time was spent attempting the following: #1) impersonating a human laser frog chorus, #2) interspecies communication with agouti on best garbage foraging practices, #3) outracing a supermax ship in a slowly leaking kayak, #4) thinking about harvesting energy from baby crocodiles, and of course #5) swimming at the “tropical palace” every moment possible (you can IM me for details).
But the majority of my time was spent reflecting on the wonderful hacks the Madagascar team created and seeing if I could recreate them. Although I made headway on a few, the one pictured here was most successful. I call it “Andy’s Ear” — a circuit and speaker made from a leaf, wax, metallic wire and magnets. Other experiments included exploring fiber optic threads to make an insect sensor, organic breadboards with giant mushroom caps, and a tactile way to analyze/collect data through your tongue using wire probes, a leaf and conductive thread. I am continuing to explore these digital-natural hybrids systems to incorporate into larger, future projects and so thankful for the amazing time I had learning and sharing at Dinacon!
Special thanks to the marvelous Jana for her expert modeling skills!
Originally, the idea was to create a radiophonic journey through Gamboa—exploring the variety of birdsongs on Pipeline Road, lingering in the marshes of the Chagres and simply strolling around the neighborhood, capturing sound bites of both human and nonhuman residents.
The first time I ventured out alone to Pipeline Road, I brought along my bamboo flute. Back in the city, when I would play inside my room behind paper shoji screens, occasionally a brazen bird would perch outside on the balcony and vividly respond to my shrill notes with rhapsodic chirps.
In the jungle, however, it was a different story. The sheer immensity of the rainforest was humbling enough, but it was the symphonic richness of its soundscape that stopped me in my tracks: the competitive chatter of mealy parrots, the percussive taps of a woodpecker on a hollow tree trunk, rhythmically improvised clicks and chuckles counterpointed by cicada crescendi and glissandi, the four piercingly pure notes of an ant-thrush, clearly heard but never seen, always on cue with metronomic precision. Out there in the wild, the human arrogance of “music” produced by blowing through a lacquered reed of polished bamboo seemed extraneously redundant. So I just listened.
Out on the river, I silently witnessed many creatures both up close and through binoculars: a caiman lurking just under the water’s surface, a creme-colored caracara tearing at its prey, red-headed turkey vultures preening on high branches, white egrets, blue herons, striped jacobins and yellow-winged jacanas. Yet it was the acousmatic motif of a hidden howler monkey that set the tempo adagio from deep within the forest.
The title of the sound piece was inspired by the insistently repetitive cry of what I have since identified as a red-lored parrot on the Río Chagres. “Accurate! Accurate!” it seemed to squawk, as if challenging our inevitably flawed human assessment of its species and its surroundings. I’m projecting, of course, but it’s hard not to associate sounds with signals, phonemes with meaning, utterances with intention.
So I continued to move along the river in a kayak, paddling through the dense marshwater with a splashproof smartphone on my lap recording in low-tech mono, clumsily picking up the rumbles of wind and bumps on the microphone, as well as the buzz of a persistently pesky fly.
“¿Cómo te llamas?” rhetorically asks Jorge, Panamanian avifauna expert who already knows the appellations of every local bird he is seeing or hearing. Returning from my excursions, I search through a handful of field guides, my superficial gateway to the vast database of human scientific knowledge about the resident species of central Panama.
And so I moved on to the naming of birds and other creatures—in learned English, in local Spanish, in scientific nomenclature: variable seedeater / espiguero variable / Sporophila corvina * wattled jacana / jacana carunculada / Jacana jacana * white-necked jacobin / jacobin nuquiblanco / Florisuga mellivora * striated heron / garza listada / Egretta tricolor * mantled howler monkey / mono aullador / Alouatta palliata * yellow-headed caracara / caracara cabeciamarilla / Milvago chimachima * turkey vulture / gallinazo cabecirrojo / Cathartes aura * lineated woodpecker / carpintero lineado / Dryocopus lineatus * mealy parrot / loro harinosa / Amazona farinosa * northern tamandua / hormiguero norteño / Tamandua mexicana * coati / gato solo / Nasua narica * crowned tree frog / rana arbórea coronada / Anotheca spinosa * fer-de-lance / equis / Bothrops asper * black-faced ant-thrush / formicario carinegro / Formicarius analis…
This surtitled multilingual nomenclature, with male and female voices uttering very different words to describe essentially the same species, is more a reflection of human cultural perceptions than of the individual encountered in the wild. Juxtaposed with the natural soundscape of the creatures’ respective habitats, are these words disruptive, intrusive, invasive? Or merely indicative of our endless efforts to identify, capture, classify and label through relentless accumulation of data?
Inside a house in Gamboa, the melodic strings of a cello mingle freely with a giggling chorus of parrots in the tree outside. Agoutis roam neighborhood backyards, sloths and owls hang out in the branches above the sidewalk, puddles of túngara frogs turn up the volume after dusk… Humans seem to co-habit seamlessly with our nonhuman neighbors.
“Permanece escuchando” repeats Jorge, reminding us that there is always more to hear, signal after silence: Keep listening.
I wanted to capture what it feels like to wander in the forests of Gamboa during both the sunset and evening choruses. Once I spent a little time on the Rio Charges I decided to weave that into the mix as well.
Binaural recordings imitate the spatial dimensions of human hearing. In other words, they reproduce sound the way we actually hear it. Because of this, listening to binaural recordings works best with headphones.
The microphones I used are designed specifically for quiet environments and I found the noise level of the evening chorus on Laguna Trail was enough to occasionally blow out the mics.
The audio was recorded in tandem with the video, so I moved both camera and mics (since they were attached to my ears) in whatever direction I was looking. This way, when I turn, the viewer hears the sound of the howlers from behind just as I did, whereas a moment before they were to the left, etc.
I wanted to convey the experience of sonic density in contrast to how little we actually see with our eyes in these environments, and to explore the idea that listening would have been important for our ancestors in wildly different ways than it is for us in most situations in modern cities or suburbs. Our relationship to sound has lost much of the meaning it once had and understanding it required. In cities we primarily filter out “noise” whereas, in the forest, we lean in and listen to understand what is around us.
For example, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton found that human hearing range is a perfect match for birdsong – that birds are indicators of a habitat that would be prosperous for human survival. He states that hearing is vital for all animals’ survival, and the bandwidth from 2.5 to 5 kHz are the resonant frequencies where we have super-senstive hearing – which is a perfect match for birdsong.
I’ve only made it through about 25% of what I recorded so I’ll continue to post more to my Vimeo page that will include other parts of Gamboa and the surrounding areas.
The collaborative project I did with Lisa Schonberg involved combining technologies to enable others to experience the ecosystems in Gamboa from new perspectives. We made two videos. The first of leaf-cutter ants combined substrate-borne stridulations and locomotion on Pipeline Road with binaural ambient sound. The second was filmed underwater in the Rio Chagres and uses a combination of hydrophone and iPhone recording above and under water.
In the Rio Charges, while putting my iPhone in the water to film, I discovered that many small fish were interested in sucking at my skin. I ended up playing with them for quite a long time, as the fish didn’t react much to me scooping them into my hand. Playing in the water reminded me a lot what I felt like as a kid when I’d hang out at the edge of the pond near my house. I decided to make the video from that perspective – an intimate, playful view of the world just below the surface of the water.- wonder and curiosity being two of the greatest assets of art/sci/tech folks.
This project was an attempt to make a cheap DIY submarine, there are very few cheap kits for teachers and researchers that give access to the underwater worlds around us. This was designed as a simple wired ROV with a camera lights and a few small DC motors that would be able to dive and maneuver while delivering live camera feed. to the surface.
The body is made out of bamboo because it was abundant and invasive in Gamboa. If I complete this project again I would use a water bottle or another seal-able cylindrical object. The internals seemed to function well but problems arose with the improvised body. It was still fun to play around with all of the electronic bits and learn about circuits, current, and motors. The whole project only cost about 70 dollars and as a kit it could teach basic electronics , and problem solving. It also lets people see the water through different perspectives.
Overall this was a very good first test and prototype, I think with a small amount of tweaking I could have a functional cheap ROV!
Completing this project in a beautiful and different location surrounded by beautiful and different people helped. What an amazing ‘Conference’
Original plans made to use fire extinguisher as body.
In this project, I created three-dimensional sculptural artworks derived from the shadows cast by found objects.
I began creating 3D prints through unusual processes in 2018, when I used oils to essentially paint a 3D shape. For me, this was a fun way to dip my toes into 3D modeling and printing using the skills I already had (painting) rather than those I didn’t (3D modeling). I was very happy with the output of this process, which I think lent the 3D model a unique texture–it wore its paint-ishness proudly, with bumpy ridges and ravines born from brushstrokes. There was an organic quality that I didn’t often see in 3D models fabricated digitally. I immediately began thinking of other unconventional ways to arrive at 3D shapes, and cyanotype solar prints quickly rose to the top of processes I was excited to try.
SHADOWS AND DIMENSIONS
My initial goal with this project was simply to test my theory that I could create interesting sculpture through the manipulation of shadow. However, a presentation by Josh Michaels on my first night at Dinacon got me thinking more about shadows and what they represent in the relationships between dimensions. Josh showed Carl Sagan’s famous explanation of the 4th dimension from Cosmos.
Sagan illustrates how a shadow is an imperfect two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional object. I wondered–if all we had was a two-dimensional shadow, what could we theorize about the three-dimensional object? If we were the inhabitants of Plato’s cave, watching the shadows of the world play on the wall, what objects could we fashion from the clay at our feet to reflect what we imagined was out there? What stories could we ascribe to these imperfectly theorized forms? When early humans saw the the night sky, we couldn’t see the three-dimensional reality of space and stars–we saw a two-dimensional tapestry from which we theorized three-dimensional creatures and heroes and villains and conflicts and passions. We looked up and saw our reflection. What does a rambutan shadow become without the knowledge of a rambutan, with instead the innate human impulse to project meaning and personality and story upon that which we cannot fully comprehend? That’s what I became excited to explore with this project. But first, how to make the darn things?
For those who want to try this at home, I have written a detailed How To about the process on my website. But the basic workflow I followed was this:
STEP 1: MAKE A SOLAR PRINT OF SOME INTERESTING OBJECTS
The areas that are more shaded by our objects stay white, and the areas that the sun hits become a darker blue. Note that the solar print that results from three-dimensional objects like these rambutans have some midtones that follow their curves, because though they cast hard shadows, some light leaks in from the sides. The closer an object gets to the solar paper, the more light it blocks. This effect will make a big difference in how these prints translate to 3D models.
STEP 2: USE THE SOLAR PRINT AS A DEPTH MAP TO CREATE A 3D MODEL
For those unfamiliar with depth maps, essentially the software* interprets the luminance data of a pixel (how bright it is) as depth information. Depth maps can be used for a variety of applications, but in this case the lightest parts of the image become the more raised parts of the 3D model, and the darker parts become the more recessed parts. For our solar prints, what this means is that the areas where our objects touched the paper (or at least came very close to it) will be white and therefore raised, the areas that weren’t shaded at all by our objects will become dark and therefore recessed, and the areas that are shaded but which some light can leak into around the objects will by our mid-tones, and will lead to some smooth graded surfaces in the 3D model.
*I used Photoshop for this process, but if you have a suggestion for a free program that can do the same, please contact me. I’d like for this process to be accessible to as many people as possible.
Below, you can play around with some 3D models alongside the solar prints from which they were derived. Compare them to see how subtle variations in the luminance information from the 2D image has been translated into depth information to create a 3D model.
In the below solar print, I laid a spiralled vine over the top of the other objects being printed. Because it was raised off the paper by the other objects, light leaked in and created a fainter shadow, resulting in a cool background swirl in the 3D model. Manipulating objects’ distance from the paper proved to be an effective method to create foreground/background separation in the final 3D model.
Another variable that I manipulated to create different levels in the 3D model was exposure time. The fainter leaves coming into the below solar print weren’t any father from the solar paper than the other leaves, but I placed them after the solar print had been exposed for a couple of minutes. This made their resulting imprint fainter/darker, and therefore more backgrounded than the leaves that had been there for the duration of the exposure. You can also see where some of the leaves moved during the exposure, as they have a faint double image that creates a cool “step” effect in the 3D model. You might also notice that the 3D model has more of a texture than the others on this page. That comes from the paper itself, which is a different brand than I used for the others. The paper texture creates slight variations in luminance which translate as bump patterns in the model. You run into a similar effect with camera grain–even at high ISOs, the slight variation in luminance from pixel to pixel can look very pronounced when translated to 3D. I discuss how to manage this in the How To page for this process.
One more neat thing about this one is that I made the print on top of a folder that had a barcode on it, and that reflected back enough light through the paper that it came out in the solar print and the 3D model (in the bottom right). After I noticed this I started exposing my prints on a solid black surface.
The below solar print was made later in the day–notice the long shadows. It was also in the partial shade of a tree, so the bottom left corner of the print darkens. If you turn the 3D model to its side you’ll see how that light falloff results in a thinning of the model. I also took this photo before the print had fully developed the deep blue it would eventually reach, and that lack of contrast results in the faint seedpod in the bottom left not differentiating itself much from the background in the 3D model. I found that these prints could take a couple days to fully “develop.”
STEP 3: 3D PRINT THE MODEL
The 3D models that Photoshop spits out through this process can sometimes have structural problems that a 3D printer doesn’t quite know how to deal with. I explain these problems and how to fix them in greater detail in the How To page for this process.
STEP 4: PAINT THE 3D PRINT
Now we get back to my musings about Plato’s cave. My goal in the painting stage was to find meaning and story in this extrapolation of 3D forms from a 2D projection. As of this writing I have only finished one of these paintings, pictured below.
– Carve the models out of wood with a CNC milling machine to reduce plastic use. I actually used PLA, which is derived from corn starch and is biodegradable under industrial conditions, but is still not ideal. This will also allow me to go BIGGER with the sculptural pieces, which wouldn’t be impossible with 3D printing but would require some tedious labor to bond together multiple prints.
– Move away from right angles! Though I was attempting to make some unusual “canvasses” for painting, I ended up replicating the rectangular characteristics of traditional painting surfaces, which seems particularly egregious when modeling irregular organic shapes. Creating non-rectangular pieces will require making prints that capture the entire perimeter of the objects’ shadows without cutting them off. I can then tell the software to “drop out” the negative space. I have already made some prints that I think will work well for this, I’ll update this page once I 3D model them.
– Build a custom solar printing rig to allow for more flexibility in constructing interesting prints. A limitation of this process was that I wanted to create complex and delicate compositions of shadows but it was hard to not disturb the three-dimensional objects when moving between the composition and exposure phases. My general process in this iteration of the project was to arrange the objects on a piece of plexiglass on top of an opaque card on top of the solar print. This allowed me time to experiment with arrangements of the objects, but the process of pulling the opaque card out to reveal the print inevitably disrupted the objects and then I would have to scramble to reset them as best I could. Arranging the objects inside wasn’t a good option because I couldn’t see the shadows the sun would cast, which were essentially the medium I was working with. The rig I imagine to solve this would be a frame with a transparent top and a sliding opaque board which could be pulled out to reveal the solar paper below without disrupting the arrangement of objects on top.
– Solar print living creatures! I attempted this at Dinacon with a centipede, as did Andy Quitmeyer with some leafcutter ants. It’s difficult to do! One reason is that living creatures tend to move around and solar prints require a few minutes of exposure time. I was thinking something like a frog that might hop around a bit, stay still, hop around some more would work, but still you would need to have some kind of clear container that would contain the animal without casting its own shadow. I also thought maybe a busy leafcutter ant “highway” would have dense enough traffic to leave behind ghostly ant trails, but Andy discovered that the ants are not keen to walk over solar paper laid in their path. A custom rig like the one discussed above could maybe be used–place the rig in their path, allow them time to acclimate to its presence and walk over it, then expose the paper underneath them without disturbing their work.
– Projection map visuals onto the 3D prints! These pieces were created to be static paintings, but they could also make for cool three-dimensional animated pieces. Bigger would be better for this purpose.
Unnatural Language, a collaboration between Michael Ang and Scott Kildall, is a network of electronic organisms (“Datapods”) that create sonic improvisations from physical sensors in the natural environment. Each Datapod has custom electronics connected to sensors, a speaker, and a wireless network. The sensed data, for example from electrodes that measure the subtle electrical variations in the leaves of plants, is transformed into a unique synthesized sound. Encased in sculptural materials (natural fiber, leather, leaves, etc) and dispersed into a natural environment, the Datapods enter into a sonic dialogue with the existing ecosystem of plants and animals.
Unnatural Language proposes that technology and nature are forming a new hybrid ecology, where innovations such as intelligent devices that occupy the natural landscape are dissolving the traditional nature-culture dichotomy. This work repurposes this technology to amplify unseen processes such as plant intercommunication, river health and subtle microclimate changes.
We were at Dinacon in Gamboa, Panama for 18 days and this was our first full development and installation of our project. After several adventures in the area, we decided to deploy eight Datapods in Lake Chagras, which feeds the Panama Canal, since this constitutes a transitional space: a brackish marshland, which also had signs of human outflow such as garbage floating in it.
At Dinacon, we developed two types of sensor-synthesizers. The first detected electrical conductivity levels in water and modulated different sampled sounds that we recorded of rocks sinking in water from a hydrophone. As the water quality fluctuated with these sensor readings, the output of the synthesizer played higher and lower-pitched samples accordingly.
For the water-based datapods, we put our speakers, and the electronics, which consisted of custom software synth code on an ESP32 chip with an on-board amp and water sensor onto various garbage flotillas, which we constructed from the litter that we had collected by kayak.
The second sensor-synth combination was a plant sensor, which detected electrical activity in plants using electrodes. Plants tend to respond relatively rapidly (2-3 minutes) in response to various environmental triggers. The synth we developed acted as a drum machine, modulating different tempos according the the plants that it was attached to.
We learned many things at Dinacon! Making a compelling Datapod took much longer than we thought it would. To achieve the best type of synth effect, we recorded humans performing an activity with the thing being sensed: rocks being thrown into water and water being poured through a strainer onto a plant. We then cut these up into bite-sized pieces and ported them into our software, which uses compiled C++ code on the ESP32 to make dynamic effects.
Also, the janky look for the sculptures themselves had a broad appeal and this will be a direction for the project into the future. We’re looking forward to further site-specific installations of Unnatural Language.
Many thanks to all our fabulous co-Dinasaurs for the wonderfully playful and productive atmosphere, and especially to our intrepid film crew (Monika, Ruben, Cherise, and Andy on the drone!)
Frog Show wants to elevate the singing frogs to an audiovisual experience.
Since our arrival to Gamboa every evening we were amazed by their singing. It didn’t sound like the frogs we knew. This was more of an electronic synth-like music performance. We saw opportuniy to join the frogs and develop some visuals to add to the show.
With the goal of low impact on the environment and not disturb the frog’s activity we came up with this solar-powered red LED installation. The solar power makes the system self-sufficient and the red light is known to be less perceived by frogs.
The installation relies on the following hardware: microphone, arduino board, battery pack, solar panel and LED strip.
The light effects are audio reactive and controlled through code on the arduino board. Every single frog sound triggers the LED strip depending on it’s volume.
The result is an installation that charges during daytime and activates at night with the frogs’s concert. You can read the intense activity of the animals through the light show.