My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.



Maker Faire Exhibit - Weeks 3 and 4

Last week I made the raku clay bird ornament in which the device will be kept, unless I can make a better one before the faire. It was a really interesting process to follow, and Hilda, the potter who showed me it, said things sometimes randomly emerge with clay, not always what you expect. I like that idea, as opposed to 3d design where you try and go for an exact shape. Also it shrinks 10% when it's fired, and so any calculations as to size or tuning would have to be done through lots of different models and trial and error, which I don't have time for as she is now going away for a bit, and I won't have access to her kiln again until after the maker faire.

I'm not completely happy with the results of my first big process of making: it's a bit small and the "bird" only happened randomly during the slab rolling process. But still, it's functional and I put a lot of stuff in it, that I know will need to go in any subsequent thing I make as an enclosure. It has only 2 openings at the top which I will put wires through and seal, it has holes in which to mount a stand, so that it can resonate a bit more fully, a small area in which to put some moss or other small plants, and a shelf inside in which to put the box with the arduino in it.

I then had a good chat with John Honniball and Tarim at PM Studios to see how to get the Maxim PMIC chips I ordered, working to power an arduino. The result is not good: there is a simple, if inefficient way to power one from a 9v battery, but the best way at the moment to get something better going, is to get a Mintyboost kit, and wire it to an 11v solar panel (which I have). The PMIC chips that Marcus Valentine suggested I use, will only work with panels of up to 5v, and anything beyond that will damage the arduino. John says it's a good idea to try the chips anyway, because if I can get anywhere with that, it will mean we can have an arduino running off very low power, and able to use that quite efficiently - so for example from a single AA battery or from a little cell battery. But most likely, it won't work.

This last week on the other hand, I've been learning about fast fourier transformations, wave table synthesis, granular synthesis and reading about the work of Ellen Fullman - who makes a long stringed instrument with a small sound box at either end for amplification. A very different design from mine. I also looked at the workings of recycled aluminium so as to create resonating cones and much more research. As well as this, I've been trying step back a bit and decide how the arduino will actually pick out the best readings and make them into a discernible song.

Firstly, it will be playing in little bursts all day. I hope this will make it more interesting and build up interest for the dusk concert. Most of the time it will just play the readings almost directly, as they are collected (which is what it is doing now), write the readings to EEPROM and turn itself off or go to sleep/power saving mode as much as it can. But if it thinks it's dusk, it will get ready to play something more complex.

In this more complex dusk concert, I want there to be single notes, with overtones and lots of silence in between, a gradual build up for each performance. There will be something resembling a trio of drone, melody and percussion, I think. This makes it easy to decide which role the 2 piezo outputs and 1 wave sample output will take on each time it decides to play.

In the style of an indian classical raga, I would then select 5 or 7 "notes" from the readings it has collected, and play them according to a repeating melody or ostinato pattern.

This would then be varied - the melody would be reached via the playing of small patterns that then build up in speed and complexity to be the pattern again.

Then this somehow builds up in speed and adds to recorded samples (played from the Adafruit Wave Shield).

Finally, it will end in a tihai figure, based again, on this ostinato.

A while ago I wrote a tabla beat that goes - if you understand this stuff,

Dha ti dha ge na dha ti dha ge na
ga dha ti dha ge na ga dha ti dha ge na
na ke na

There's a lot of variations to go with it, but that's the basic beat. This is in 25 beats, and I've divided into 5 / 5 / 6 / 6 / 3. The 25 beat structure means the tihai - if seen as 3 repetitions of a 33 beat variation on the main ostinato, will land back on the 100th - i.e back at the beginning of the next beat.

I've been trying to decide how much of hindustani classical and world music tradition to bring in to this though. Because then the symbiotic creature might become too much a reflection of my own interpretation than a true reflection of the readings it gathers. But as a mathematician friend remarked when I told him about this project, there are an infinite amount of ways to apply maths to numbers so as to extract sound, so maybe I should stop being so precious about it.

Many cultures ancient and new have music and songs reflecting or seeking to affect the seasons or time of day however, and I think there is a lot to learn from from that in this project.

Meanwhile though, here is a sound grab of the piezo portion of the symbiot, amplified using a small bodhran drum and using a prototype clay model I've now made as a container, and as a sound box. More to come soon!

Symbiotic Readings  by  alefernandez


Maker Faire Exhibit - Weeks 1 and 2

It's not very often you get a chance to work on such a varied project. The brief for the project in the previous post on this blog, but I thought it useful to put down some thoughts at this stage in it's preparation. Especially in case I get lost later on.

Last week I did the first parts: I wired together light sensor, piezo buzzer and an electromagnetic field detector and they are sending data back to an arduino that is now capable of "sleeping" - i.e. switching to a lower power mode.

There are lots of ways of getting it to fall asleep though, and I prefer no power to lo-power as Newcastle is not known for it's warm bright weather (for example - this week, according to the newspaper, sunset came to Newcastle at 4.40pm, and the average temperature is of about 4-5 degrees with showers half the time, leading me to think rain power may have been a better choice than solar).

To amplify all the recorded and generated sounds this device is beginning to produce, I got a plant pot, and an old bohdran drum, into which I put the speakers and sound emitting bits. It helped the sound be fuller and a bit louder. I'm not aiming for a very noisy device, but something that's sonically fragile and can interplay with other noises in it's area.

Here is a video of the state of play last Wednesday:

Since then I've put together lots of solar cells of various different shapes and sizes, and I tried to test their voltage and current, and wire them up to a small circuit I got from here and here.

I'm planning on using some rechargeable coin cell batteries to do this. I tested the battery by putting it inside a little set of solar lights and seeing if it charged them. The lights were powered by a 3.2v, 250mAh battery, but they seem to work fine on a 3.7v 200mAh one too, all of which led me to wish I'd paid more attention in physics class at high school...

I also added the capability to detect temperature to the bit with all the sensors (the Seeduino seen in the video, which at the moment will only run sensors, before I put the whole contraption together and get it to play sounds as well).

And I've investigated a lot about clay, based on a long discussion with Mat Dalgleish. Clay and pottery is local to just about every place and culture in the world. It is strong, resistant to the outdoors (if fired at high temperatures), and above all it looks natural and earthy, and very fitting for housing all my electronic stuff, which may be functional, but it doesn't look very visually appealing!

So at the weekend, I got the (regular "das") clay out and spent a morning in the library, reading about pottery so I could get some handle on the basics. Then I started making (the children got involved too!). The result was this nice little ocarina, which actually plays a note when blown!

From my discussion with Mat, and from chatting today with Hilda Bligh, a local and very experienced potter, who will let me use her kiln, we went for Raku. This is a 16th century Japanese/Korean technique which produces nice and very random colours, and can be fired at high temperatures. Hilda was very generous and treated me to some lovely soup and gave me some cheesewire, lent me a clay roller, and got me lots of nice oxides(iron, yellow iron, copper and some iron filings), as well as a big heavy pack of raku clay!

As well as this, she gave me a quick class on simple raku pottery. I'm planning to cut a slab of clay, and roll it into a cylinder. Then I'll try and shape it and glaze it. This first experiment will probably fail(she suggested I make 3 experiments to begin with), but I'll try and add a sketch of what it should look like so that it can house the arduinos, allow for leakage, provide a simple way to place all the sensors around it, and hold the solar panels high up. Also, I might add some cones or tubes to it (as I did with the first clay experiment) to make it look more like a tree...

Later this week I plan to experiment more with the thermistor (for which I'll need a thermometer...), and with all the readings on the piezo circuit. I'll also try the first step of the raku process.

The solar panels also will need to be wired together some more and tested/ experimented with for readings. Next week, I hope to finally get to the musical bit!

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