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.




An outdoors low consumption, self powering musical installation.

This blog post is about the design and creative process around the concept of an art object I'm making, to be displayed at the UK Maker Faire in Newcastle in March.

The intent is to install in an outdoors area, various sensors and various sound sources - mostly amplified piezos as well as a wave shield. These will be guided by an arduino which is powered in turn by various solar panels. The device will capture sunlight during the day (I'm also considering windmill or crank power), and gathers readings through the day and night to play a short "concert" at dawn and dusk.

The readings are light, temperature, sounds, humidity and, I hope, some simple electrode type readings, for which I'm currently experimenting with EMF, which I hope to couple with a second one, so as to have a sort of electrode.

When light reaches a threshold, the device plays a melody based on readings gathered, fires off a recorded sound according to the amount of energy it has stored with which to play it, and plays the piezo melody over the wave background. I would hope speed would slowly increase, and it remains to see if further ongoing readings would influence the performance also.

I first wanted to do something of this type years ago, as the value of printed CDs decreased, and they lost value in my mind as well as monetarily as a way of distributing or experiencing music due to them being ripped almost immediately, and due to the songs then living on various media in large libraries.

How could I separate a musical composition and it's experience from this media environment, I wondered, and I thought it would be interesting to embed recordings inside an object, in such a way as to make the sound a part, not the result, of a full experience. I hope there will still be regular media on this creation, but that this will be a derivative, a copy, not the original.

I imagine one day walking up a hill or to a remote spot, and only then, by knowing the times of dusk and dawn, hearing the sounds of the creation. Or as the composer and maker of the device, I would get to travel to it, and fix it, dry it out or re tune it every so often.

Areas of work
In designing this device, I'm trying to keep to the idea that simple is good and that all parts need not be connected so as to sound or result in a coherent experience. I want the sound to reflect the time of year and type of day, in the sense that in a cold, dark, still day, only a couple of notes might play, whereas on a hot or windy day, there would be a symphony of noise lasting several hours. In the style of the Morning and Evening Raga in Indian Classical music, the musical style is different also according to the time of day, and this should be reflected in the way sensor data is interpreted and played back. For example, in a morning raga, the sound starts very gradually, and builds up in speed and volume only towards the end. An evening raga is much more of a performance than a meditation in this sense.

Thermistor for the temperature sensing: test and review the one I have, connect to second life. Temperature should change gradually, not more than 12 degrees in a day I am hoping... so this is rhythm, and will dictate the activities of the avatar that will be connected to it.

A light sensor (or 2?) - test should be working - just got a better resistor and connected a piezo to it. It works. Light readings will be connected to the interrupt, so when it wakes, it will measure all the sensors, write them to eeprom, and then based on the light sensor value and it's change from the previous reading, decides whether to wake up and play.

A battery charge sensor: Very simple to make... the tutorial is online somewhere. Based on this it decides for how long it can play a piece, and wether to play a long sound via the wave shield or just a piezo based generative melody using various smaller, individual wave sounds only towards the end.

thermistor - temperature sensing: Trying with a small bead thermistor, out of 3 bought from maplins. Circuit is almost done.

Plant monitor: Built, working a bit randomly... I plan to show this to Marcus Valentine, get it working properly, measure the resistance on a multimeter (borrow one!), and connect it up to the rest of the device.

EMF detector: Built, and giving very random data. Almost a random seed. Need to add smoothing function. Need to disconnect this from the music emission if Serial.available().

Boards and Power Architecture
An Arduino Duemilanove to connect to a Lady Ada wave shield. (I will have spare arduino from Mat, and a Seeeduino). Currently developing the sensors on the seeduino and working on the wave shield on the duemila: will have to put it all together at some point!

Find out how much power this shield draws(lady ada forums).
How much time do I want the musical object to play stuff? Half the day yes half no? And how loud? What to play? Current idea is mornings and evenings. But at night, will it be able to charge from small 3v windmills?!
Find out how much power the whole thing draws and if a second circuit can be built to wake it up.

Solar Setup
A solar panel capable of charging enough for power requirements. I looked on solarbotics as well as on Adafruit, but Farnell and other closer ones to the UK (i.e without a 3 week or so delivery time) are probably better.

Tom Bugs of nearby BugBrand has also given me about 4 of the more modern smaller solar cells, and some diodes, which I have still to test, so as to do a part of this. They are 2 szgd4026 cells (4v, 20mA) and 2 SZGD5020-A cells, around 2v. All together, they can give 12v, if only for a small about of time.

Maybe just the seeduino on it's own would be an accomplishment. I probably will need to get one of the other ones, and power some of it also maybe from the other solar panels I already have.

A way of reducing the power consumption during the night (having only a small battery powered circuit with a timer chip may be a way.

1 solar panel from a garden light set, that charges a 3.2v, 250mAh battery, which I have replaced with my rechargeable coin cell battery from coolcomponents (3.7v, 200mAh) , to see if it can deal with it. Stupid? Maybe, but fun!

I also have a variable one that does 3v easily during the entire day, but is quite big.
And finally, given to me by Tom Bugs. I'm guessing a regular AA 3.2v battery can probably charge itself through the day and take readings during the night. The idea with power is to make sure there is always enough of it.

Wave recordings
I built a lady ada wave shield with Marcus Valentine's Help.
It has been running "pi", and works fine with this first test program.
Convert a lot of sample music and backgrounds to the correct format from my external hard drive load up samples via SD card reader.
Get a feel for what sounds good alongside the piezos.
Make some ambient recordings also.

Arduino Sketch
Needs to incorporate interrupts and put arduino to sleep until light level changes. Depending on value of light level it chooses weather to play a melody.
Data logging needs to use EEPROM functions for read/write.
Needs to be able to select and play from wave shield. If easy, play also some shorter files in different speeds, perhaps for shorter concerts.

Cast an initial drone based on average temperature.
If connected to a computer, EMF signals are ignored and replaced perhaps by output from Opensimulator, coming back from Ironpython.
(one that slowly moves between averages of readings taken during the night)
duration = readBatterySensor

choose a wave file to play, or a structure using various shorter wav files if there is very little charge.
read from eeprom some sensor values
play values in descending order.
play a melody with beat, melody values, according to how many sensor readings made since last time.

Problem: what if it loses all it's charge while making readings?

IronPython/Open Simulator Code
This script takes serial readings from the arduino and then sends them to a virtual avatar running via LibOpenMetaverse in the 3d world Open Simulator which is an open source world similar to second life. At the moment, it will be easy to trigger a serial call in the form of a command, such as "get readings", or to play one of the sound sources directly.

This will allow for some form of online interaction with the device when connected to this code via the serial cable (and therefore without issues of battery capacity or song duration! ). The character's user name is Abies Alba, and mine is Nima Macchi on - please come by and say hi if you use these things!

Some amplification can be done using the shape and texture of clay, wood or plastic. Shape, size and colour will be important aspects.

A suggestion from Tom Bugs is to build it all inside a tube obtained from a hardware shop. Put the solar panel on top, then speaker at bottom and hang it from somewhere. Also there is someone on youtube who has made a balafon from plant pots by securing it in such a way as to allow it to vibrate. Am trying this with wave shield and a small platform with good effect. Plastic, transparent drum skin might be best for light sensor to poke through, and for piezos.

For the Clay part, which I think will be quite important, it is possible to make a DIY kiln, but I've also asked various people and best plan seems to be to go to the art college in clifton and ask to use theirs.


Stokes Croft 2017

Stokes Croft ruled by robots in 2017

Most people symbolically see birth of the robotic race as 2015, when those famous wikicars escaped from the race course, rode into their trainers, and escaped into the desert. They do not realise that the first large scale battles to use robotic killers was not just the well known oil wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, but this had begun far far before, in these few streets of Bristol UK known as Stokes Croft, where all the new electronics factories had come to converge.

In Bristol, in the valley of dilapidated houses swathed in graffiti between Montpelier and Kingsdown there was once an insurrection, and a great battle, with augmented free running kids fighting police, then the army, each other, and finally fire juggling armies of anarchist clowns as well as the more familiar modified urban fauna we know today (at first with abortive attempts to domesticate wild Foxes, followed by the now familiar Slug, Seagull and Crow, with effects we all remember with such apprehension and shock today).

We now have discovered data and remains from the depths of the hole in the ground where that part of the city once stood, in that valley, where we had once thought all to be obliterated, consumed by a plague of nanobots, which allows us to trace this insurrection even further before this series of urban revolts and confrontation at times of deep crisis. We have found that there was a question of data, surveillance and censorship, which led to a citizens mesh network to be created using hidden transfers between generic everyday electronics.

A sad robot dreams of flightAs times became harder it would become a matter of life and death for these humans to be able to zap the data out of a drone or destroy it at the right moment if it meant being able to access the right technology or data from the net, or if it meant being able to build the weapons that really mattered. Government drones were at first well built creatures with firearms and permission to kill the citizens of Bristol. But they were soon only one of many different types of small aerial solar robot. With solar cell prices going down drones were soon running around protecting gardens, walking children to school, but above all collecting and sending messages and data. Everywhere, umbrella frames became 6 legged walking mechanisms, bottles became batteries, bags were woven into skin and all the useless old desktop computer hardware from the dot com boom and bust across the valley of Stokes Croft was stripped of motors, cameras and sensors in small and prosperous factories that sprung up as the world demanded anti surveillance tools and Bristol answered that call.

Neighbourhoods set up monitoring and data carrying devices of their own and used these at first alongside and then against the drone evidence machine, often following directions from bored staff working overtime hunched over a workstation on a bonus pay system. At first they had been surveillance devices, frequently subject to attack by thieves, vandals and police alike, but soon benefiting from the hive mind of the internet as their owners and maintainers shared their knowledge and perfected their ability for speed and dominance of the skies and land. The energy sources and human uses multiplied with each code update. The source code and algorithms for life and behaviour that most people use today, are mostly re-elaborations and reconstructions of the scripts used back then.

But it was the anger of the people that finally equipped these first bots with guns, tazers and knives, and not least with a shared universal operating system that allowed different robots to work together for the first time, and semantic learning chips equipped with a distributed survival instinct which would enable them fight a large army. But it was not to be. The whole place was completely destroyed after increasingly desperate battles between the local factions of the time, long before that tired army ever got back to the valley of central Bristol. They had had enough on their hands in their foreign battles for resources abroad, and various police mutinies, and they soon split off into various militia, before eventually inspiring and pioneering the building of the domes and shared spaces which became that centre of living birth and creation that we know this city as today.

Ironically, it was an open source recipe for a nanobot, by around 2015 being made in many illegal factories across the world, which was the demise of the Stokes Croft rebellion, and the buildings around it, 250 metres into the ground.

If you'd like to make one, take one strip of carbon nanotube, which you will use to contain all the ingredients.

Into this, put in a nanomachine, some xor gates, some dust from a magnet and an energy sucker. Mix it well.

Don't try this incantation near your local parts supply area unless you want a gigantic crater in it though.

images from


Plant Electrodes

I've been doing more late night research on electrodes. This is a good way to create an interface between machine and plant, or machine and animal, and it's basically a wire on a living surface, like a plant or your skin somewhere, and another one close by going out to complete a circuit. It passes current through this non metallic surface, between anode and cathode, and then you measure the resistance you detect. Then the medical ones get much more complicated, and easy to apply or stick to someone.

I started thinking about electrodes when planning a slug detector project, which would use the electrode in order to detect (or cast and then measure discrepancies in) an electrical field. Casting and detecting changes in, or just detecting electrical fields is a form of animal communication used in very primitive underwater animals, mostly to hunt prey or detect possible predators. Because slugs tend to go out on rainy nights, this would work mostly when there was water around this machine. It would generate or detect an electric field the size of a slug and then fire off an action if it does (like take a photo or open a beer trap), but now I'm moving on from molluscs and applying it to plants, as a kind of home made EEG.

The reason I'm talking about these things is I've been trying to make a garden sound object (GSO), or a Musical Raga Automaton (MRA) or an Arduino Powered Renewable Energy Symbiot (APRES), but really I've not really found a good acronynm for the thing so far. It's entered into the Newcastle Maker Faire 2010, as an outdoors exhibit.

It will also have a plant monitor to detect soil humidity, a light sensor and a thermistor to detect temperature.

image by left_hand on flickr:
So back to electrodes. Various ways to spread the pain/effect - like with those electrodes, all more comfortable than a naked wire on your skin coming from some machine. It allows my musical automaton project to consider an even deeper symbiosis, whereby it could become the musical soundtrack for either a particular patch of land, or for a particular plant, a long lasting one, such as a bush or a tree.

This might be a more advanced one. This arduino page mentions simple electrodes.

Here is someone who has built a very simple windmill system. It could be good for a distributed windmill light or battery charging project. It's the simplest possible cardboard coil generator, which I'm sure could be attached to a rotor of some kind and made into a workshoppable item, using old hard disk magnets, LED lights and some old CD cases...

I thought more about green noise, and about going around and collecting some sounds from around bristol, maybe the water in the rivers and drains, the sound of the motorway at night, the air at the top of the hill... If I can get it sounding a bit like white noise, I'll know I'm close...

Today I got a step closer to a white noise circuit, but also built the Lady Ada Wave Shield, which I now hope to get working on my Seeeduino. Which brought me to consider once again the outdoor garden musical automaton(OGMA) and what sensors it should have, how it should interface with people and plants.

It should play each day differently through the year, so that in 30 degree heat you get more wave recordings and longer more intense sounds, using the higher amounts of energy collected by the solar panels and / or windmills on it. I don't know where to put a stop to it, but it will take a lot of testing - adding and removing piezos, wether sensing or buzzing, adding/removing light sensors, getting a temperature sensor and testing out a simple electrode or 10 on a plant (my poor aloe vera is wincing at the prospect).

In the winter, it will only play sparse sounds and try and calculate it's current remaining before attempting anything complex.

At night, the Noise Generating Automaton (NGA) will monitor certain readings, and go into a low power mode, still powered mostly by windmills charging some batteries. It will build a file with statistics based on these readings, and use that in the morning when it wakes up.

When light passes a certain threshold, it will generate a low frequency noise which increases as light does. When the sun is almost up, it will have got to being like a base tune, which jams following a pattern dictated by the temperature and humidity sensor's readings for the night.

Using Lady Ada's wave shield, some simple speaker housing, some piezo buzzers (here is an early test of one) and some natural resonant housing, I can produce enough amplification to create this hopefully inobtrusive garden soundtracker(HIGS). What is left to figure out is what to put it in that is both pleasing to look at and resistant to the humid newcastle climate... I'm considering Sugru and sealed glass or if all else fails, the typical plastic containers that you can buy at maplins again, for a few squid (Ah, another mollusc!).

The Garduino project will provide great help I think, as will Mike Skylar's experiments.

Second Life / Open Simulator Arduino Project Plan

Here is my thinking on this:

Devobot is an IronPython framework that allows you to trigger animations, movement and chatting to a Second Life or OpenSimulator based avatar using the open source libopenmetaverse library. I used this software in my bot work in a recent archive / 3d model of the Pompeii Court of the Sydenham Crystal Palace.

PySerial on the other hand, allows IronPython based serial comms. Serial comms can also be done via .net frameworks - example is in C#, but it should be a good reference for an ironpython version.

An arduino microprocessor can be hooked up using an adapted version of the light sensor tutorial on - but for example, triggering animations or chat responses according to the light level or to other sensors I might be able to think of. Maybe eventually growing in complexity until, naturally, a wiimote is added for IR tracking.

So the question is - will it work?


3 possibilities: Hackspace Bristol, DMT and the Aquatrick

Today I had some important realisations and considerations about various projects I'm working on - Hackspace Bristol, the Green Noise Open Hardware Project, and the invention of the Aquatrick, a water based, sensor controlled, light projecting device. I don't know how related they are except for this snowy day in Bristol, but that's life, and here they are:

1. Hackspace Bristol

Here is a project plan/wish list of sorts for Bristol Hackspace, which is currently based at Coexist/Hamilton House in Bristol:

Bristol Hackspace will be a feature of Stokes Croft and active contributor to it's attractions as a local and international centre of alternative arts and culture, adding a technological aspect to the existing local autonomous spaces, and hopefully working with these and with the wider world-wide hackerspace or makerspace (and dorkbot?) movements as well as many others. To this I hope to be able to assist by curating events, co-ordinating workshop series' as well as one-off and off-site events featuring our members or invited guests, and co-ordinating arts/object production. I think one main use of the hackspace will be this last one. Supply, as well as in house production and sale of open hardware creations might take place, from simpler Arduino based devices to more complex or diverse projects such as the RepRap, Lifetrac or Hexayurt.

A lot of dorkbot/hackspace participants would like laser cutters, 3d printers and the like, so it just depends what we can get funded, donated, or made ourselves, but cheaply.

It would be great to also get to mess with other workshop environments, such as Chris Chalkley's planned kiln workshop some day, which he is planning for his Stokes Croft China sensation...

Also, there will certainly be the more artistic inventions by our own members or international or well known or common sense open licensed ideas. These can be worked on during electronics or arts related workshops, or simply made by hand or mass produced so as to sell in our (fingers crossed!) Stokes Croft shop front.

Members can pay several levels of monthly fee which contribute to the basic running costs and rent, but we could also go for various different types of funding on a project basis and hopefully sponsorship from creative, community based, educational and business related establishments around the city that might begin to also benefit from our classes and various types of open, participatory crafting events.

And now for something completely different:

2. I may have invented my own religion, or, DMT's important connections with Buddhist and other spiritual practices.

I realised also today that there is a link of some kind between the plant and animal chemical DMT and a more Buddha-like state of being. DMT is a powerful psychedelic drug also manufactured by the human brain (some say the pineal gland at the centre of the brain). Nam Myoho Renge Kyo on the other hand is the chant, rhythm and teaching at the centre of Nichiren Buddhism and it's various offshoots. In this, a Mahayana interpretation of Buddhist teachings, Buddhahood is a pervasive force inside every living being, an absolute force and potential for good in everything, which is said to have taken place whilst he sat by a Pipal tree - Ficus religiosa - for many days, eating only what fell from this tree.

A typical Nichiren Buddhist's personal practice might involve study, application of buddhist teachings in their daily lives, and chanting anything from 10 times a day to even so called "5 by 5s" - 5 hours a day for 5 days, to an inscription in a scroll called a Gohonzon.

In simple terms the purely Buddhist belief is that by doing this we make ourselves more in rhythm with this absolute, positive energy that pervades the universe, and that by doing so we are able to have the wisdom, fortune and timeliness to be in the right place in the right time so as to make a large difference in life for oneself and others - in essence, to be a hero, able to behave like a Buddha at all times.

The reason I make this probably blasphemous assertion about dimethyl-tryptamine is due to the Green Noise Experiment I put on as a performance art/mind hack experiment at the Arnolfini Arts Centre here in Bristol in December 2009 (see previous entry on this blog for links). Basically, I put ping pong balls over the eyes of around 38 participants in a darkened space, and gave them various types of continuous white noise, green noise or pink noise to listen to for either 5, 10 or 20 minutes each.

This experiment in sound and open hardware was more to do with a inducing an also mildly psychedelic, but more hypnagogic state similar to that encountered when falling asleep or possibly during sleep paralysis, but it led me to look up various wikipedia articles about DMT production and read about various other experiments to see if there was a known link between DMT and the ganzfeld procedure I had used.

In the words of some participants in a well known DMT study in the 90s by Doctor Rick Strassman of the book "The Spirit Molecule", when injected with doses of 0.2 to 0.4 mg/kg of this very simply structured derivative of the amino-acid tryptophan:

(in the beginning, volunteers would experience vibration and many colours would appear, and begin to form complex patterns, like a curtain, which Dr Strassman in this case encourages his subject to go beyond)

"At that point it opened, and I was very much somewhere else. I believe it was at that point that I went out, into the universe-being, dancing with, a star system.."
and a few days later, from the same subject
"I am changed. I will never be the same. To simply say this almost seems to lessen the experience..."
"The great power seemed to fill all possibilities. It was "amoral" but it was love, and it just was. There was no benevolent God, only this primordial power. All of my ideas and beliefs seemed absurdly ridiculous. I never wanted to forget this..."
"I had no idea how long I was in this confluence of pure energy, or whatever/however I might describe it. Finally, I felt myself tumbling gently and sliding backward away from this light"

There is lots more where this came from, and in my experiment I was reminded of this effect in particular by the green noise diffraction effect that participants in the Green Noise Experiment had, and how relevant it seemed then, that white noise in particular, is the sound of absolute randomness all at once, of every possible wavelength and noise put together, whereas green noise was just a more natural and accessible version of this same universal sound due to it's frequent existence in the natural as well as urban environment, and that it might somehow be linked to what we are trying to achieve in Buddhist practice.

I have still to figure out if there was any prevalance in mystical or spiritual experiences in the Green Noise experiment, but the event certainly felt imbued with a positive energy - so many people were so pleased and thankful to have had a chance to try the machine.

My point of view of death, as a Buddhist, is that in dying we fall back into a sea, like an individual wave rejoining a larger whole. In more practical terms, I'd say we visibly fall back into a shadow of our previous selves, the atoms that once made us function slowly merging with other organisms or environments and the changes we make slowly losing relevance.

Although our minds may be gone in death, the memories of those around us, the inspiration, ideas and lessons we may have taught or inspired in others, and the effects of our actions in life carry on.

These changes we make in life, in our families, and in wider society and the environment around us can still can be seen long before and after a single lifetime, as we are seeing day to day with the current environmental and economic situation. This concept seems to have such a huge similarity with what is seen in the space of around 5 minutes in Dr Strassman's DMT subjects.

This thought is very enlightening, and I feel very lucky to be in both the worlds of art oriented electronics and music, and a Buddhist, so as to be able to have this realisation. I don't know if it will lead to anything, or where if so, but it certainly seems important and life changing right now to look into how I might improve my Buddhist practice through creating and using these Ganzfeld devices and through the use of what I've myself called no more than mind hacks.

Doctor Strassman, I believe, has figured out a way to measure DMT in the blood, so it seems worth testing a link between this and the practice of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, as well as many other Buddhist practices, not least Tientai, also known as Zhiyi, the founder of the Tendai, or Lotus School of Buddhism.

This was a chinese monk who around the year 575 declared the Lotus Sutra to be the highest teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha's sutras, intended for many generations after his time due to the time not being ripe for it to be spread widely when it was conceived.

The Lotus Sutra itself was probably compiled from oral teachings long after Shakyamuni's death.

Zhiyi added to existing meditative practices in year 600 China, the practice of "Great Concentration and Insight", (which I've also seen probably mis-translated as "Stopping and starting") - a complex system of self-cultivation practice that also incorporated devotional rituals and confession/repentance rites.

Nichiren Daishonin, in 13th century Japan, then simplified this practice into the Nam Myoho Renge Kyo chant heard today, taking inspiration from contemporary Buddhist schools offering simpler, more universally accessible practices, and from his own readings into Buddhist teachings. Nichiren's followers and practitioners today strive to make concrete changes in their lives through their practice.

I believe DMT is a vital ingredient in Buddhist practice - a fact which doesn't lessen it's beauty to me in the slightest, and as shown by Dr Strassman, is also present in many other spiritual practices worldwide, and I think this link urgently deserves further investigation.

The Aquatrick

The third truth I would like to tell you about, is that I just thought of an interesting device to make. It is a lamp, which includes an inverted LED in a reflective concave surface, shining onto a small pool of water, in a reflective container. This creates pleasant moving lights on the walls and roof around the device, so it is also a projector, or lava lamp-ish item. On the top of the device, as well as an "on" button are some sensors that allow a user to control the movement of some servo based or electromagnetic mechanisms that stir the water beneath, creating waves. This means passers by, or single / multiple users can influence the movement of the reflections around them. The water might also sound nice, but the shape of the object is probably crucial! And so ends another gathering of quite unrelated truths and future possibilities.

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