During this crazy covid-19 moment, many of my projects got put on hold, like so many people. Finding myself trapped indoors, the one thing I didn’t give up were my daily walks. Given the situation, it seemed like a great idea to build a new instrument, since it has been awhile since I’ve worked on solarsonic projects.
This instrument is called Eloe, a reimagining of the name “Lowe,” which is the middle name of the great Richard Tietelbaum, the synthesist, composer and improvisor who died this April 9, 2020. Eloe follows along the path I had begun with Aalborg (see the catalog page), which was the idea of creating two separate circuits: a custom synthesizer made from two hex Schmitt trigger chips (74C14), both of which have several oscillators that feed back into each other. They are directly powered by one 2.2 V PV module, with no buffering. The amplifier is separately powered by a 100 F 3 V super capacitor, which is charged by the other PV modules. This means that the amplification stage is more stable, and allows for performance in lower light conditions, while the synth itself is subject to the extreme voltages of the moment. An alternative to batteries, super capacitors can function a bit like them, and even though they can’t power the instrument for very long in the dark (about 20 minutes in this case), they will probably never have to be replaced, at least not during my lifetime. This instrument has been very fun to play while taking walks, and I’m thinking of making of series of these in the near future, perhaps with a tutorial.
I’m very excited to be part of this intriguing event entitled “Photosynth: A symposium on self-powered media art,” which will be taking place at the University of Pécs in Pécs, Hungary! This cool-looking event is dedicated to sustainable energy practices in the larger field of electronic arts, and will include free workshops, talks, performances, and installation work. As part of this very cool event, I will be giving a talk on my work in the past 10 years using solar energy in my sound work, and specifically on the “solarsonics” project that involves battery-less, real-time use of solar energy to create sonic interventions. I will discuss my work in designing instruments, sound-making circuitry, coding, and installation work, as well as giving an overview of work by others who are also working in these areas.
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Pictured above is the Engine Room, a new piece somewhat spontaneously created after a road trip earlier in the summer of 2015. During that trip, I acquired this blue wooden box from a thrift store in Leadville, CO, where I grew up. While driving, I imagined it being transformed into a mysterious sort of peep show of light and sound. The piece was created and exhibited at the Burning Man Festival in front of our camp. It is powered by a solar panel/battery combo, enabling it to be operational for 24 hours a day.
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Here is a nice film about Coronium 3500, which will be shown for another year at Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts.
The piece will be exhibited from June 7 – November 1, 2015, as part of the second annual Garden of Sonic Delights, along with works by Trimpin, Stephan Moore, Annea Lockwood, Ranjit Bhatnagar, Betsey Biggs, Suzanne Thorpe, Stephen Vitiello and Bob Bielecki.
I am on site this week doing a bit of maintenance on the piece, and installing new solar wings:
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I’m very excited to finally have this piece completed and installed at the Caramoor Center for the Arts. The exhibit will be up from June 7 until November 2, and features works by 14 other amazing sound artists. This piece has been long in the making, and represents a culmination of several years of experimentation in this “soloarsonics” medium. More information can be found here.
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This week I presented a summary of my solarsonics research to date, including a sneak preview of the upcoming installation entitled Coronium 3500 (Lucie’s Halo), which will be exhibited at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in the summer and fall of 2014. The crowd was sizable, and I received some great questions and comments about the work after the talk. My colleague Stephan Moore and I also performed as Evidence, and made some really amazing field recordings of the frozen/melty lake near the docks, as well as the giant bell-tower.
Here is a video of the “Coronium Box Quartet” I showed as part of the presentation, which is the centerpiece of the installation. These boxes play randomly-changing streams of melodic, interlocking streams which change throughout the day, and react to the changing light conditions. As well, they “chime” together on the 1/2 hour.
These are the two prototypes completed earlier:
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Scott Smallwood and Jared Bielby (University of Alberta, Canada) : “Solarsonics : Patterns of Ecological Praxis in Solar-powered Sound Art”
Harnessing the sun as an energy source is of great interest in this age of energy crises, and holds our imagination because of its quiet, seemingly magical properties. Photovoltaic technologies have grown quickly over the past 20 years, and more and more applications of solar power are finding use today. In the arts, solar power is often used as energy sources for public artworks, as a practical matter. These systems typically work in conjunction with batteries or other sources of energy in order to ensure a constant voltage and power level. However, an alternate approach is to design the work to use the sun’s energy directly, and exclusively, with the sunlight itself as a functional parameter of the material. In this paper, we examine the use of photovoltaics in the direct production of sound as a function of its existence. These solarsonic works are designed to use the sun in the same way that wind-based artworks use the wind: they are activated directly, and are totally dependent on the light available in the moment. We survey solarsonic works by several artists, and discuss a series of works by the author, and conclude with a look at what the future may bring.
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I created this solar powered piece called “Arcade Bells” a couple of years ago, and after tweaking the software a bit, I brought it to Burning Man in 2011. It was installed out in deep playa a ways off 2:00. The sun affects the way the sounds evolve over time, as they change with the hour. Sadly, this piece was destroyed shortly after the install by an art car, much like the one shown at the end of this clip. At Burning Man, you should always make sure your artwork can be seen from a distance, isn’t too low to the ground, and is very well lit at night. I broke those rules and paid my dues. Lesson learned.
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Smallwood’s sound installation entitled hideout, based on solar-powered sound pieces, opens on Friday, March 15. On exhibit from March 15 until April 29. Opening reception March 15, 6-8 PM. Seedspace Gallery 417 Chestnut St. Nashville, TN. Nashville Scene critic’s pick
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