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Guy Marsden

Artwork Engineering

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Lewis deSoto
See more of Lewis's work on his web site 

I first met Lewis in 1992 when he asked me to engineer a complex light
and sound fader for his show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
in New York.  His piece was an installation work that reflected his response
to the noticeable sounds emanating from the large, visible air ducts in the
ceiling. "Tempest" accentuated the sound and focused attention on the
ducts by slowly fading up several blue flood lights focused on the ducts,
while simultaneously fading up the amplified and processed sound from
a microphone in the ducting.  The sound faded up over a few minutes, then
slowly diminished over 15 minutes or so.
Tempest installation at New Museum

The controller that I built was fully adjustable so that Lewis could set
the fade-up and fade-down timing of the lights and sound.  All the audio
equipment was housed in a 19" rack.
Tempest controller (bottom unit)
The circuitry contained counters that incremented digital values that were sent
to Triac AC dimmer circuits and A/D converters that controlled the audio amplitude
of the signals fed through it.

See more images and video of this piece on Lewis's web site

Over the years I have made several other audio and light faders for his other
installations all of which used similar technology to control lighting and sound levels.
Exhibited 3 times from 1994-6,  "Tahquitz" featured 6 separate audio/light faders
that cross faded the sound to 6 different speakers and lights.
Tahquitz fader front panel

The sound was a spoken narrative in native American tongues that moved
randomly about the space creating the effect of a disembodied spirit --
Tahquitz    . Tahquitz 2nd view
--while ice dripped slowly into large ceramic vessels below.

I built these controllers using all hand wired logic and counter circuits that
required dozens of chips...
Tahquitz fader inside
Engineering these projects has become much easier with the advent of the
PIC microcontroller chips and Basic Stamps!

See more images and video of this piece on Lewis's web site

"Sound of the Trumpet"
 installation at ART PACE in San Antonio, Texas. 1996

Lewis placed a large custom built automobile engine mounted openly in a large
gallery under 2, 1000 Watt flood lights.
Sound of the Trumpet dark view    . Sound of the Trumpet light view
I built and programmed a controller that choreographed a timed performance for the
motor and lights.  Beginning in a darkened room with only a red spot light derived
from a gelled skylight, the motor started up and idled for a few seconds while the lights
began to glimmer.  This motor was VERY LOUD even at idle!  Over time the motor
revved up and up as the bright halogen lights became brighter and brighter.
After several minutes the motor peaked at 4000 rpm as the lights reached their
full 1000 Watts and suddenly stops as the lights black out, leaving the engine's
exhaust headers glowing cherry red.  (Exhaust and coolant were plumbed outside).
Sound of the Trumpet motor

My controller (mounted to the post 5 feet behind the motor) used 2
Basic Stamp 1 microcontrollers to control a linear stepper motor that operated the
motor throttle linkage, and the starting relay, and a Triac dimmer circuit for the lights.

I programmed the piece from a laptop via a lengthy umbilical cable.
Programming this piece on site was terrifying!  Lewis and I cowered over 10
feet from the racing engine at first, while Donny, the engine's laconic Texan
builder stood over the motor and observed that it could go up to 8000 rpm
without causing harm.  We decided that 4000 rpm would do fine!

See video of this installation on Lewis's site

One of 2 similar works that used lasers.

Created in 1996, this enigmatic piece moves a red laser pointer
dot around on the wall opposite the tapered pedestal that supports
the laser and the mechanism that moves it.
The laser dot slowly forms a vertical rectangle about 5 feet high
as you watch it move along the wall, then it goes off for a moment
and begins inside the top left of the conceptual rectangle and
"writes" by squiggling up and down as it moves left to right
forming the idea of an invisible hand at work.   Another identical
piece titled "Drawing" used the same idea.

Here is the mechanism that I designed to drop into the tapered
pedestal that I also built for him:

The small red portable AM radio is used as a random signal source for the
computer so that the writing movements are completely random.
The signal from the speaker is sampled by the computer and used
to construct random variables that determine the laser's direction
and travel distance.

The stepper motors that move the laser up/down and left/right
are controlled by a Basic Stamp 2 microcontroller at bottom left.

At right is the up/down motor and the limit switches that prevent it from moving too far.

See more images of this piece on Lewis's web site

For his installation at Metronom in Barcelona, Spain in 1997 Lewis created

"Dervish" . This was a sound and light piece of literally dizzying proportions.
From 6 locations in the room, speakers were hung from 2 wires, each with a
bright spot lamp mounted to it.  These were then rotated slowly so that the
lamp created swirling beams of light as the speakers swung out in a wide arc.
The music was commissioned by Lewis to be played on an antique string instrument
that dervish music was originally played on.  6 different forms of dervish
music were used for the 6 speakers.
Dervish installation

Each speaker/light was hung from a brushed aluminum box that I designed
which housed a motor and commutator system that allowed power for the lamp
and signals for the speaker to be fed through a rotating plate to the support wires.
An external control box could be plugged in to set the speed of the rotation.
The motor's speed was controlled from a Basic Stamp 1 microcontroller, this was also
programmed to start the rotation very slowly so the wires didn't tangle,
and stop it the same way.

see this piece on Lewis's web site

"Traveler" (1998)
One of my favorite pieces that Lewis conceived.

Truck in crib
This piece was based on his childhood memory of being in his crib.   His mother
would enter the room and find the crib had moved across the room to the window.
She discovered that young Lewis wanted to see out the window, so he would
stand at the headboard and jump against it to push the crib across the room.
That experience, combined with his adult fascination with automobiles produced
this work.  As one nears the crib the toy truck backs up slowly to the end
of the crib then accelerates rapidly forward until it crashes into the head board
with a resounding CRASH -- making a sound like a bass drum.
Truck close up
This action slowly forces the crib to move around the gallery floor.
I modified the remote control to be operated by a Basic Stamp 2 chip , and put it in
an elaborate control box with numerous knobs that Lewis could use
to set the forward speed, reverse speed, timing, and number of repeats,
this was then mounted to the gallery wall.  An LCD screen shows a description
of the trucks current activity.  There is a motion sensor mounted to the crib
that sends a radio signal to the remote control to begin the performance
which consists of several crashes before it rests for a while.

More info about this piece on Lewis's site

"Ship" 1998
With this work Lewis moved to an object based format.
This is a 6 foot long scale model of the Titanic made of steel that roves autonomously
around the gallery while exuding a fog bank from under itself.  The idea was to give
the impression that it was lost in its own fog.

While I had some experience with a previous robotic installation , this project challenged
me to the extreme and eventually exceeded my mechanical design skills.
There was barely enough room in this 80lb ship to cram in all the components!

Controlled by 2 Basic Stamp 1 microcontrollers The ship is festooned with sensors
that prevent it from colliding with walls, people or from exiting the gallery.
An infrared proximity sensor in the prow prevents collisions with people
by stopping the ship within 4" immediately, while long range ultrasonic
ranging sensors on each side of the bow look for walls at a greater distance, and cause
the ship to turn away from them.  Another downward facing reflective optical sensor detected
reflective tape across the gallery openings.  This sensor stopped the ship, preventing it from
leaving the gallery.  4 passive infrared motion sensors in portholes on all 4 sides sensed
people nearby and activated the drive and fog circuits when people were present.
I also installed lighting for the portholes.

Ship Smoke Control
Ship Inside Drive System
Ship Inside Bow
  Smoke control in stern
  Drive motor amidships
Drive control in bow
I used a disco fog machine that produced heated mineral oil based fog that wanted to
rise from it's own heat.  In order to keep the fog bank low (i.e.. cold), I added plumbing to
pass the fog by a Peltier effect cooler, and on out the bottom of the ship.  Condensation
that collected in the plumbing was pumped back into the smoke machine's tank
with a small sump pump pillaged from a toy electric squirt gun.
This prevented the oily, slippery liquid from leaking onto the gallery and creating a hazard.
I also arranged a funnel below one of the ship's funnels to direct fog juice
into the smoke machine's reservoir so that it could easily be topped up.
Ship Inside View
Inside of the ship showing smoke machine and lighting
The ship was driven forward at a fixed rate via 2 rear wheels, and steered by a rotating
wheel near the bow.  The drive components were where I ran into trouble, and the
piece required substantial reworking by other more mechanically skilled engineers.
It has since been exhibited several times around the country.

See more images and video of this piece on Lewis's web site

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See more of Lewis's work on his web site 

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