An Overdue Update....

This is just a quick update. Full-time academic (oh yeah, I’m now a lecturer in Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington! It’s been a great move, but busy…which is why I’ve been a bit absent online…hoping to fix that this year with more creative work!) life has slowed down my updates (and process) on this project, however it has taken a new turn over the past two years. I’ve held short art residencies at the the last two years. Last year was a proof-of-concept, and this past summer we did a full run. What does that mean? Lots of data!

I’ve started to incorporate lab science into the project, wherein we culture samples of fermenting food (kimchi and sauerkraut) from start to finish and grow bacteria on agar. We then sample the bacterial colonies and identify them in a mass spectrometer (a MALDI-TOF, for those interested). I have data from a batch of kimchi and a batch of sauerkraut, which I’m just beginning to think about how to sonify (represent the data through sound).

This has always been a sound project in my mind. The initial “real-time'“ projects were fun, but I always felt the the sound was never complex enough, and not focused enough on the bacterial processes, just their results. So, while this approach (where we collected data a few days a week over three weeks) loses the real-time aspect, it will gain a lot of depth in sound and data. It’s been very interesting to practice in a lab, with experts, and learn from them. The entire team in the DePaolo labe have been absolutely fantastic, and I hope to return to work with them in the future.

We are in talks about how to exhibit this work, probably around spring of 2020. But for now, here are a few photos from the lab for your viewing pleasure.

Images from the lab! The fourth one above is from 2018, but I really love it as an image. The rest, cultured much better for getting data are from this year’s run. Looking forward to developing this project over the coming months.

Images from the lab! The fourth one above is from 2018, but I really love it as an image. The rest, cultured much better for getting data are from this year’s run. Looking forward to developing this project over the coming months.

Autumn 2015 Update - conferences and platform changes (also teaching)

Another update for Fermentum. In November, I presented a paper at the Society for Literature Science and the Arts at the annual conference in Houston, TX (conference program). SLSA is always a good conference, and this year was no exception. I've gone enough times to have a small circle of connections. This year I presented on a panel titled "Idiot Science," a fantastic title that I take no credit for, that said it's a lovely name under which to present Fermentum.

The response was fairly good, though it was clear that in the context of the panel my work was orthogonal to others. Many of them got the hilarity of the project, but the digital sounds of the project are still too...basic, I guess. I think this prevented some present to really imagine the potential of the project—which is always a problem with works in progress. Similarly, throwing in an artwork, even one that is developed directly in relation to philosophy, is often difficult to discuss when the other papers are more theoretical. (And, to be fair, the papers presented by Adam Nocek, from ASU, and Philip Thurtle, from the UW were phenomenal and cause for much discussion). 

Still, the reception to the project is quite good. It's clear to me that the sound has to be much more sophisticated, and so I have stopped developing the project on Arduino and made a platform change. I've decided to go to Phidgets, a proprietary prototyping platform. It is always sad to leave open source behind, but I've spent a lot of time working to get Arduino and Max/MSP to communicate to one another and the troubleshooting has taken away from the actual development of sound—which is the whole damn point. So, development of new iterations has slowed way as I learn a bit more about Phidget-ing and interfacing with Max/MSP (which is way simpler). Someone also gave me some great links to some 20th century sound artists who have some relevance to the project.

The other reason my work has slowed down is my new day job, Interactive Media Design Studio Director & Full-time Lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at UW Bothell. Teaching two, brand new, courses has been a (wonderful) challenge, but I was quite busy all quarter. I expect similar feelings of overwhelm during the next two quarters, so I'll have to make sure that I get a couple of days of art in during the break. Stay tuned...

Fermentum Update

Fermentum is still a work in progress. Here is a quick video of a recent batch of kimchi with pH and CO2 sensors added in. One of the interesting things happening here is that the jar of kimchi had a lid on it up until just a few minutes before this video was recorded. Thus, the tonal shifts heard here are caused by escaping CO2. It's something to keep in mind as I move forward in the project and think of how it may be displayed. One option would be to have the fermenting vessel 'perform' when opened...more to come!

Prototype Video

I made this video in the summer. It's a bit rough around the edges, but it gives an idea of the prototype. A number of questions linger, however. What makes for meaningful sound in the context of such a project? How can the use of sound help encourage a consideration of bacterial experience? Does sound alone convey the dynamic qualities of bacteria? What other components may be incorporated into the project?

I have some ideas on all of the above, but right now I'm focusing on writing my dissertation (though I do have an exciting batch of kimchi on top of the fridge right now...). Fermentum is the closing project of my dissertation, and really is geared to applying what I learned through making BiolesceThe above questions are just a few things that I want to jot down and keep in mind before I begin writing about the project. I'll update this site as I move forward. I'm hoping to get back to this project in a couple of weeks. For now, here's the video:


The project is getting closer. I've figured out that the previous issue is a parsing error, and that I can work around it. The next hurdle is getting the Arduino to send data to the computer. I've been less successful here, simply assuming that the data would easily be ingested by another program. Thus far, this is not the case. I'm still working on it, but to produce a prototype for the physical computing course, and to get a sense of what real time sound of fermentation might be, I've gone the much simpler route of just connecting a speaker to the board. In some ways, this actually makes more sense. As, I can create stand alone installations for multiple, ongoing fermentations that produce sound individually. I can envision several different fermentations 'playing' simultaneously (which has been my vision for a while).

Fermentum, in its most recent state

Fermentum, in its most recent state

In this scenario, there is no need for the communication back to a computer. This is not only simpler, more affordable and more self-contained sculptural pieces, but it also has a more Simondonian-feel to it. 

Gilbert Simondon is the philosopher whose work I am using as the framework for my art projects. He writes about individuation—how things become—and focuses on the individuation of technology. One of his concepts is the concretization of technology, that is the "genetic" process of technical evolution into a concrete object. In his view, the technical object moves from abstract to concrete. In an abstract technical object, you might have a number of devices linked together that keep the object running, but not fully integrated. For instance, he discusses automobile engines with water cooling systems. The water cooled engine is more abstract for Simondon because it's another system attached to the main engine; it isn't incorporated into the function of the engine. The pump and circulatory system are almost an after thought, simply there to keep the engine from overheating. An air cooled engine is more concrete, according to Simondon, because it is incorporated into the overall design of the engine. He uses the example of a motorcycle engine that over time develops fins surrounding the engine. These fins conduct heat away from the body of engine by creating more surface area that air can move around and they also make the engine stronger by increasing the rigidity of the engine. Thus, he argues, that the technical object, the motorcycle engine, is very concrete and that the cooling needed is incorporated into the object's being in the world – as opposed to adding a secondary system, like a water pump, to maintain the engine's functionality. (This, of course, is a very simple paraphrasing of his ideas here, and needs greater time and attention to fully delve into Simondon's ideas.)

So, by incorporating the speaker directly into the Arduino board, one might argue that I'm heading in a more concrete and less abstract direction. Of course, what one can do with a tiny piezo speaker vs. what one can do with Max/MSP are entirely different things and what we gain in simplicity and mobility, we lose in rich, complex expression. There is, no doubt, some middle ground that I am searching for.




Integration....and a hurdle

I have been able integrate the K30 CO2 sensor and the Atlas-Scientific pH sensor together. This is excellent news for me, as this is the rudimentary requirements to monitor fermentation. I plan to also integrate a temperature probe. However, first, I discovered that there is a slight problem in my work. If you look at the image below, you can see the incoming values of pH (not labeled) and the readings from the CO2 sensor.

pH and  CO  2   sensor readings

pH and CO2 sensor readings

As soon as the CO2 sensor values increase, the pH readings go a bit crazy. What is 3.563.56 pH? Wonky, that's what. I think the issue here might be the fact that I'm sharing power from the bread board to both components. So, before going further, I'll need to first figure out how to ensure that both sensors are stable and accurate.

Then, once that is working, and the temperature probe is included, I will need to port the values into MAX/MSP to allow for the signification of the data. I also need to look at the values I'm getting from the sensors and figure out how best to interpret that data within Max so that I can use them thoughtfully to drive sound.

Hopefully I can accomplish this over the weekend.

CO2 Sensor

This week, I got my K30 COsensor hooked up to my Arduino Uno. This means that the bare components of the system work (yay!) and now all I need to do is to integrate them. This will be tricky, of course, but I think it will be manageable. I'd like to incorporate a temperature probe as well. This, presumably, will be the easiest of the three components to integrate. Once all three are working I can send the values to MAX/MSP for audio. There are, of course, other options. The values could be visualized in Processing or another program (they could be visualized in MAX as well, for that matter). However, there is a large focus on visualization techniques, and I think that there is a good argument that we as a society are too visually focused. The ear, so I'm told, is much more sensitive to distinguishing difference than the eye—hence the need for such attention to design and layout for visualizations. So, arguably, hearing the data has the potential for more nuanced experience of fermentation.

I think that in the long run this project will need a way to record data. I've not done a lot of data logging, but I think that this is critical for understanding the different fermentation processes, between kimchi and sauerkraut, for instance, or different vegetables or even different kinds of cabbage. We'll see what kind of fidelity I get from the sensor readings. I should have something running by Wednesday, with pictures and a write up.

K30 CO2 sensor

pH Sensor

I was able to get the pH sensor from Atlas Scientific hooked up to my Arduino board. It was quite straightforward, actually. This was a relief, as was the fact that my homemade kimchi is apparently safe to eat. Now I need to set up a fermentation batch and let it run, one of the keys of this project will be capturing the pH data and sonifying it. I don't really know the rate of change of pH, and this will be a challenge for using it to drive sounds. I will begin a batch this week and start monitoring the shift in pH. At the same time, I'll begin working on the connection to Max/MSP to send the values out.

I've hit another snag in the process and that is finding a CO2 monitor. Apparently they are either difficult to use or expensive, or both I suppose. So, I'm trying to locate another measurement. A temperature probe seems to make the most sense as there is a relationship between temperature and fermentation so drawing these out through readings might be interesting. Next blog: fermentation!

Project Proposal...

This week I finished up the bike computer project. Thanks to Andy, I was able to solve the problem I had been having with the clock (it was writing garbage - a garbled message of letters, numbers and symbols - to the serial port. Turns out I had to set the clock, or "initialize" it, perhaps. (Interesting philosophical differences between those terms, but I digress). The LCD screen also started working, for no apparent reason. 

i heart bike computer

i heart bike computer

I also wrote up my project proposal for Fermentum, an art installation for fermenting kimchi &/or sauerkraut. It may be able to be used for other fermentation systems as well, with some tweaking, but this is where I'm starting. Basically, CO2 and pH can tell us something about the stages of fermentation. So, by using sensors to measure them, I can essentially track and represent fermentation through the values they create.  More on this project as it develops, but here is the system diagram.

system diagram for  Fermentum

system diagram for Fermentum

And, here are a couple of images of kimchi fermenting.