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!
The Fermentum prototype is complete. The CO2 and pH sensor values are now sent out to two small speakers. The speakers will probably each need a speaker housing, which I'll print before demoing the prototype this Wednesday for the HCDE 498/598 course and community. I have tried, vainly, to get the data via the serial port to another program like Processing or Max/MSP. Unfortunately, I'm not yet able to parse the two separate values. This is okay for the short term, but I will definitely try to do this, as the sound possibilities are so much greater in one of these programs than what I can do on the Arduino board. Still, I actually like the use of the speaker and I'm considering sticking with them for the long run for a couple of reasons.
For starters, they make for a kind of charming sound and really carry with them a DIY aesthetic. This is not just an Arduino or "making" aesthetic, but the whole aesthetic of fermentation and making of food that ties in with sauerkraut. As I mentioned last week, I really do think that there is something important in integration between speakers and system. In a Simondonian sense, the whole system becomes more concrete than if one needs to connect a computer to draw sound out. It also allows to have multiple Fermentum sculptures installed in one space and to hear the difference in the processes by which fermentation happens. So, one could listen to the differences between kimchi and sauerkraut fermentation real time in an art installation. This is the pro to integrating speakers into the system. The con is that the sound possibilities in Max/MSP, Processing or OpenFrameworks are much greater.
Now to make some sauerkraut for the demo!
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).
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.