Hydro-Electro-Musical Machinery

[Image: Flow].

A floating tidemill on the UK’s River Tyne has been filled with “electro-acoustic musical machinery,” powered by the river itself. The building, a collaboration between Owl Project and Ed Carter, called Flow, is “a floating building on the River Tyne that generates its own power using a tidal water wheel.”

The acoustic machines inside, powered by CNC-milled wooden gears and timber pistons, “respond directly to the ever-changing state of the river. The sounds created by each instrument can also be manipulated by visitors to the millhouse.”

[Images: Flow].

Specifically, the floating auditorium includes “three inter-connected sonic instruments which mix traditional craft and digital innovation. They draw water from the River Tyne, passing it through a series filters, lasers and sensors, which bubble, beep, hiss, creak and groan.” For at least one instrument, the resulting sounds are determined by the salt-content of the water: “A wooden mechanism then dips a series of electrodes into the jars and creates a series of sounds. The pitch of the sounds will be modified depending on the salinity levels of the water.”

The installation is thus also a kind of lo-fi river research station, supplying data about the water it floats within (in the designers’ words, it uses “a range of traditional and new technologies to monitor key environmental details, including water temperature, speed, salinity, and pollution”).

[Images: Flow].

Finally, “Owl Project has designed a series of Log interfaces to alter the sounds the instruments make,” literal pieces of wood with knobs and levers that produce acoustic special effects.

[Images: Flow].

It seems obvious to describe this as a kind of mobile version of the Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia—or the San Francisco Wave Organ—with the addition of fine woodworking skills and some quasi-scientific instrumentation. Putting this into the context of a project like “Amphibious Architecture,” featured here a few years ago, it’s easy to imagine an acoustic early-warning system for pollution, floods, and even the appearance of rare marine wildlife. A city’s waterfront—a whole bay—ornamented by singing buoys.

You can follow the project on Twitter, and there is theoretically a live-stream of sounds here. If any readers out there happen to hear it in person, let me know!

(Spotted via The Wire).

3 thoughts on “Hydro-Electro-Musical Machinery”

  1. Reminds me of one of JG Ballard's stories in which an installation artist puts a statue in a public space that uses the wind to create music, or sound anyway. The statue, through some form of oxidation, keeps spreading and expanding like rust, growing louder and more complex and eventually taking over the town.
    I like the idea of the environment making music though, very cool.

  2. Visited this last week with my son. Apart from it being a beautiful piece of building/engineering, It was great how it responded to the tidal Tyne River. At slack water it fell almost silent, then sped up as the tide turned and the river flowed back out to sea. But despite being able to twiddle various knobs you can't make a tune with it, just random sounds.

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