Ealing Feeder – new bell rig in action
Thanks to everyone who came along to the Arthertz stand at the Kinetica Art Fair. The Ealing Feeder, my new bell rig, survived admirably and is now back in my workshop until its next outing. It’s coming soon to the Brighton Festival Fringe and to Battersea Power Station.
Here’s some fine footage of the Ealing Feeder in action, from video artist Roger Spy. This was taken the night before the show, just before I programmed the doll’s movements. I’ll be posting more video over the next few days:
You can also see me talking about this bell rig on Rain Rainycat’s blog. Rain’s video, which sweeps around the exhibition, also includes some shots of Andrew Back’s Nixie tubes and Kathy Taylor’s lovely animated teapot. The ArtHertz stand also features in this article from Herbert Wright, Blueprint Magazine.
Inspiration for the bell rig
If you come along to a Spacedog performance, you’ll see the Ealing Feeder playing live. I use it as a backing instrument while Jenny sings and I play the saw or theremin.
I try to make performances that don’t focus on virtuosity but on getting under people’s skin. After a number of years creating music in software, I realised my stage act had lost a lot of the theatricality and sense of jeopardy it had when I was playing with physical sound-making devices (i.e. musical instruments!) That’s why I started to build robots to accompany me on stage. I wanted to bring some old-school physicality back to the show, without throwing away the high-tech. The Ealing Feeder is the latest version of my robotic bell rig, one of the robots I’ve designed and built for this purpose.
I created the Ealing Feeder with the Arthertz gig at Battersea Power Station in mind. Dennis and Beverley from Arthertz invited Spacedog to participate, after they saw our show Electroplasm in last year’s Brighton Festival Fringe.
Looking for inspiration for the Battersea show, I studied the form of machines at the time of transition between the purely mechanical and the electromechanical age. In London, most middle-class homes were making that transition in the early 1930s, as power stations such as Battersea came on line, fuelling the ‘electric servant’ (i.e. domestic appliance) boom. Homes which used to call up their human servants with bells were switching on electrical machines instead. Oddly enough, my bells are such a throwback (technologically), they look unfamiliar, and perhaps a little eerie, to modern viewers. I hope they give viewers and listeners a sense of the strangeness of people’s early encounters with electrical machines.
The poem around the edge of the work was written in 1930. It’s by a woman who was so intoxicated by the idea of the electric servant, she soothed her baby to sleep by passing an electric current through it (I doubt it worked). You can read more about it here – it’s from the archives of the IET.
The words ‘Ealing Feeder’ come from the control room of Battersea Power Station. The Ealing Feeder was used to vary power to the Ealing district, in response to public demand.
Battersea Power Station gig
This gig evokes the early days of Battersea Power Station, celebrating this landmark and what it means to Londoners. There’s a great line-up: Alex Paterson (The Orb), Ian Eames (maker of some early Pink Floyd videos), Andrew Back, Andy Boyd and Mike Grierson as well as Spacedog. We’re excited to hear that Bishi may also be on the bill.
We’re waiting for final confirmation of the date of the Battersea gig but fingers crossed for 1 June. Tickets will go on sale as soon as the details are confirmed. In the meantime, if you’d like to go on the mailing list, please send an email to sarah [dot] spacedog [at] gmail [dot] com.
Making the bell rig
The latest version of the bell rig is controlled entirely by two Arduinos, connected to a servo driver board and an array of LEDs. The device can read a stored midi file or can play an incoming midi signal. It’s housed in a black Perspex box, laser cut from my CAD files by Heritage Inlay, Brighton. I’ve used a simple FTIR effect to illuminate the etched, back panel and make its brightness vary in response to sound.
Thanks to Vivien Angliss for making the doll’s outfit and to Colin Uttley for his help with the assembly of the exhibit. While I was building and programming the bell mechanics, Colin did a great job of stuffing the doll with servos. Here, you can see him sewing the doll up again, after deftly hiding wires in her legs.