UK artist Ryan Jordan led a workshop earlier this summer in Montréal, building musical instruments out of geological circuit boards, an experiment in terrestrial instrumentation he calls “Derelict Electronics.”
The sputtering and noisy results use “a mesh of point contacts connecting to chalcopyrite and iron pyrite to make crude amplifiers out of rocks.”
“When an electric current is sent through the rocks,” Jordan explains, “sporadic noise bursts from the speakers. With some fine tuning these rocks begin to behave like microphones, amplifying howling feedback and detecting subtle scratches and disturbances in their surrounding environment.”
The extraction of sound from or by way of minerals is less bizarre than it might at first sound, considering that, as Jordan points out, his experiment is actually “based on the Adams Crystal Amplifier (1933), a precursor to the modern transistor, one of the fundamental building blocks of today’s electronic and digital world.” In a sense, then, these are just a hipster rediscovery of crystal radio.
The resulting instruments, though visually crude, are Frankenstein-like webs of copper wire and rocks affixed to, in these photographs, a wooden base. The potential for aestheticizing these beyond the workshop stage seems both obvious and highly promising.
In fact, I’m reminded of the amplified lettuce circuits of artist Leonardo Amico or the recently very widely publicized work of photographer Caleb Charland—in particular, Charland’s “Orange Battery“—which literally taps fruit and vegetables as unexpected electrical inputs for lamps and other lighting rigs.
Charland takes stereotypical still-life arrangements, using, for instance, apples and potatoes as an electrical source for the lamp that illuminates the resulting photograph—
—or he simply plugs directly into crops while they’re still growing in the field, as if we might someday set up lamps in the middle of nowhere and build outdoor interiors shining at all hours of the day. Redefining architecture as electrical effects without walls.
Combining Charland’s and Jordan’s work to stage elaborate, fully functioning rock-radios built from nothing but wired-up pieces of crystal and stone could make for some incredible photographs (not to mention unearthly soundscapes: podcasts of pure geology, amplified).
But, continuing this brief riff on alternative geo- and biological sources of power, there was a short article in The Economist a long while back that looked at the possibility of what they called “wooden batteries.” These botanical power sources would be “grid scale,” we read, and would rely on “waste from paper mills” in order to function.
The implication here that we would plug our cities not just into giant slurries of wood pulp, like thick soups of electricity, but also directly into the forests around us, drawing light from the energy of trunks and branches, is yet another extraordinary possibility that designers would do well to take on, imagining what such a scenario literally might look like and how it would technically function, not solely for its cool aesthetic possibilities but for the opportunity to help push our culture of gadgets toward renewable sources of power. Where forests become literal power plants and our everyday farms and back gardens become sites for growing nearly unlimited reserves of electricity.
(Earlier on BLDGBLOG: Electric Landscapes).