Night Sun (6/6) – Location & Installation

Posted on Mar 14, 2014 in Night Sun

Musicbox with cogs and a plinth

By the start of the final week of production, we had a finished recording, finished story, code that was almost working, and an Arduino rig that worked. Next: making the musicbox turn the rotary encoder:

1. I added a cog onto a wooden platform, that would be turned when the musicbox handle was.

2. I constructed a test platform that I could add stuff to, or hack into. Or scrap entirely and start again (as happened twice). On this, I added the rotary encoder to get it turning with the new cog from 1.

3. I added a decorative top to hide the various bits of wood that things attached to underneath. I always aimed for the installation to appear to be a musicbox and nothing else. All wires would be out of view to make the thing feel like magic when it worked.

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Here are the sketches for the plinth. I think that this design was in my head from the start of the project, but it didn’t get drawn until the last minute.

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My dad is an excellent carpenter. I think he would’ve liked some more notice on the designs for the plinth, but I always kind of knew that he’d be able to pull it off using what he has in his garage.

In a corner, I found a baby altar that he’d built for a church years ago. The church had closed, and the baby altar came back. It was exactly the right height, so we chopped the middle bits out and glued and planed the four corner pieces together. The base was an offcut from a bird table. In the end, all the wood was re-used from previous projects or waste. Thumbs up.

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Location & Test Projections

Sharon Scaniglia, Nottingham City Council’s Principal Arts Co-ordinator, had had an offer from the owner of Castle Sound & Vision to use his shop for an artwork on Light Night. I couldn’t have been luckier:

  • Jeff loves Nottingham and wants to see cool stuff happen
  • Jeff sells high-end stereo equipment
  • In the shop you can stream audio to any of the systems
  • One of those systems is concealed outside the shop (meaning I didn’t have to bring, house and hide external speakers)
  • The shop has floor to ceiling windows
  • The shop is on the main walk up to Nottingham Castle (where the main Light Night event was to be installed)
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Another reason I was really lucky – having Robin Newman as my technician. He’s an expert in projection as well as sound (he co-owns the studio we recorded the string quartet in). We spent an hour in QUAD’s main gallery space, testing the projection in real-size from my measurements taken at Castle Sound & Vision (see above photo slideshow).

Due to the dimensions of the window, and the short throw ratio (distance between projector and projection screen) we decided to turn the projector on its side, and rotate the computer screen too. I spent a good few hours the night before the test experimenting with bigger screen and sideways rotations, and how that would affect the CSS of the Media.

In the end, I made adjustments to the viewport-width of the fonts whilst in the shop so that everything was legible and didn’t break any layouts when that large.

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Final Installation

We used tracing paper to mask the shop windows. Having tested a big roll of Back Projection Material that was too heavy to hang without drilling into things, we pulled on some experiences Robin had had projecting onto shop windows for FORMAT Festival. It worked a treat.

In the previous blog post about Night Sun development, I showed how we used a rotary encoder to ‘play’ the Media. Well, the night before the installation, it stopped working. So I made the decision to simplify the Arduino code, and make it so that the shop window was always illuminated with a blank white screen, and touching the musicbox would play the Media.

I needn’t have worried. People naturally turned the handle of the music box, finding it intuitive. Even if some people realised that you could just hold the handle and experience the piece, they still turned the handle. No-one throughout the evening didn’t keep turning the handle ’til the end.

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Thanks to Sharon Scaniglia, Saira Lloyd & Nottingham City Council for the commission. Thanks to Arts Council England for funding the ’1of4′ Special Commissions for Light Night 2014. Thanks to Emma and Dan for being superb collaborators, Derventio Quartet for their superb performance, Rich Collins for the rapid mixing at Snug, my Dad for his woodworking skills, Adrian for his Arduino skills, Robin for being a profoundly helpful person and talented technician, and Brady for patience and support while I tinkered with rotary encoders at the dinner table.

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