Artists Donald Fels, Andrew Schloss and Dale Stammen have created two unique computer-generated artworks in the Ballard Branch and Neighborhood Service Center - "Weather Permitting" and "Flow."
Both artworks use data generated by scientific devices mounted on the building's roof, including nine anemometers (that measure wind speed and direction), a pyranometer (that measures sunlight and tracks clouds that block the sun) and a hydrophone (an underwater microphone that picks up and amplifies the sound of rain in a vessel on the roof).
The data are read and interpreted by a complex computer program, which responds to climactic changes in Ballard by triggering both visual and auditory artworks inside the building. A computer inside the building runs custom software written in a language called Max/MSP/Jitter and with a soundcard generates six channels of audio, and drives the LED (light-emitting diode) displays in the branch and service center over Ethernet.
Ballard Branch: "Weather Permitting"
An ensemble of eight custom-made LED displays hangs from a framework attached to the building's interior ceiling. Data from the roof-mounted hydrophone, pyranometer and anemometers register climatic changes and the Max/MSP/Jitter computer program uses the data to create patterns of motion on the LED displays.
For example, the computer is constantly interpreting the wind speed and direction data from the anemometers. Using that data, the computer creates an image of the motion of air on the roof, which is reflected in the LED displays. The displays sometimes act independently and sometimes in ensemble, depending on wind conditions and other criteria. In either case, there is a direct link between the air molecules flowing across the roof, and the movement of lights on the displays within the branch.
Ballard Neighborhood Service Center: "Flow"
The same weather data as well as sounds collected live from the building's microclimate generate responses in a six-channel audio artwork in the service center. In response to changes in the weather, the computer selects combinations of sounds, and uses them to create an ever-changing sound environment. Unique "chimes" mark the beginning of each hour through the day, but otherwise the work is unpredictable (just as the weather is unpredictable), and each experience in the soundscape is unique.
The sound sources include hundreds of sounds recorded in Ballard - train whistles, surf, dogs barking, boat and vehicular traffic, children playing - as well as real-time audio from the roof-top hydrophone, which is suspended in a vessel filled with rainwater. The anemometers act as miniature wind turbines and generate electricity as they spin; the electrical signal is a musical sound whose pitch depends on the speed of the wind.
Read about the artists and their inspiration