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Luke Jerram, "Tide," 2001

Luke Jerram is an artist based in Bristol with a history of original, imaginative and poetic projects1. His installation “Tide”2 alludes to the influence of the moon and the fourteen metres difference of altitude at the height of tide in the English town of Bristol. “Tide” transforms changes of gravity, respectively of the moon, into a resonating immersive visual and aural experience.

Areas: telematics, transformation, physical world

The installation consists of three large rotating glass spheres which are filled with water and mounted on three-legged tressles positioned several meters apart from each other in a spacious gallery setting. These spheres represent the sun, moon and earth. A friction device sitting on the rim of each sphere makes it swing in resonating overtones. Each glas has its own sound and together they create a chord. Three individual sculptures that form one whole experience, surround the visitor in a sculptural and acoustic environment.
Water lies at the heart of the artistic message of the piece - and is its medium at the same time. It is used as a visual indicator and as a source of the sound. Conceptually felicitous it uses rising and falling water levels in the spheres to illustrate the changing water levels of the sea outside.

The gravitational pull created by the celestial bodies, mainly be the moon, is measured by a gravity meter located in the gallery and sent to a computer. The computer adjusts the water levels within the glass spheres synchronous to this live data stream thus determining their sound pitch. As the gravitational forces increase over time, so do the water levels within the glass spheres, changing the sound of each glass in a live synchronisation with the actual movement of the celestial bodies. The resulting resonating room-filling chorus reminds of “singing” wine glasses. Furthermore, to provide context and as an aid to visualise the flow of data from the gravity meter, there is a large projection of the ascending and descending curve of the gravitational changes for a 24 hour period.

Image: Sandra Fauconnier

Here and there, telematic aspects

The telematic aspect of the piece is somewhat ambiguous as there is no connection through a distinct channel to a remote place. It is about the here and now, and the indiscernible influence of celestial objects upon the natural surroundings. A related project, Ken Goldberg's “Mori” is solely about the Here, this particular ground beneath our feet - "Tide"also alludes to the moon above us, the music of the spheres, of the moon and the sun. While "Mori" transforms indiscernible motions of the earth into a visual and musical experience, it aims at making us question the ground beneath our feet. An experience which some may find unsettling or disconcerting. Goldberg also has the intention to make visitors question the validity of the information they experience and also the accuracy of his instruments . Can we trust our senses? How can we trust these remote sensors, far away? A challenging play with our perception and the illusion of safety3. Luke Jerram's "Tide" is mainly about the moon out there and only secondly about the earth, influenced by the moon. These influences follow a circular, predicable rhythm, ebb tide and high tide. A rhythm that imbues many natural cycles on earth and from which the word "months" has originated. So "Tide" is less an uncanny statement about the accuracy of our instruments vs. the infallibility of our senses or the fragile permanence of our world, than an imaginative, immersive and spatial sound experience that transforms "the macrocosm" to a graspable, humane microcosmic scale. Similar to the visitor encompassing the space between the sounding spheres, their macrocosmic counterparts moon and earth encompass' the space of our solar system. This sonic space alluding to Kepler's "sound of the spheres" resonates around the visitors and unfolds its immersive quality, interconnecting them with the celestial objects that are usually beyond reach.

Transformation & Spatiality in Tide

Although there is a curve projected against the wall as a visual aid, the installation is primarily a visceral, immersive and spatial experience. There is no transportation involved, "Tide" is about the here and now; only alluding to indiscernible forces of the moon and sun.
Gravity influences the physical, tanglible water levels in the glas spheres (dotted blue line) which again effect the pitch of the resulting sound (dotted black line). So actually there are two consecutive transformations involved: From gravity to water levels to sound.

In "Tide" there is no remote connection involved, yet the setup eludes to indiscernible forces, the moon and the sun, that permeate and influence local space and earth from far away.

Transformation, multimodal mapping

The transformative aspect takes place in two dimensions; As the visual and abstract 24 hour curve that is projected upon the wall, and as the physical spheres themselves with their technical appearance and source of the sound. By listening to the sound of the spheres and understanding the way they work, visitors experience the live transformation of the indiscernible gravimeter code into permeating and intermingling layers of harmonic overtones resulting in a visceral physical experience of cosmic dimension.

On one hand “Tide” is an astronomical instrument placed within the historical tradition of technical instruments that enhance the human senses to expand our knowledge, as the microscope or telescope do. In that sense it is exemplary in hitting the sweet spot where “techné,” art in its classical sense, and technology come together again. On the other hand it is an immersive media art installation that captivates the senses of the spectator and evokes an enhanced connectedness with the environment, an immersive experience of sensory perception eluding to other and more mysterious indiscernible natural forces that surround us. An enhanced, reflective state of awareness of the immediate, physical world.

"Tide" also is more an imaginative then a transparent work. Visitors need knowledge to fully fathom the experience. As indiscernible gravitational changes are transformed into the perceptual range of the senses visitors have no proof of the accuracy of this transformation. They have to trust the artist and a certain suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy the piece. They have to trust the artist's claim that the black box arrangement of computer and gravity metre controlling the installation are in fact measuring what they claim to measure: gravity. The computer mediated process is not transparent, there is no interaction or interface available and it could also be a simulation. We cannot trust our senses in this case - yet, to fully enjoy it, we have to believe in the artworks authenticity. To increase this sense of tangiblity the gravity meter is placed within the gallery and not a data feed from a remote location as, for example in "Mori."

As the daily flow of the tide is mostly caused by the moon, the installation also reminds the visitor of the influence of the moon when it is not visible in the sky. This can be either during the daytime, during new moon, cloud cover or the moon being below the horizon. Although highly sophisticated in its technical background, the installation is a singular poetic statement not only for the moon and its romantic associations, but actually triggered by the moon itself, a chorus literally sung by the moon and made audible for the visitor by the artist.

The direct metaphorical mapping of the rotating glass spheres, standing for the rotating planets and also being the source of the “sound of the spheres” adds to its holistic quality.

The values of the following diagram "transformation" have been merged into the diagram "Transformation & Spatiality" above.


"Tide" is interesting for this research project on several levels. Although its complex technical background makes the way it operates less transparent for the visitor, it can be seen as a scientific instrument in a classical tradition; technical, while comprehensive, romantic and poetic at the same time. It uses transformation of data from one medium - gravity - to another - sound - to provide us with a temporary experience of a natural force we are immersed in, but that usually is beyond the capacity of our senses. It has telematic qualities to a certain degree as it reacts in realtime to distant objects, the moon and sun. Last but not least it also challenges our sense of trust. The technology as such is a black-box. We have to trust the artist's claim that there are a gravity metre and a computer controlling the installation and that their data are accurately represented. The visitor needs a certain suspension of disbelief to fully enjoy the artwork. Technology, transformation, telematics and the physical world come together in this piece forming a poetic whole.

1. accessed March 29th, 02006
2. accessed March, 26th 02006
3. Mettler, Peter (2002), “Gambling, Gods and LSD” , the 180 Minute documentary is about four general themes: “the human quest for transcendence and meaning, the denial of death, the illusion of safety and our relationship to nature.” IMHO a most profound, poetic and imaginative "Sans Soleil" for the new Millenium.

Quicktime movie of the Moon moving around the Earth, 2006-2007

A quicktime movie showing the spiral the moon revolves around the earth (actually it is a waved line as the Earth progresses), while the Earth is rotating around the Sun. Of course this spiral is relative and depends on the viewpoint. Seen from Sun the movement is circular, part of which can be seen in the second clip (one month only).

More info about this point of view here:

The movement of the moon within a year (local view) (1.0 MB)

The movement of the moon within a month (celestial view) (1.2 MB)

last update: 6/4/02010 18:35

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