In the last post I wrote about the process for exciting the wood surface to create patterns. In this post our collaborator Loe Hubbard tells us how she used enzymes to permanently etch the pattern into the wood. Read on for her write up:
By now most of you have probably seen the video and some of you may be wondering what happened between the incubation and the finished product. There was a lot going on behind the scenes.
First of all I have to say how amazing it was to was to work with Colleen & Eric. They had the vision to bring our very different disciplines together and the skills to make it all work as a final piece. If you’ve ever had a piece of furniture be completely defeated by humidity, you’ll appreciate the engineering behind a raw veneered tabletop that escapes days of incubation, chemical treatments and showers unscathed.
- On to the science…
There is a battle going on in every forest, between microbes and trees. Microbes have evolved a wide variety of enzymes which catalyze the break down of cellulose, hemicellulose, xylan, and the many other natural polymers that make up wood. However, trees aren’t without their own defenses. These polymers are complex, interwoven and interspersed with growth inhibiting organic acids. Imagine the worst Christmas light tangle you’ve ever solved, only every time you make progress you get zapped, and that is the life of these microbes.
The biofuels industry has used these microbes to develop natural enzyme cocktails which deconstruct wood and similar materials. We leaned heavily on the biofuels knowledge base for this project, adapting their methods and materials for our purpose. We’re very thankful for the anonymous donor who provided all the enzymes used in this process. Since many of them are still experimental, sourcing was a challenge.
The first step in untangling Christmas lights is loosening everything up so you can work. Wood’s biggest defense is also it’s tightly packed construction. Enzymes are large proteins and without access, they can’t get started. What you see in the video is the preparation and application of the pretreatment – a noxious mixture of sodium and ammonium hydroxide that is incubated at 65C for a few hours. In addition to producing a dramatic color change, this removes oils and slightly loosens the structure of the wood. Without this step, the enzymes barely make a dent.
- Enzyme Hydrolysis
All enzymes have a rider, however instead of insisting on a gallon of Hennessy, enzymes require specific pH and temperature accommodations in order to perform. In our case, pH 5.0 and 50C. The pretreatment left us at pH 11.5 so hydrochloric acid was applied to the surface to bring things back down. The enzymes were then heavily buffered with sodium citrate at pH 5.0 and the whole thing went back in the incubator for a few hours.
After the first hydrolysis, the wood breaks up easily when lightly rubbed and takes on a furry appearance.
But only a few areas cleared to the walnut underneath.
So the process was repeated two more times to get the desired level of clearance. Here it is sopping wet after rinsing off the last hydrolysis. Impressed with that veneering job yet?
When the enzyme hydrolysis steps were completed, the whole thing was treated with acid to remove any remaining staining from the pretreatment, washed with denatured ethanol to remove the shellac which was protecting the untreated areas, and neutralized to pH 7.0. All of these steps do double duty to ensure the enzymes are entirely inactivated.
Once dry, the unique texture is visible. I can’t think of any other way to make wood look quite like this.
Some bits of wood remained with the glue which bound the layers of veneer leaving a hazy look. This and other cosmetic imperfections led to the decision to stain the table black. Though we originally planned to clear coat, I fell in love with the monochrome finish as soon as I saw it. The unique texture is still very visible, but there is an appealing subtlety to the final product.
We did quite a bit of research and to my knowledge, we are the first to ever apply lignocellulosic deconstruction cocktails to intact sheets of wood. I don’t know if we’ll do it again, but it was a lot of fun!Tags: Bonus Table, colleenanderic, design, Science
The video above is part of a collaboration that I was involved with recently, and am very excited about. it is being shown in the Reclaim x2 show during design week.
Side note: the music in the video was created only with samples taken from the process of designing and building the table
The design team (and all around delightful people) Colleen and Eric approached Loe and I to explore how sound and science might be used to design a piece of furniture. Obviously we jumped at the opportunity participate in a project so clearly outside of our normal realms of expertise. For my part, I proposed using the inherent properties of the wood to create a pattern by inducing resonances via sine waves played into it.
I had seen experiments, usually as part of a physics class, demonstrating Chladni Patterns on metal plates, and wanted to experiment with them for some time. After further research I saw that similar methods were used on wood by Luthiers, so knew that we would have a variety of interesting patterns to choose from… If I could get it to work.
We experimented with different designs and thicknesses of wood until finally we found a design that worked much like the head of a drum; 3 layers of laminate within a strong square frame. As you can see in the video, I used the TiptopAudio Z3000 oscillator to play a sine wave (at ample amplitude) through the surface with a 12 inch speaker cone, isolating the wood from the speaker with foam blocks.
After documenting the frequencies at which the wood resonated, they were programmed into the Makenoise Rene sequencer so that we could cycle through them for the video. What you see in the video is just what happens when you move from one frequency to another. Watching it happen is a bit addicting, and I could do it all day if it weren’t for the ungodly horrible headache induced by listening to the sound of it happening.
The team agreed that the pattern that emerged at 571 Hz was the one we would capture in the design as it was one of the cleanest and clearest that emerged from this particular surface. Once the pattern was tuned in, and the sand settled, I handed the project over to Loe for the next step in the process; enzymatic breakdown of the cellulose to etch the pattern into the wood. Let’s make that process tomorrow’s post.
For a more articulate description of the full project, click through to watch the video on Vimeo’s site.Tags: design, modular
A particularly appropriate title for a post that is mostly about what happens late at night making patch-wire pasta. What follows below are the result of a few late night sessions with the modular synthesizer. The first is from last night, and started by synching the clocks in the modular to my DAW via expert sleepers silent way, and working out a semi rhythmic/semi harmonic patch. Once I had bongos running through a phaser and a nice interval quantized, I went back and recorded the telemark over it laying in a huge bass pad. It was finished off with some light drums from Audio Damage’s Tattoo drum machine.
A recent addition to the modular synthesis world for me is the phonogene which behaves a bit like a tape recorder with granular synthesis properties. It is great for creating wild sounds, but how do you tame it? I’m not sure yet. What happened on this particular occasion was me trying to figure out just that. The sample is a snippet of opera, being manipulated in the phonogene. The first half is mostly automated via CV control patched into the synthesizer, the second half I begin making more manual control adjustments to achieve a wider range of change.
This is another example of where a night with the modular can go… straight to abstractville. Yes that’s an actual place. I think I may have used all of the patch cables in the control patch for this. Again, it is a mostly self playing patch with a layer of pad here and there courtesy of the matrix 6r.
Here’s an exploratory track done with the MakeNoise Phonogene on its first day installed. The drums that you hear (except the periodic distorted drums) are coming from AudioDamage Tattoo on loop with db blue glitch (pc only) layered on top to make a touch more interesting and fit with the glitchy nature of this module.
Everything else is Phonogene loaded with an overdub of drum sample (the same pattern from tattoo, less the glitch) and a vocal sample. I’m mostly playing with the granule size and the granule “slip” function, and there is a little bit of speed/direction manipulation about half way through the track.
All-in-all, I think I’ll be happy with this module (oh yeah, did I mention it was a gift?), and will be able to get some good sounds out of it. It is an interesting take on lo-fi sampling and manipulating in the modular.
Here is the culmination of the last few months worth of work in the studio. 5 new ambient electronic songs with the requisite amount of strange electronic noises you’ve come to expect from me. Contact me for free download codes, or just pony up the whole whopping dollar for all 5 tracks at the link below:
Over the course of the next few weeks, i’ll be posting about the composition process for each of the 5 songs for those of you who are into gear and process.
I got some new racks made by the very quick, flexible, nice and professional www.nice-racks.com. The custom mixer rack makes it incredibly easy to slide the mixer under the desk, and saves me a load of room and a bit of mess in the process.
Just moving the mixer under the desk necessitated a 3 hour cable routing session, which is something I’d been putting off for a couple of months. While the end result is rewarding, I hate re-routing cables. Minor incremental changes to a set up seem to induce nightmare cable situations, no matter how many zip ties and velcro wraps and initial logic that was put into the original setup. What is this midi cable and what is it doing? Huh?
Anyway, everything is back together and I have what feels like a legitimate reason for not recording any music today. Procrastination level: studio re-design.
Anyway, hopefully more to come soon.