Animusic’s ‘Resonant Chamber’

Having built a couple of instruments I was intrigued to encounter this rather amazing baroque-looking automaton. Like something out of Leonardo da Vinci’s imagination, this ‘Resonant Chamber’ is actually an extraordinary animation, so well realised and detailed that it comes across as truly plausible.

The company – Animusic LLC – produces computer animations with a focus on music. What makes this work so well is that they are not an animation set to music, but rather, they are perfectly rendered and articulated 3D models that are driven by the music.

Founded by Wayne Lytle, Animusic is based in New York. It was initially called Visual Music, changed to Animusic in 1995.

The music drives the animation, so each sound is associated with a plausible action. In addition the model is rendered with very lifelike wooden textures so it really looks as though it could work if built in real life. The animated models are created first, and are then programmed to follow what the music “tells them” to. The lighting is spectacular. The whole thing is brilliantly realised, and well worth checking out the rest of their animations.

Leornardo’s Viola Organista – or the importance of notebooks…

We all have ideas sometimes – whether strange, or beautiful, or unrealistic at the time it is worthwhile noting them down. Sharon keeps a journal, and a travel journal when travelling, I carry a notebook wherever I am – because you never know when the idea will strike. For us it might be a conversation, over a coffee, or getting a strange result on Google.

Leonardo da Vinci kept notebooks – jumping form one idea to the next. While he is known for his paintings and drawings, he is also known as a scientist – whether noting how the body works, or how people might fly like a bird, or swim underwater. He designed war machines, and textile machines, but above all he designed theatrical sets and special effects.

Hidden away in one of his notebooks were some sketches and notes for a musical instrument – part keyboard, part bowed instrument, the viola organista is like a bowed harpsichord – but sounds like a full string quartet. However, like many of his inventions, it was never built during Leonardo’s lifetime.

Enter, Polish instrument maker and pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki from Krakow. After 530 years hidden away in a notebook, the idea is brought to life when Zubrzycki decided to build the instrument to find out how it would have sounded. The result is both beautiful to look at, and beautiful to listen to. Let me know what you think in the comments ūüôā

– And don’t forget to keep a journal or notebook for your ideas!

Les Machines de l’Ile, Nantes, France – review

Getting there
Two hours by TGV from Paris’ Gare de Montparnasse there lies a treasure hidden in the Loire Valley. Some go to Nantes because it was author Jules Verne’s birthplace, others for the quirky botanical gardens, but for something unique, take the tram on line 1 from the station to the¬†Chantiers Navals stop (translates as ‘naval shipyard’) and cross the¬†Pont Anne de Bretagne bridge to the other side of the river. There you will find¬†Les Machines.¬†

This is a remarkable project led by two theatre designers who have taken a disused shipyard and turned it into a Jules Verne-inspired universe with giant mechanical puppets, including a four storey elephant that can take 50 passengers for a ride around the precinct to a giant heron, an mechanical inchworm and a fantasy tree stretching tens of metres. There are carousels and marine creatures and it is all created in front of you – you can see the craftspeople at work sculpting the next generation of machines.

The designers, François Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice place performance before engineering and as a result the place takes on a wonderful narrative form. They have worked together for over 20 years in street theatre and urban performance. They produced giant puppets for the Royal de Luxe troupe and saw an opportunity when the shipyards closed in 1987. A street theatre company was formed in 1999 and the first machines were animated in 2007 with the inauguration of the Great Elephant and followed soon after with the Marine Worlds carousel.

The Great Elephant
The Great Elephant is 12m high 8m wide and 21m long. It comprises 48.4 tonnes of steel and wood (American tulip wood) and it is powered by a 450hp motor driving the beast 1-3km/h. As you will see in the video below, it is highly articulated, driven by 44 hydraulic cylinders, 6 pneumatic ones and 10 gas ones. the trunk is highly segmented and snakes in all directions, blowing air and water at the will of the driver. The ears flap, the eyes blink, the mouth opens and closes and the legs walk in synchronised fashion as it takes its load of passengers on a tour of the grounds.

It is said that being on the back of the elephant is like being on the 4th floor of a travelling house with a great view over the whole place. There are movies on how the machines are made – many go on tour worldwide – and everywhere you see designs and other machines in their environment.

The Machine Gallery
The Machine Gallery is a performance space – open since Feb 2012 – which houses a wealth of plants and machines revolving around the Heron Tree project. Real plants combine with mechanical ones in a dazzling wonderland. The machines are explained by the machinists who built them – in French – and performers interact with the machines providing mini shows for students and adults alike.

How to visit
There are various modes in which you can visit – the ‘discovery mode’ is the one we chose, so we could wander through the galleries and machines and workshops. You can take a ride on the Great Elephant and/or you can take the ‘fairground’ mode in which you get to ride on the carousels and explore the marine world more deeply.

Here is a sample of our experience and what you can expect to see:

The place is continuously being developed so more attractions are being designed and added as time goes on. For something completely different and only in France – this is well worth the visit.

Muse√© des Arts et Metiers – steampunk’s delight

There is something about the Belle Epoch that had the French making some great technological advances – albeit they somewhat ran out of…er… steam by around 1906. Much of that story is told the museum of industrial arts.

Around the time that Captain James Cook was bumping into Australia, an engineer by the name of Nicholas Cugnot was demonstrating a new vehicle at the Paris Arsenal. With its twin cylinder double acting engine, front wheel drive and rack and pinion steering, this 2.5 tonne vehicle was able to move under its own power and tow an artillery piece (up to 4 tonnes) – thereby overcoming the problem of horses taking fright on the battlefield. The vehicle had forward and reverse, and could travel at up to 4kph. Not bad in 1770.

Cugnot's Fardier √° vapeur (steam tractor)

Cugnot’s Fardier √° vapeur (steam tractor)

Sadly, its lack of brakes became apparent when it ran a bit out of control and hit the arsenal wall which earned the vehicle the dubious distinction of being the first manned self propelled vehicle and also the first motor vehicle accident ever recorded. So the experiments were stopped and the vehicle pushed into a nearby barn where it stayed undisturbed for nearly 100 years. At that point it was donated to the Arts et Metiers museum where it resides today – showing almost no signs of its low speed collision. You can see a modern replica being demonstrated here on YouTube.

By 1875 Amadee Bolle√© had built l’Obeissante¬†(the obedient one) – a steam bus¬†¬†in 1875 which¬†made the first road trip between Le Mans and¬†Paris¬†in 18 hours.¬†L’Obeissante¬†carried 12 passengers and had a cruising speed of 30¬†km/h (19¬†mph) and a top speed of 40¬†km/h (25¬†mph). It was driven by two V-twin steam engines, one for each rear wheel. This too is preserved in the Muse√© des Arts et Metiers in Paris.

l'obeissante - steam bus

l’obeissante – steam bus

It was a pretty impressive vehicle – the stoker worked at the rear and controlled the throttle, while the driver steered – a study in teamwork! The passengers sat on side seats next to the driver

l'obeissante - steam bus

l’obeissante – steam bus

But the dream of the era was to get airborne – and there were many imaginative ways to do so. The first balloon flights took place in Paris – the montgolfiers taking off from the Palace of Versailles, on 19 October 1783 while the first manned hydrogen balloon lifted off from the Champs de Mars near where the Eiffel Tower now stands.

But there were dreams of controlled flight

model dirigible

model dirigible

and various versions of heavier than air models, such as this quad-copter – now popular among radio control enthusiasts



But the prize for the the first manned, powered flight may well go to Clement Ader, who has a strong claim to have flown 250-300 feet in 1897 – six years before the Wright Brothers. Using a self-designed lightweight steam power plant with twin 20HP engines powered from a lightweight flash steam generator with a condenser to re-use the water he made one fairly well documented flight, but crashed on a subsequent demonstration for the army. The plane had no control surfaces so it could only be steered by weight shifting of the pilot. The Wright Brothers rightly claim the first controlled powered heavier-than-air flight. Ader’s Avion gave its name to the French word for aircraft.

The Avion

The Avion

While it was somewhat modelled on a bat, it had a number of important innovations – an enclosed cockpit, a tricycle undercarriage, it was a monoplane, and it used contra-rotating propellers. A surprisingly well-thought out aircraft for its time.

This next plane was the first to fly the English Channel – flown by Louis Bleriot in 1909. It, too, was a monoplane and was a successful commercial design.

Bleriot XI - first plane to fly the English Channel

Bleriot XI – first plane to fly the English Channel

And if you thought the Segway was an innovation – guess who had them back in the 1890s? Okay this was designed by a German, and they were manufactured under licence by BSA in the UK, but it sure looks like a fun ride ūüôā

Otto bicycle c.1881

Otto bicycle c.1881

Anyhow, more on the Arts et Metiers museum later ūüôā