Electronic Naturalism

A project log for Electronic sculpture

Explore the spark of life through circuit art

Kelly HeatonKelly Heaton 02/04/2020 at 02:500 Comments

Naturalism is a philosophy of observation concerned with seeing deeply and without artifice. In the context of art, we typically associate naturalism with scientific illustration —a faithful rendering of visual reality, but an incomplete portrait of a world that also exists in ways not visible to the human eye.

Fortunately as an artist (less inhibited than a scientist), I am free to expand naturalism with other modes of sensory perception. I use electronics to enhance my visual studies of nature because electricity enables me to work on the level of waveforms.

Waveforms are the basis of everything. If you isolate a fundamental particle in a vacuum, it is not a static entity but a sinusoidal wave function. This is a beautiful mathematical truth of the universe. 

When such a particle is exposed to other particles, they combine into a system with a unique wave function for which complexity increases dramatically with each new member. In other words, reality is build from wave functions oscillating in relationship.

My work is inspired by this naturalist view of the universe. Using analog electronics, I build interconnected oscillators to generate life-like waveforms that can be experienced as sound and light. These studies do not use recordings or digital logic — the effects that you witness are generated by my circuits. You can watch how I experiment to discover interesting sounds:

Consider this transparent bird, which contains an oscillating circuit that you hear and see on my oscilloscope:

The following work uses the same type of oscillating circuitry to create the sound of squawking parrots:

I’m fascinated by the complex waveforms that I can generate with a handful of low-cost electronic parts. What, if anything, do analog circuits teach us about the brainwaves of a chirping cricket, frog, or singing bird? Given that a few interconnected oscillators can make a bird-like song, what amazing patterns  arise from thousands or millions of vibrating elements? I have a hunch that the origin of consciousness is, on a fundamental level, similar to the oscillating circuits in my electronic studies of nature.

-- Kelly Heaton, February 2020