Laminar Flows & Cymatic Bowls: Situation Normal at Glastonbury Festival

This festival is a strange place. A wonderful collection of ideas and expressions like no other. Put together by massively professional waifs and strays, who have hard earned the prestigious right to wear that accolade.

We are tasked with creating a garden area for the artists and speakers appearing on the Leftfield stage. A mixture of pop and politics, with debates and talks earlier in the day, followed by bands and performers later in the evening.

This is our second year of creating this area. However it is our first year of utilizing water in the installation.

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Some years ago, Whilst on holiday with my family I visited the Epcot Centre in Florida. Epcot was originally developed by Walt Disney as a vision of a utopian future, sadly this vision was never completely realized and the centre has developed into a sort of permanent ‘worlds fair’ with exhibitions and events celebrating enterprise, imagination and the development of ideas for the benefit of future generations.

A plaque outside Epcot reads as follows:

To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome.

Epcot Center is inspired by Walt Disney’s creative genius. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.

May Epcot Center entertain, inform and inspire. And, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.

 Sifting through the Disney melodrama the underlying message is one that I would agree with. I have always believed that the future is built on imagination and that it is imagination that inspires development and enterprise.

Most of the park was old and outdated, like stepping back to the 1950s. However, the one thing that struck me was the water.

There was water everywhere. It flowed and pooled all around you, rills and streams running into vast shallow lakes, fountains and jets casting water everywhere. There were waterfalls which ran backwards, innumerable jets mounted in long sinusoidal sweeps hurling white water back up over a cliff and into a huge lake filled with stepping stones and cast dimes. There were jets of water which arched above you, not like water at all, more like silvery life forms gently swaying in the delicate breeze. Every now and then a single splash would break the illusion and re-affirm in your mind that this was actually water and not some strange Disney witchcraft!

There were jets mounted unseen along pathways, which would fire globulous, almost gravity defying shapes across your path as you walked. Firing in sequence as you passed, giving the appearance that the water was springing from place to place.

It was wonderful.

I decided there and then that one day I would build something like this.

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For me, water has always been fascinating in so many different ways. I have based my entire career on this fascination. However, it is not simply its ecology that inspires me to work with it. I am equally inspired by its physical properties, by its science.

As a medium, water is a very unusual. It is one of only five chemicals which occurs on earth in a natural liquid state. Water expands as it cools, becoming less dense in a solid state which from a physics point of view is mind boggling! It has the ability to travel against gravity in specific settings, an occurrence known as capillary action. This is how water travels up plant stems.

It is a very simple chemical consisting of just two elements, Hydrogen and Oxygen.

Also, it covers 70% of our planet and makes up 60% of our bodies. Which probably makes it important.

There is something about water that fascinates people. People are drawn to its sound and it has always seemed to me that people are also drawn to touch it.

So, some years later we were asked to do an art installation for Beautiful Days Festival in Devon. We were asked to create a garden space for a public area.

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It was then that we decided to try to put together something similar to the Epcot water jets.

Some research and development enabled us to create a few prototype jets.

These jets exploit properties of the ‘flow’ of water. It is a little difficult to explain, but essentially in a standard water flow, the molecules of water are moving in lots of different directions. Imagine a box of ping pong balls on a train. The balls will be moving within the box, bouncing, colliding and repelling in lots of different directions, this is similar to water molecules within a flow. The train itself is the flow, so the water is moving in one general direction but the molecules themselves are very mobile in lots of different directions within that flow.

In order to make those wonderful silvery arches I spoke of earlier, you have to make that flow ‘laminar’.

Essentially this means everything is going in one direction within the flow. So all those ping pong balls are raked up and regimented, travelling with the train and only in the direction of the train.

This means that there is significantly less interference within the flow of water molecules (they are not colliding with eachother as much!) so the flow is smooth and stable.

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So how do you make this happen? Simple! Thousands and thousands of straws….

The water is forced through the straws and it is forced into a laminar state.

The final stage is to force the laminar flow from a very large diameter pipe into a very small diameter jet through a razor sharp hole which cuts the flow into a single narrow stream.

Once in a laminar state, water can be thrown quite some distance before the laminar flow is broken through the actions of gravity and interference is once again seen in the stream.

One of the other wonderful attributes about laminar water flows is their ability to carry light within them.

This means you can actually ‘bend’ light through the laminar flow and carry water across the stream, this is particularly effective in small flows.

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So armed with our prototypes we created three large laminar jets for installation at Beautiful Days Festival.

They were a massive success. Something about laminar flowing water is mesmerizing. It doesn’t move like water should, somehow the process creates something new. Like living water, it moves gently, almost pulsing at times and I defy anyone when faced with a laminar flow to resist the urge to gently touch it!

The problem we had, was the jets were such a massive success that the water reservoir we had built which recycled water back to feed each of them was generally empty within an hour of us turning them on!

So many small hands could not resist redirecting the flows that the whole area around the jets turned into a mudbath, which at a music festival is not a huge problem! However, it did mean that we were constantly having to refill the jets.

Eventually we had to limit their use to a few hours per day, this still did not deter our ardent younger fans, who would wait in muddy feral packs for the jets to start up.

It was wet, muddy, anarchy!

I loved every minute of it.

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With the above experience under our belts, we allowed the steep learning curve to adjust our aspirations for the installation at this years Glastonbury Festival.

We decided to create a pair of much, much, smaller, self contained jets. In the hope that this would limit water loss through interactions and would enable us to run the jets constantly.

The fact that this installation was intended for a backstage area also helped as it meant a smaller percentage of feral children utilizing the jets as weapons of mass saturation.

The smaller jets did present a few challenges, as they meant we had to cram a lot into a small space.

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However, after a fair bit of head scratching and a few u-turns we finally ironed out all the kinks (With only a week to spare I should add!).

So our main brief with this installation was that we wanted to create a calm, serence space, with a few wonders and wow moments.

Personally, my internal brief was to create something with water that made people say: “How is that possible!”

With this in mind, and further to the laminar jets, we began experimenting with the idea of propagating ripples across a pool and projecting the resulting interference patterns.

The inspiration for this came from two different sources:

Firstly, I have recently become increasingly interested in the idea of creating visible energy waveforms. This sounds like a very complex idea, but infact it is incredible simple. Ancient cultures have been doing this for centuries through use of objects such as Singing Bowls and Suzu Gongs, which when struck set up resonance patterns in the water stored within them which can be seen. there is also some evidence to suggest that Asian mandala art could have been inspired by these kinds of devices although possibly utilizing sand rather than water.

The idea is that different frequencies of sound create different patterns of ripples in water. So how do we make this happen? Simple, we mount a bass speaker in a pool of water!

Hold on!

That’s not so simple…..Audio speakers are reasonable well known for their dislike of water. Total submersion being a definite no-no.

The second inspiration came from one night soaking in the bath and watching the ceiling dance as the light bounced from the surface of the water. Something we have all done I’m sure.

Our drawing board for this one was a little more complicated, we tried out many different ideas, blew up a few speakers. Broke a few objects, including people. Narrowly avoided catching fire to ourselves and generally made very little progress for quite some time.

Eventually, with even less time to spare than with the jets! We came up with a working prototype.

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We had mounted three lamps beneath the speaker with the intention of up-lighting through the water column. However, this proved to be the wrong approach and incidental lighting proved to be the most effective approach by far ( thanks for that one Mucca).

The results were breathtaking. It definitely had the wow factor we were looking for. I was surprised by just how far we were able to project the ripples.

 Cymatic Bowl Video

So with these two features in place our garden was constructed.

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Laminar Jets Video

It was a huge success. Infact such was its allure that both the BBC and NME magazine chose to undertake their respective interviews of a certain political leader with our garden as a backdrop.

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We were very proud of this installation and we would like to thank all the wonderful people who helped to put it together. There are a great many people who work incredibly hard behind the scenes to make these events happen and it never ceases to amaze me just how dedicated these people are.

Special thanks to Shirley, Martin and Sistah Jo who helped in both big and little ways to put this together.

We were lucky enough to work with an excellent crew who were always ready to help and always ready to offer ideas or solutions when things went wrong.

The truth is that the business of ‘show’ could not operate without them, therefore this garden is dedicated to you, crew of Leftfield.

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