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Fragile Territories

Robert Henke
November 7 2012 - January 6 2013
Nantes, France

Installation for four white lasers and sound

Powerful laser beams draw a floating white object on a thirty meter wide and six meter high wall in a completely dark space, slowly evolving shapes, edges and curves of shimmering, pulsating light.

Sometimes the shapes are barely visible, sometimes they explode into extreme brightness. In some sequences the quality of the light is steady, during other times it fluctuates and breaks apart into scintillating particles. A black shadow is moving through the image every five seconds, obscuring the light like the blade of a giant windmill.

Dense and tiny sonic events seem to emerge from the light object, embedded in distant reverberant echoes of decaying piano notes, a mysterious stream of sounds with no end and no beginning. Sound and light play with each other; commenting and complementing gestures that merge into one single breathing, bodiless entity.

The installation is based on the principles of algorithmic and stochastic composition, both for the visual as for the auditive side. It never repeats, and its future states cannot entirely be foreseen. Its duration is endless.

Fragile Territories is a commissioned work by Le Lieu Unique, Nantes, France.

How was MAX used?

The four laser projectors are controlled by generative Max patches, creating constantly morphing shapes of light. The Max patches run on two computers, each of them controlling two lasers, and a third computer runs Max4Live to generate sound, using algorithmic MIDI sequencers that play notes and parameters of several instances of the Max4Live Granulator synthesizer. The Max patches and Max4Live talk to each other via a simple UDP network. A lot of gen~ is involved both for synthesis and for the generation of the visual shapes. The visual shapes are basically complex vector graphics, calculated as audio signals at 96kHz and then transmitted to a multichannel DA converter that controls the brightness and color of the laser sources and the movement of the galvanometers inside the laser projectors.

Fragile Territories

Nov 19, 2012 at 10:56am

It would be nice to see a few minutes of video to see time scales

Nov 19, 2012 at 1:30pm

video is in the making. i hope to be able to post it in two weeks or so.

Nov 20, 2012 at 12:32am

Really nice! How did you translate from max to ILDA format?

Dec 5, 2012 at 12:09pm

Hi micron, ILDA is an anlog protocol, ( +-10 Volts for X/Y, 0..10 V for intensity of the lasers ). Some sound cards ( Motu, RME ) offer DC output. All you need to do is having some sort of conversion from what ever max. output volume they deliver to that range. This can be done via a simple OPAmp circuit per channel.
However, I figured out that the Motu Ultralite generates a peak volume of around 7 Volts and that is more than enough to drive the galvanometers ( X/Y ) and the lasers I used where strong enough to be very bright at 70% of their maximum output. Bottom line, I did omit the OPAmp stage and drive the lasers directly from the Motu. It is worth noticing that 96kHz is quite essential here, both for the control of the movement and for the blanking / intensity control. If the soundcard would have supported 192k and my mac minis were faster I would have gone even higher.

Jan 15, 2013 at 6:33pm

Robert, I would love to learn more about controlling RGB lasers with audio signals. How do you output multiple simultaneous points / lines, etc.? Thanks!

Jan 16, 2013 at 8:19am

Hi meeble, all you can do with lasers is controlling the position of two mirrors that define the (angular) position of the laser beam on an X/Y axis. And you can control the intensity of the laser sources. Drawing a line in a specific color means: creating the desired color by sending the right control voltages to the laser sources. Then you need to create a ramp of the X/Y signals depending on where you want the line to start and end and how long you want the movement to take. Since you only move a single dot of light, you need to repeat those movements as fast as possible. Timing is very essential here and can get quite difficult for more complex shapes, but that’s the basic concept.

Jan 16, 2013 at 11:32am

Hi Robert,

Would you be willing to chat more with me about this process via email? I want to move forward with this very soon,and I have other questions about how you wired the audio outputs to the ILDA cables, etc. My email is: mm AT meeble DOT com. It would be very much appreciated. :)

May 17, 2013 at 1:49am

Hey Robert,

very cool project!
I saw the video on your site and it inspired me to get into Max more :)


Nov 1, 2013 at 8:11am

See also:

Thanks for sharing this. Much appreciated!

Dec 11, 2013 at 10:05am

Hi Robert

i wrote a mail to you so here is just an repeat, i appologize if any bothering.

This is …. amazing! i tried sound card method years ago but i failed because of i couldn’t generate -24~24V, or -15~15, also may i know how you create the ramp for the x/y movement? i have been search for anyone who knows about particularly this technology for very long, i’ll glad to know the answer for any cost…so sincerely, may i know anyway i can contact with you? very very appreciate…. my email is:

Dec 11, 2013 at 1:07pm

Surely you’ll need some beefy operational amplifiers to get your voltage that high – even the motus that robert uses don’t go so high – I suspect Mr. Henke uses lasers configured to +/-4v or something.

Dec 11, 2013 at 1:23pm

The shapes are drawn using x/y/brightness/colour, if I remember correctly, so what you’re seeing is waveshapes and bitcrushes and weird slew in great concert, really.

Dec 11, 2013 at 2:46pm

hi Robert,
…hey,looks great what this project developed into!
(i am the robert that took your “test” last summer,remember? (; )
anyway,looking forward to see the video…
also its quite inspiring that there are soundcards that output DC..

Dec 12, 2013 at 12:30am

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