It was day 2 of our collaboration on Llif-Flow for Pontio (see Lisa’s blog for a great introduction to the project). We tried out all sorts of marble runs – slate, branches, bed irons, scaffolding, pipes of many kinds, multi-choice ones, deterministic ones, long, low slope ones and steep energetic ones. We wanted to find out about the characteristics and behaviour of marble flows, and whether we could link them (literally or figuratively) to some of the flows from Jonathan's research. Answer: hmmm, sort of, maybe, yes.
It was an auspicious day, as the first of the two cuckoos that spend 2 months here in the summer, was due back from its time in the Congo rainforest. It didn’t (audibly) arrive, but sensibly perhaps, given the fact that winter had. The spasmodic downpours of hail covered the landscape in millions (billions?) of tiny marbles. The whole of fy milltir sgwâr was animated with the falling, rolling, cascading and joyful leaping of little white spheres - a giant marble run.
It was also the first day of works starting on the new hydro scheme on Afon Las, the river flowing right next to the barn. Afon Las originates in Llyn y Cwn, and until recently I had believed it to be the highest 'significant' lake in Eryri. But Vivienne Rickman Poole, an artist based in Llanberis, says that it only the second highest. And she should know as she is doing a great project, swimming in every lake in Snowdonia. But still, the river by the barn comes from a very high up lake, and it has a lot of flow.
So as we worked on our side of the river, making glacially slow progress trying out how we might (and might not) transport marbles around the slopes around the Caban outside Pontio, the digger ploughed its way swiftly up the mountain, leaving a motorway behind it. I am a big fan of these small scale hydro schemes: There is money to be made - and climate to be saved - in flow. But it is hard not to get anxious as places I love get literally bulldozed – or diggered – flat.
So it was good to have a distraction from the destruction. We started off in the barn, sheltering from the weather. One of the strange things about building marble runs is that everyone has their own style, and it is very difficult to build together. So we set about making our own runs and comparing results, offering suggestions for improvement and so on.
We looked at the beginnings of a sound bath I'd made from scaffold poles that had been used to make the old shower enclosure in the barn.
Lisa and I made some prototype drawing machines, ways of tracking the path of marbles and exploring things like stagnation points, the most ‘likely’ path. These drawings are one way we could record the different paths that the marbles take, with variations in how 'deterministic' they are....
And Jonathan built a deterministic run, in which the path is (more) certain, like culveting a river. There's a different kind of satisfaction in these ones....
We also noted some of the 'design' styles emerging for the project, including:
A Heath Robinson Lab Chic (metal, orange, tubes, glass)
Who Dunnit? Nordic noir/y Gwyll
Slate (quarry, link to university and education, itself the result of sedimentation)
We also talked of/tried out processes we could use at Pontio to create an immersive experience for guests, so rather than just being observers, they are fully involved in shaping and exploring the experience. This is one of the particular characteristics of marble runs, they draw you in, and make you inquisitive: “I am beginning to see how unpredictable/infuriating marble runs are”, emailed Jonathan afterwards, “and yet still strangely addictive”.
So we want to use this characteristic of marble runs as the starting point for exploring the science and art of Llif/Flow, through observation/recording, building your own, noticing and influencing physical/visual/auditory flows (including of people around the space), encouraging interaction, repetition, trial and error....
Having played around inside the barn for a while, the sun came out, and we headed out to explore options for the runs on the slopes around the Caban at Pontio... OK, so our field slopes are a bit more ant-hilly than Pontio's, but the gradient is uncannily similar [ could this be something to do with the angle of repose?]...
We concluded that we need a mix of different materials and types of runs, to link between the Caban and the main Pontio building (or at least, the courtyard outside it), and (time, budget, technology and space allowing) around and into the Caban itself, linked to some kind of marble-run sound mixing in the caban itself.
We continued to struggle with the creation of vortices, something that is critical in Jonathan’s work, but incredibly hard to work with in the marble-running world. We have discussed all sorts of options, and stared long and hard at bed springs, and played with Lisa's flexible transparent pipe...
Next up: a whole lot of building and creating for a week or two: Lisa is focused on the vortices problem and has a cunning plan involving bed springs and plaster and a giant stand in vortex, while Jonathan is exploring simulating cross sectional flow that gets slower towards the bed. I hope to improve my branch runs, the sound bath, and recording methods and to develop some more drawing machines.
When the warmer weather returns, I’m looking forward to a trip to try casting ripples from beaches (let us know if you know any good places) in plaster. Another of Lisa’s cunning plans!… It’s great this collaboration lark.
I'll leave you with Lisa and Jonathan illustrating two classic marble-run poses: