SAM (Sound-Activated Mobile)

Edward Ihnatowicz

4 February 1968

Aluminium, fibreglass, microphones, electro-hydraulic servo-valves, electronic circuits. Courtesy: Olga Ihnatowicz.

SAM was made for and shown at Jasia Reichardt’s Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London in 1968.

It consists of a fibre-glass sound reflector in the shape of a flower with four microphones mounted in a crossshape on its front, supported on an aluminium ‘spine’, with four connected vertebrae. Each vertebra contained small pistons with servo-valves that allowed the sculpture to move from side to side and back and forth.

The microphones on the sound reflector were mounted in pairs, one vertical and one horizontal, with each pair connected to an analogue circuit. The circuit measured the phase difference between the sound signals on the paired microphones, meaning the difference in the time a sound reached the microphone and thereby the direction of its source.

The output was then used to control the movement of the pistons, causing the whole assemblage to move and sway in response to sounds made by viewers. While SAM is no longer operational, the accompanying footage shows entranced children as the sculpture moves in response to shouting and singing.