the earthcodes project: substrate/shifting the site of execution


The shapes of the chasms themselves become "verbal roots" that spell out the difference between darkness and light. Poe ends his mental maze with the sentence — "I have graven it within the hills and my vengeance upon the dust within the rock."

[A Sedimentation of the Mind. Robert Smithson. 1966.]

Substrate can refer to a (mined) semiconductor base which is later doped, etched, imprinted on with other minerals and materials within a complex industrial process to form an electrical logic gate, a processing unit, the core of the networked machinery which surrounds us. Substrate interfaces with code, yet this set of symbolic, lingustic and logical operations denies the being-substrate, just as the carrier of any signal is erased by the receiver. The mineral necessity of this substrate is equally effaced; logic gates, and thus full computers can be constructed from water jets, from slime moulds, with the former proving particularly useful within paranoid military scenarios as being resilient to high energy electromagnetic attack [EMP].

Despite software's abstraction the geological maintains a particular attraction, as earth substrate, that which surrounds us, our material. Substrate equally presents a set of economic, political and economic consequences which contrast with software's lack of coded visibility, its inevitable "encryption". Stories such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, itself based on an earlier catalogue of fictions, shift the question of material and substrate to the body. Dracula's viral code is enacted at the interface with his substrate, the freshly dug earth which is transported to London and distributed around the capital; this infection vector.

At the same time, with reference to the scientific work of Michael Persinger (On The Possibility Of Directly Accessing Every Human Brain By Electromagnetic Induction Of Fundamental Algorithms, Persinger, 1995), we are literally encoded on the earth's substrate, etched on that skin surface. Persinger puts forward the experimental hypothesis that the earth's weak geomagnetic field literally and directly effects human consciousness. Religious visions, anomalies such as UFO sitings and ghost presence can all be explained by local interactions between geomagnetic anomalies and the brain. Within the context of an ever enlarging, changing spectral or electromagnetic ecology (all manner of power lines, signals, communications within the urban environment), how does this literal encoding interface with contemporary software?

The earthcodes project proposes an intentionally literal, artistic series of experimental situations which explore the notion of an earth computer, a computational device inscribed or doped both on the skin and on the earth substrate itself.

1- earthboot


Earth as operating system(OS).

earthboot boots from the earth.

earthboot returns vampiric technology to the earth.

earthboot enables almost any computer to boot straight from the earth, sidestepping dirty mining actions, and the expensive refining and doping of raw minerals; thus avoiding environmentally wasteful production techniques for the construction of data bearing devices such as hard drives or USB memory sticks

Instead, earthboot boots straight from the earth itself, exploring the being-substrate of contemporary digital technology; the material basis of 21st century computation.

earthboot revives the use of underground flows of electricity or telluric currents which were first exploited as generators of power within the telegraphic communications apparatus of the 19th century.

earthboot proposes a barely functional telluric operating system (OS), exposing the vampirism of current technology. Telluric or underground currents are translated directly into code for an earthbound operating system.

The laptop, or PC, literally boots up directly from the specially designed, earthboot USB device pushed into the earth, running code which is totally dependent on small fluctuations in electric current within the local terrain.

Quite often the earthboot operating system is not always fully functional as expected. Crashing is the price to pay for booting straight from the earth.

A prototype has been constructed based on the ATMEGA32u4 which emulates a USB mass storage device, sampling earth voltages and converting these directly into instructions for an earthbooting computer. Preliminary tests for earthboot have proved successful using code based on the LUFA mass storage example. Code is archived at:


Video documentation

2a- earth computer


I suppose the body to be just a statue or a machine made of earth, which God forms with the explicit intention of making it as much as possible like us.

[Rene Descartes. Treatise on Man]

"And now, my friends, we have a duty here to do. We must sterilise this earth, so sacred of holy memories, that he has brought from a far distant land for such fell use. He has chosen this earth because it has been holy. Thus we defeat him with his own weapon, for we make it more holy still. It was sanctified to such use of man, now we sanctify it to God."

[Bram Stoker. Dracula]

The earth computer conceives of a (computational) device of the same substance as the earth, to be embedded in the earth and embedding a quotation (after Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym). The central conceit is the use of the earth itself as a dirty, irrational computational device. An attempt will be made to reproduce common components, such as memory, power supply, and CPU with earth-based elements; a form of computational land art. Techniques borrowed from the semiconductor and computer industry will be applied to the raw earth substrate either in situ (documented actions at Whitby) or as a speculative performance.

The following outlines some elements perhaps comprising an earth computer:



Experiments were conducted during The Crystal World attempting to dope several mycological substrates with semi-conducting crushed galena (mineral), leached PCB/CPU/RAM minerals and magnetite in an attempt to create a computational fruiting (oyster) mushroom.

Future research will focus on the Whitby point contact transistor: an attempt to dope (with impurities) the raw earth of Whitby.



Exploring the use of telluric currents within the earth computer to change the shape of piezoelectric crystals or moving coil style (the mirror galvanometer).


Experiments in the casting of ferrite cores after seperating suitable material from the earth and gravel with a powerful magnet.

power supply

The earth battery, transducing telluric currents (eg. http://johnbedini.net/john34/stubblefield.html). Research to be conducted with porous electrodes (corked, unglazed ceramic pots with copper tube core and copper sulphate solution) and with electrolysis (copper and zinc electrodes). Other notes: wet soil around electrodes with a spacing of 60-100 metres, measure with high impedance meter.

2b- earth computer


earth computer simulation: ceramics, glass, canal mud, silver nitrate, recovered copper, zinc, ferrite, copper antenna

During the The Crystal World open laboratory (2012), an alternative version of the earth computer was conceived and produced around the core idea of a machine without components.

This version embeds a becoming-computer within the earth itself, allowing the earth to manipulate and code computational/crystalline structures. Raw minerals, either dissolved or as solid plates are placed within a porous ceramic/glass structure are buried within the earth at a location close to Hackney Wick. Over time, it is anticipated that both underground electric currents (telluric flows) and minerals/rainwater leaching through the soil could re-form these base components (some extracted from computer waste) into a functioning earth computer; a machine without wires, without components and without abstractions, operating in the earth and proposing a negative ecology, a true earth animism.

The burial took place on Hackney Marshes on the 30th September 2012 with thanks to Jonathan Kemp.



[With many thanks to Basil Olton for ceramics.]

3a- earthcode


Earthcode, extends a long standing interest in the interface between environment and code (ap0201), with a clear link to the earth works of Robert Smithson, and the unrealised "monuments" of Gustav Metzger.

Earthcode is planned as a large installation within (a clearing within) a forest, which would be free running for many years. Earthcode is driven by the use of environmental factors to literally code or inscribe the landscape; changes within the surrounding environment drive changes in the execution of software which control a large digging arm or industrial gantry, digging or otherwise disturbing the earth. Such environmental changes would be tied to changes in the seasons, the growth of surrounding flora, and movements of local fauna.

Earthcode is conceived as a coded monument.

3b- earthcode


Following a re-appraisal of the earth computer as a machine without components (see above), the earthcode monument is equally proposed as a electro/chemical/industrial intervention based on the following text:

A small area of the forest is set aside, and cleared of large trees, plants and undergrowth, yet carefully maintaining any remaining mycelium. Copper and zinc posts are driven into the ground approximating some kind of grid structure, tapping telluric currents and acting as simple antennae pooling stray electromagnetic emissions or even lightning strikes into the earth. An elaborate machinery is installed, to transform nitrates and minerals from the earth into acids, and to extract silver and other precious metals from the earth. Mixed with collected rain water, resulting solutions and waste products from the extraction process are sprayed and leached out across the area. Shafts of light penetrating the edges of the cleared area equally code this embedded landscape.

A simulation/sketch of this earthcode monument (ongoing) was presented as part of the earthcode evening on September 20th, 2012 in the garage behind General Public.

Related projects

skin <-> substrate <-> earth


Gustav Metzger, Damaged Nature, Auto Destructive Art, 1996

Nigel Pennick, Geomancy (A Cokaygne handbook), 1973

Edgar Allen Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, 1838.

Robert Smithson, Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 1979.

Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897

Alexander Thom, Megalithic sites in Britain, 1967

With thanks to Kathrin Guenter for documentation.

Author: root <m@1010.co.uk>

Date: 2013-04-01 12:20:52 BST

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