notes towards an earth computer / garage notes 2013

Smithson and the earth computer


The system of megaliths now provided a complete substitute for those functions of his mind which gave to it its sense of the sustained rational order of time and space, his awareness kindled from levels above those of his present nervous system (if the autonomic system is dominated by the past, the cere-brospinal reaches toward the future). Without the blocks his sense of reality shrank to little more than the few square inches of sand beneath his feet.

J. G. Ballard. Terminal Beach

The opening quotation from Robert Smithson's "The Artist as Site-Seer, or, a Dintorphic Essay (1966-67)" in which he speaks of Ballard, amonst others as initialising a certain environmental coding:

… the environment is coded into exact units of order, as well as being prior to all rational theory […] An example of this enviromental coding is Stonehenge […] a neolithic computer.

Robert Smithson.

In this article, which can be read as an exact manifesto (replete with an array of obscure footnotes) for earth computing avant la lettre, Smithson further explores the "strings of meaningless ciphers" which are carved on a further set of megaliths in Ballard's The Waiting grounds:

Is language at the root of these megaliths […] Is the verbal prior to the material? The "noise of history" is contained by Ballard's megaliths.

Robert Smithson.

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."

Robert Smithson. A Sedimentation of the Mind. 1966.

Smithson hints at the quotation which is embedded in hardware, in the material substrate; a "tombic communication"; "the medium is the mummy" (Smithson) with hieroglyphics as "the circuit symbols of computer memory banks" - at that time arrayed as three dimensional cubes of magnetic cells.

quotation in hardware


Lisp CPU

Edgar Allen Poe

Peter Halley

The Quine. And how a quine could be manifest in geology or flora?

past notes

Allowing quotation in a language wreaks havoc with the ability to reason about the language in simple terms, because it destroys the notion that equals can be substituted for equals. For example, three is one plus two, but the word “three” is not the phrase “one plus two.” Quotation is powerful because it gives us a way to build expressions that manipulate other expressions (as we will see when we write an interpreter in chapter 4). But allowing statements in a language that talk about other statements in that language makes it very difficult to maintain any coherent principle of what “equals can be substituted for equals” should mean. For example, if we know that the evening star is the morning star, then from the statement “the evening star is Venus” we can deduce “the morning star is Venus.” However, given that “John knows that the evening star is Venus” we cannot infer that “John knows that the morning star is Venus.”

[SICP. p142]

quotation, as in writing, to differentiate between active code and passive data. to mark a transition of cut and pastage - passage.







  • how does the symbolic enter into hardware, into earth - become etched, embedded and contained (as metaphysics) there? eg. as stack, heap and frame (that we simply come to map of feint these on the earth)
  • some kind of computing machinery (but why tied to traditional models of logic or computation - as these are a language?) is bootstrapped within an environment to later transform and re-code that environment (as a response to the coding by the environment). Programmed by weather, micro-organisms, plants, animals on a substrate which is the earth. Coded by the environment to re-code the environment (to release liquids, to move structures)
  • what this bootstrapping could be? addition of minerals, metals and chemistry. the insertion of new structures (containers, shafts, underlays, plastics) to re-route flows of materials. fungal coding.
  • the earth interpreter as this translation of (bio-chemical) impulses into a code which re-codes. a transliteration of the earth as/into a CPU (without knowledge of any instruction set or truth set). an interface.
  • without sensing or recoding, but recoded, an open structure, a computational device embedded in a quarry. symbolic constraints on nature. the burial of discrete, communicating logic gates, forming a certain design on the surface of the earth, and accessed by twin fangs driving mirror galvanometers. gates as germanium layers, strip mine layers, a CPU written large.
  • a concert for buried devices
  • layers - mutable borders - conduction - drainage - etched channels (n-p) - depletions - storage/containers - flows - boundaries - memory - constructed sediments - outflows - channeling through layers - quantum tunneling
  • to impose a new restriction/encoding on the earth/on landscape.

in the landscape/strangers on a train

  • power distribution and harnessing (windmills)
  • transmission antennas
  • mines and quarries
  • storage of resources
  • accommodation
  • fields and crops
  • managed forests. sports/leisure
  • roads, access, paths

sketches for an earth computer/garage notes


field studies and lab containers


The harnessing of power: photonic (buried cuprous oxide and copper layers), telluric, atmospheric, electromagnetic, geological/kinetic, biochemical, animals/plants/kinetic-piezoelectric. business.

…in order to manifest which actions?

crystallisation, connection, conduction, digging, separation towards the bootstrapping of a machine of flows.

using materials such as nitrates/acids, minerals, rain water, flora and fauna.

A making visible of change within a set of properties using a mobile probe system.

Shaft studies. Pourings of (rochelle) salts, nitrates, pyrites piles. Rainfall collection and channeling, digging channels with this.

Bootstrapping the self-construction of an earth computer. What helpful characteristics might this bootstrapping possess?

  • power capture, feedback loops, self-steering, directing and changing flows, versatility, allowing separation and merge of materials, responding to changes.
  • as a set of objects and materials which can be embedded to form a relationship, to activate and accelerate.

Earth computer as a supplementary control mechanism which attempts to become a machine made of earth. This implies a transformation (cast as decay) of a machinery of control. Is the bootstrapping machine thus a machine which is alien to the earth but which in this process becomes earth, bootstrapping itself into the earth (decaying, rusting, dissolving, a ruin, falling into the earth, burying itself (to begin to explain how this thematic is so important for Poe), collapsing)

L.George Lawrence's More Experiments in Electroculture is an example of a proto-earth computer if we add in a feedback loop/an expression onto itself (quotation and feedback).

Earth computer as a structure/an interpreter which executes earth code to re-enact on the earth.


mirror galvanometer


I have been receiving signals on an aerial with nothing but a mirror galvanometer and my device.

John A. Fleming. 1904


mycelium/silver and other transparencies

A set of thin glass tanks allowing entry for air, multiple graphite electrodes and pipes in/out for liquids, washes.

  • light/crystal exchange
  • embedded crude cuprous oxide solar cell

measuring semiconducting properties of earth

  • curve tracer: apply voltage slope and look at current flow


  • earth/audio ramp curve tracing with 3d printer style probe in/out of earth.

crystal feedback




sulphuric acid formed by rain running through pyrites - heap mining

how measurement can become a part of the earth and become an expression acting on itself - as a feedback loop, as electroculture.

changes in resistance during silver nitrate electrolysis

alpha particle skin tattoo, enacted on a landscape, triggering an explosion in a quarry

ptrace and insertion of software register values into the earth. a process buried in the earth in its unfolding. a register in the earth. inserting and retrieving comp signals into the earth - as digging, as electricity.





ptrace crystallography/electrolysis:


See: http://1010.co.uk/org/notes.html#81

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

Date: 2013-07-25 00:18:34 BST

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