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Quartz crystal computer rocks

"Irrational Computing" has interlinked a series of untreated crystals and minerals to create a primitive signal processor.

Ralf Baecker

Silicon has been at the heart of computing since the 1950s, as the most common material used to make semiconductors. In nature, it rarely occurs in its pure form, but as silicon dioxide in crystals such as quartz, agate, amethyst and rock crystal.

Could these rocks in their raw form be used to make a computer? As it turns out, the answer is yes, albeit a very primitive sort of computer. German artist Ralf Baecker has created just such a device in an installation called "Irrational Computing".

"'Irrational Computing' is an artistic test of material, aesthetics and potentials of the digital," Baecker wrote on his website. "The installation is based on semiconductor crystals -- the basic commodity of information technology ... 'Irrational Computing' is not supposed to 'function' -- its aim is to search for the poetic elements on the border between 'accuracy' and 'chaos' amplifying the mystic and magic side of these materials."

The installation consists of five interlinked modules that are connected to various forms of crystal, either found in nature, reclaimed from industrial waste or artificially cultivated. The modules then use the specific characteristics of each crystal to transmit a signal -- either a light display or an audio sound, both of which are random.

In one module, for example, 64 iron needles apply electrical loads to a silicon carbide crystal, which causes the crystal to emit electromagnetic and acoustic waves -- a playback in light and sound. In another, a tray of Rochelle salt resonates with piezoelectric feedback.

The idea, according to Baecker, is to explore the idea of computing, which, in its human-created form, is precise and logical. Nature is chaotic and irrational -- and computing has tamed that chaos. If, however, nature were to somehow generate its own computer, it might appear a little something like "Irrational Computing".

"Irrational Computing" will be on display at thingworld's International Triennial of New Media Art in Beijing from 10 June.

Via The Creators Project.