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SAM - Sound Activated Mobile

SAM was the first moving sculpture which moved directly and recognisably in response to what was going on around it. It was exhibited at the 'Cybernetic Serendipity' exhibition which was held initially at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 1968 and later toured Canada and the US ending at the Exploratorium in San Fransisco. Read more about the exhibition here (pdf 52 KB). Also, see SAM in situ here and here.

SAM consisted of an assembly of aluminium castings somewhat reminiscent of verebrae, surmounted by a flower-like fibreglass reflector with an array of four small microphones mounted immediately in front of it. The vertebrae contained miniature hydraulic pistons which enabled them to move in relation to each other so that the whole column could twist from side to side and lean forwards and backwards. A simple electronic circuit used the signals from the four microphones to determine the direction which any sound in the vicinity was coming from and two electo-hydraulic servo-valves moved the column in the direction of the sound until the microphones faced it.

The resultant behaviour, that of following the movement of people as they walked around its plinth, facinated many observers. Also, since the sculpture was sensitive to quiet but sustained noise, rather than shrieks, a great many people spent hours in front of SAM trying to produce the right level of sound to attract its attention.

SAM is still in existance. It is not currently working as some of its components were removed (mostly the hydraulic hardware). Have a look at the photos of it in its current condition.