Mat Janson Blanchet's academic works

Shaving yaks

Posted on October 8, 2017

Advanced Practices in Video, Performance and Electronic Arts

This week has been one of hunting down components and information.

If you are not familiar with the expression, “shaving the yak” refers to resolving many tasks apparently unrelated to the main task at hand. It is mostly used in the world of computer development, in which you often have to resolve many bugs to tackle an issue, oftentimes to the point where the issues you resolve are completely unrelated to the original issue. Hence, you could end up shaving a yak to resolve your issue.

Prototype Progress

Motor embedded in wood

Tuesday evening I managed to cut the wood so that I could encase the motor in the wood panel, as planned in my prototype sketch.

Then, I required machine screws (M3, 0.5 pitch, 50mm) to go through the wood and the motor body. Hardware stores don’t carry these screws, so I ended up trying to place an order with the extraordinary McMaster-Carr website, only to receive a reply that due to anti-dumping laws, they wouldn’t ship to Canada. Hurray. Luckily, Peter van Haaften, a colleague from the TML, suggested I look into the Quincaillerie Harsupco, which indeed carried the needed components.

Then I went to the metal shop to cut some bridges. I also drilled a hole through the motor peg, so that I could pass a guitar string through it and test the motor strength. Later, speaking with Navid Navab and Naoto Hiéda, who both used the same motors, they mentioned that there is no way the motor would be strong enough for my needs.

And so began my investigation on how gears work and how to build them.

And so this is where I went down the rabbit hole in search of yaks to shave. Obviously, mechanical engineering is its own field and there is a lot of information and concepts to learn. First, I need to figure out what I want to do, and how to lay it out. As usual, I sketched it.

Gears and string

Sadly, I must agree with a friend of mine that declared this drawing to look like hairy balls or hairy boobs…

So from that idea, I needed to figure out the gear currently placed onto the motor peg, but it seems that the diagram that was taken to laser cut it out is no longer available.

I tried to read a bit on how to calculate gear dimensions.

Meshing of standard spur gears

In all honesty, that became complicated rather quickly and left me confused…

Meme - Confused by math

Nevertheless, I need gears. I started hunting for tools to generate gear vector shapes, so that I could prepare an Illustrator document for the laser cutter. Gear Generator is quite interesting, however it uses mathematical units and not actual units of measurement to generate its gears, making it unusable at this time. Matthias Wandel’s Gear Template Generator is the most useful, but I couldn’t generate the gear that is already on the motor with it.

An article on Make, a magazine for makers, details how to create our own gears. It required the installation of Inkscape and the XQuark library on Mac. After installing all this, the software UI makes trying to generate gears quite frustrating. As an interaction designer and interface builder, the user experience really frustrated me, and the options offered did not allow me to resolve the issue I had.

I was about to start building a gear generator software myself when I thought of shaven yaks. I was going really far from my goal, so I decided to follow a suggestion given to me. Take an overhead photo of the gear, and draw it yourself.

Drawn gear

It turned out to be the best solution. I most probably will use Wandel’s generator to create other gears that would interact with the one on the motor peg.

Project Proposal

Clean sketch of kinetic cabinet

Last week, we had a bit of role play in which classmates would have a conversation in the curator/artist context. In a rare case for me, discussing out loud about my idea clarified some of my thoughts and inspirations. I will not elaborate a full analysis of what I believe my work to be about, but since we have to provide an official project description for next week, I thought I’d share the concept section of my proposal:

For this artwork, I will be repurposing some of the mechanical components of a guitar—strings, tuning keys, bridges—into a non musically oriented object. Taking cues from the visual language of the grandfather clock and the piano, I will build a windowed cabinet which will house an array of guitar strings that motors will tighten or loosen randomly, to the point of sometimes breaking them.

I have been playing the guitar for over 20 years, and I have always preferred to avoid lyrics, so that the audience of my pieces can freely experience emotions when listening. By deconstructing the instrument that has allowed me to express myself, and reorganizing its components into a visual device, I will push my practice of post-rock—in which rock instruments are used to create non-rock music—to the point where rock instruments are used to create non-music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *