Re-engineering an Earthquake Simulator


DV Rogers writes on his work in recommissioning a machine designed to imitate the behaviour of earthquakes.

Participant of ANATs Deep Immersion: Scientific Serendipty Residency Program in 1999, Rogers details the various stages involved in re-engineering an earthquake simulator and what lies ahead in taking this work further.

s c i s m i c

The earthquake simulator originally came about as a result of the 1989 Newcastle Earthquake (15 lives lost), which proved that even Australia was not immune from damaging earthquakes causing significant human and economic loss. Essentially the simulator was used as an amusement device; the general public would stand upon it experiencing a 5.7, magnitude earthquake of engineered equivalence measured for the Newcastle earthquake. The simulator was removed in April 1996 from a now defunct minerals and mining musuem, "The Earth Exchange", The Rocks, Sydney.

Culminating in almost 3000hrs of work the simulator is now fully operational. The new design is a more functional and modular configuration enabling it to be transported and installed in various possible locations. Based in a workshop in Leichhardt, NSW, several phases of redesign and engineering has taken place.

The project is now in research and development stage towards the design and implementation of a real-time embedded control system. This component will enable this recommissoned machine (earthquake simulator) to interpret and output the performance and variable effects of globally monitored earthquakes by means of real-time remote data transmission.

From early times, human curiosity about the world has stimulated attempts to make recorded measurements of natural phenomena. InA major undertaking investigating the general principles of control, means of control, and their utilisation in engineering, seismology, and information database retrieval. The project will focus on the following three primary core components required to realise a "Seismonitor" control system;

1.Data Acquisition Of Globally Monitored Seismic Activity
Data acquisition of globally monitored seismic data is available from a publicly accessible database retrieval service available from the USGS National Earthquake Information Centre (NEIC), Golden, Colarado. Since 1973, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has provided up-to-date earthquake information to scientists, government agencies, universities, private companies, and the general public. The USGS has developed the capability to retrieve or accept seismic data automatically from national and global seismic stations and to provide rapid event locations, magnitudes, depths, and other characteristics. At present there are almost 3000 globally linked seismic monitoring stations. The NEIC presently locates and publishes information for approximately 20,000 events a year. The NEIC and its cooperators have located more than a quarter million earthquakes since 1973.


2.Embedded Control System Design And Implementation
The research, design and implementation of a custom real-time controller enabling the simulator to conceptually output the physical variables of globally monitored seismic data. This component will address and define user interface requirements, programming practices, documentation standards, open loop life cycle planning and testing procedures. It is an important aspect of the project that the research for design is thoroughly investigated before hardware installation and programming takes place. The testing of the embedded system will utilise the earthquake simulator as the actual test stand.

3.Experiments For Displacement, Velocity and Acceleration (DVA)
The simulator will undertake a series of experiments calculating the physical variables of Displacement, Velocity and Acceleration. The reason being a reference point has to be established so as a database can be compiled enabling for the simulator to output the corresponding matching input data obtained from the NEIC database retrieval centre. For instance if an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 on the Richter Scale is reported, an associate variable will determine the conceptual real-time actuation (run mode) of the simulator.

A methodical research process is required to realise this work. I am an artist, not a seismologist or computer systems engineer. To transcend the traditional domain of cultural representation I believe that artists must broaden their definitions of art material and contexts. This project will address my curiosity about scientific and technological research while acquiring the skills and knowledge that will allow my developing practice to significantly participate in our new world.

Historically this work in creating a "Seismonitor" control system could be seen to be directly influenced by the work and writings of Robert Smithson, and his theories of site and non-site. His notions describing new monumentalism being composed from artificial materials, plastic, chrome and electric light. Smithson, in his "Entropy and the New Monuments" described the area of spatio temporality in artistic practice, and now what material is more abundant, invasive and open than the era of data? Smithsons work deconstructed the Postmodern condition and its discussion of the waning of history, subjectivity, cultural mapping and the age of entropy.

Conceptually this work is seeking to explore theories of site and non-site. An investigation towards creating a machine control (automaton) arising from live representation (mirror) of a remote physical environment (earth). An installation based, system (telematic) artwork mapping the terrain of spatio temporality of shifting tectonics and digital information networks.

The work in designing and implementing a control for the earthquake simulator by enabling it to be automated by globally monitored seismic data is informed by the following theories;

1. A Redundant Body
Personal interaction with the simulator via remote viewing is not the intention of this work. The realm of this project is to explore the framework for creating an autonomous work of machine control with no supervisory intervention, while at the same time operating as an authentic system of representation.

2. Site and Non-Site
The simulator (artificial) is a non site referring back to the site (earthquake). If one were able to travel to the epicentre of an earthquake, one could recognise the material (energy) but would be unable to see the extraction that forms the non-site (simulator).

3. Mirror Of Representation
Employing the laws of increasing entropy the simulator will intend to invoke a reality, image, echo, an appearance of work, the machine, the system of industrial production in its entirety, while at the same time be seen as an earthwork radically in opposition with the principles of theatrical illusion.

There is current movement of thought that the new science of now is art, the definition of artistic practice is becoming increasingly blurred. Science has had to continually redefine its conception of the world. So has art. It is in their nature as disciplines to abstract the world and this work with an earthquake simulator, I hope in the future be seen in the international public domain, metaphorically speaking as a representation of our current social, economic and geophysical state. It is hopeful conclusive results will be achieved by mid to late 2001.

For more information DV Rogers can be contacted via e-mail at:

[email protected]

For current operating specifications of the Earthquake Simulator point your web browser visit:



Visit David Rogers' web site

Earthquake Simulator

Adam Donovan

Justine Cooper

Oron Catts & Ionat Zur