H 2 Opus

Video “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”

Video “In The Mood”

What kind of home project has 82 legs, horns, and will never have all of the "bugs" worked out of it? The answer is "H-2-Opus", a musical water fountain. It features a scene of insects surrounding a pond.

Water fountains are all nice, but I find that ones with computer-controlled leaping streams of water are especially interesting. A local amusement park has one with arches of water jumping between ponds, which started my fascination. Disneyland and Universal Studios go a few steps better. What finally convinced me to try one of my own is seeing the magnificent musical fountain at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. My fountain takes quite a different approach than this, but all of us who have an interest in computer-controlled motion should be mesmerized by the Bellagio’s ultimate display. 

Since Bellagio’s lake-sized fountain won’t fit in my garage (or budget), I made "H-2-Opus" to a scale that I can handle. It is controlled by midi and has 36 valves, 5 servos, 7 lights, 3 lasers, and a fog machine. The scene and the creatures are made from copper and brass, and the metals are polished, with patina, or enameled. From the floor of the pond arise 16 spouts in a big ellipse, and another spout comes from the very center.

Where many of the insects just squirt the water to music, there are several special features as well. A tiny bee sits on a flower, and when it becomes his turn to solo, he flies from his flower while playing his saxophone (squirting water) and maneuvering above the pond. Then a turtle on the other side squirts water at him before he lands back on the flower.

In the center is a hut with a saxophone-playing ladybug in it. The ladybug pivots back and forth as he plays. He "rocks out" as he blows his sax and kicks his leg to the music. Hidden inside the hut are two 10mm cubic-zirconia (CZ) which rotate, while two lasers hit the CZ’s from below. The laser beams are split into many beams. The lasers are taken out of laser pointers. A tiny fog machine fills the hut with fog, which makes the rotating beams of the lasers visible, and can also fill the pond with fog when desired. My whole desire for the fog machine was inspired by wanting to see the laser beams, but having a bunch of fog on the pond with the lights on it turned out to be a cool effect, and it seems that people really like this effect.

The ring of spouts in the pond also makes patterns of water with the music. The center spout has a servo-controlled pinch valve that can change the volume of water from this spout, and make it grow from low to high. There is a laser coming up through the stream of water in the center, which illuminates the water from inside the spout. There is also a spotlight at the base of the center spout that can illuminate the spout on the outside.

Set inside the front rim of the pond is five colored halogen spotlights. The center light has a servo-controlled color wheel, enabling this light to have 4 colors. The band conductor at the front also has a light inside his podium.

The music is played on a floppy disk midi player (Yamaha Midi Data Filer MDF-4), although for programming the display I used the midi output of a computer. By using a music sequencing program, the events can be clicked in with a mouse. A solenoid-valve’s activation can be dragged to an earlier or later time, or turned on for a different duration of time. Then I can watch it perform to a section of the music, and change the performance to suit the mood of each portion of the musical piece.

When a piece of music is choreographed with everything performing to the music, then the midi file is saved and added to a floppy. When the fountain performs, the midi player plays one tune after another from the floppy.

Fifteen channels of the midi are actually music, but the 16th channel is what controls the fountain. Each "note" turns something on, or starts a servomotor routine. There are 84 notes worth of events in controlling everything. Some of the notes perform multiple functions together.

The fountain now resides in our office waiting room, and is a big hit. People come to my office just to visit my creations. The music is mostly big band music, with up-tempo beats, horn fills, and multiple parts. This makes for a lot of action with the water. There are six tunes in it now, including such tunes as "In the Mood", "Peter Gunn", and "Don’t Get Around Much Anymore". This kind of project is very fun to work on, and it is amusing to scheme up the different performing events.

This is taken from an article I wrote for Nuts and Volts Magazine, and it appeared as the cover story in the June, 2003 issue. It is reprinted by permission of T & L Publications, Inc.