Echoing the Newcastle of yesteryear with Pi-powered whistles

Artist Steve Messam is celebrating the North of England’s historic role in railway innovation with 16 Raspberry Pi–controlled steam engine whistles around the city of Newcastle.

Steve Messam Raspberry Pi Whistle The Great Exhibition of the North

The Great Exhibition of the North

The Great Exhibition of the North is a summer-long celebration of the pioneering spirit of the North of England. Running over 80 days, the event will feature live performances, exhibitions, artworks, and displays of innovation from 22 June – 9 September 2018.

As part of the celebration, artist Steve Messam is introducing his Whistle project in Newcastle in honour of the North’s part in the innovation of the railway. “Listen out for the evocative sound of steam engine whistles once again echoing across the city of Newcastle,” states the project page of The Great Exhibition of the North. “The sound installation is designed to recall the role of the North in engineering and the invention of the railway, sparking memories and forging links between past and present.”

Whistle

Steve first developed the idea for Whistle as a pitch to the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park back in 2014. He originally wanted to install a line of whistles along the 22-mile course of the old railway line between Callander and Glen Dochart, with whistles sounding off in one-second intervals, recreating the sound of the old line.

Below is a very nice roundup of the initial 2-mile test run, including the original whistle designs.

Steve Messam | Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park

The Artistic Reflections publication will be available from June 2017 For more information, or to order a copy, please contact: [email protected] Designed by Marco Scerri, edited by Susan Christie and supported by Creative Scotland Steve Messam Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park 186,340 hectares Project website: www.mistandmountains.wordpress.com Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park was designated in 2002 and covers 720 square miles of outstanding landscape adjacent to the central belt of Scotland.

Fast forward to 2018 and The Great Exhibition of the North, where Steve is surrounding the city of Newcastle with 16 newly casted brass whistles. The new installation follows the old city wall of Newcastle, with each whistle sounding at exactly 1pm on every day of the exhibition.

Steve Messam Raspberry Pi Whistle The Great Exhibition of the North

Original plans for the whistle

The William Lane Foundry cast the 16 whistles to match a design by William Armstrong based on measurements of an original whistle held by the North East Locomotive Preservation Group. The Newcastle-based software house Nebula Labs created all the control systems.

Steve Messam Raspberry Pi Whistle The Great Exhibition of the North

Whistle casting at the William Lane Foundry

Each whistle is equipped with a Raspberry Pi that controls the release of compressed air through the brass to replicate the sound of a steam whistle.

Steve Messam on Twitter

Another roof, another day of testing #whistle for #getnorth2018 https://t.co/j5Yszx1Crl

Each unit is powered by solar panels and registers the time from the National Physical Laboratory’s atomic clock in London to ensure accurate timings. As a fallback in case of WiFi issues, the whistles are also linked to the clock set on the Raspberry Pi itself.

Steve Messam on Twitter

The more I think about it the more I really like that ‘Whistle’ only really exists for about 20 seconds each day.

For more information on Whistle, check out this wonderful article by the Teesdale Mercury. You can also find out more about Steve Messam projects, such as his paper bridge that can support the weight of a Land Rover, on his website or by following his Twitter account.

Steve Messam Raspberry Pi Whistle The Great Exhibition of the North

A Whistle-stop tour of Newcastle

And if you’re in Newcastle while The Great Exhibition of the North is running and you spot one of the 16 whistles, be sure to tag us in your pics and videos on social media so we can see it in action.