Amusement Value [Oct 2010]

amusement arcade token, camera iris mechanism part, two lenses, aluminium ring, text from a book, brass tubing, dot matrix printer part, marcasite, synthetic ruby watch jewel

Earlier this year, I travelled with a friend to Vietnam.  While over there, we met up with another friend, Robert Henke, who was in Hanoi for the debut of his latest sound work, Intersection. Before we left Vietnam, Robert gave me a coin he had found on the road there, and asked me if I could make something for him from it.  It had been run over by half a million scooters, but close inspection revealed it to be an amusement arcade token.  We decided to do an artist's trade - I would make him a piece from the coin, and he would make me a piece of music.

At first, I really had no idea what to do with it.  It took quite a while staring at it before I decided to lightly sand the surfaces, which brought out some of the brass base metal and a nice pattern.  I still didnt have much idea, but after a few months of it floating around my desk I came across the guide mechanism for a camera lens iris and things started coming together.

I machined out the inside of the mechanism, to give me as much room as possible, and found a lens that could be made to fit.  the coin went in behind that, and a very thin aluminium ring was machined to hold the coin centred. I also sanded the front lightly to expose a bit of the brass of the case through the black oxide coating.

Robert is a musician and sound artist, but with a scientific/engineering mind
also, so I found some text in the back of an old engineering textbook that gave the speed of sound in air. It is invisible when you look at the piece front on, but if you look from an angle, it becomes visible.

This was set into a channel I machined into the inside of the case.

Around this time, I found an old dot matrix printer and the print head had some wonderful pieces in it. One of these looked fantastic in front of the coin, but didnt quite look right when I cut it down to fit inside the case. A dilemma. scrap the case idea and start again? No. So instead I decided to make the piece double sided, with the printer part and the back side of the coin visible through another lens on the back.

At this point, I was pretty happy with it. Unfortunately, I couldnt find the right part to use as a hanger. I had shown Robert, and he decided he would find a nice antique chain for it in Berlin. I needed a hanging point that would accomodate a chain. Months passed and I spent ages sifting through all my small parts looking for something. Nothing turned up. I tried modifiying some parts that might have worked, but wasn't 100% happy with the results. In the end, the answer came while i was staring at a short length of brass tube that came out of a camera lens.

I cut a section from the tube, ground a reverse curve into one side that matched the curve of the iris mechanism, drilled a small hole and machined a flat section into the inside of the tube to act as a land for the tiny stainless steel bolt I would use to hold it to the piece. I drilled a larger hole in the top to allow me to tighten the bolt. I decided to add a couple of extra large holes to lighten the look a little. The section of tube then got roughened up a little, then left in an ammonium bath to age it to match the look of the rest of the piece.

Finally, a few extra details were added. first, six pyramid-cut marcasite pieces left over from another work, fit nicely with the dot matrix print head part. This part also had a very small hole in it, and I found a tiny synthetic ruby watch jewel that fit perfectly in it.

I think this has turned out to be one of my favourite pieces yet.

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