The Meterbox Series

The "Meterbox" series is an exploration into the narrative potential of electronic circuitry. In each case, custom circuitry was designed to enact a mythological story or mimic an emotional trajectory. The meters on the front of each piece provide a window to the operation of the circuitry within. The cases tend to be constructed in nostalgic/retrotypical styles. This approach is intended to make the pieces endearing and to suggest that perhaps we have lost something along the path to contemporary technology. The cases also act as small shrines which imply value on the part of their contents. (...continued below)

Evolution of Desire

Walnut veneer, meter, custom circuitry.

The indicator goes quickly off the scale in the "passion" direction and then over time diminishes.



We live, as we dream - alone.

Cherry veneer case, meter, custom circuitry.

The meter exhibits an REM-like motion which suggests dreaming. The circuitry carries out its operation in blind, solitary isolation - the meter on the surface, like rapid eye movement, the only evidence of the life within.

(10½"x7½"x3½") 12/1998

Pas de Deux

Maple burl and birch with inlay, meters, custom circuitry.

(22"x8¾"x3½") 10/1998

No Man Knows the Day or the Hour

5 meters, 5 separate driver circuits, 5 D-cell batteries, walnut veneer case.

Independent of one another, the five needles sway gently back and forth, steadily metering out the life in their respective batteries.

(9"x21"x3") 10/1993


Meter with limit switches, discrete flip-flop circuit, quarter matched mahogany case.

In this piece, the circuitry (and of course the meter - acting as a window into the behavior of the circuitry) acts out the myth of Sisyphus. As soon as one side of the discrete flip-flop circuit charges up, the other side discharges it and forces the process to repeat.

(12½"x13½"x3½") 3/1999


A Clockwork Daisy II

Maple burl and birch with inlay, meter, custom circuitry.
The meter follows a repetitive motion, oscillating between “loves me” and “loves me not”.

(21"x8¾”x3½”) 3/1999

Any sound, listened to long enough, becomes a voice.

Maple burl and birch with inlay, white noise generator, Morse code generator.

(16½"x4"x7") 8/2000

About the Meters

A fundamental objective of mine has been to explore the use of electrical technology as an aesthetic medium. As an adjunct to this, I became interested in the expressive potential of a common icon of modern technology, the meter. In this ongoing series of “meterboxes” I design circuitry to generate particular meter motions, each appropriate to the theme of an individual piece.

In this series, the behavior of the electronics was initially intended to be narrative, and the meter a revelatory window into the analogy between theme and device. Interestingly however, when the boxes were placed in a gallery, I often found that people expected the meters to be literally measuring some physical quantity. To me the pieces were very didactic, very traditional. There were no sensors involved. They hung on the wall and expounded, oblivious to their surroundings.

It became clear that the meter was a much more abstract object to me than to most viewers. I see it as a one dimensional information channel and I’m interested in the expressive potential of this limited, ostensibly sterile, mechanism. My point was that they could tell you something more than voltage and yet people kept asking “what are the meters measuring?” I saw people dancing in front of and yelling at the art to see if it knew they were there! Which is interesting because no one expects a painting to react to them. I rarely even see people fanning or blowing on Calder’s mobiles, but people expect electrical technology to be “interactive”, which makes me think that on some level, we consider electrical devices to be more a part of us than most objects.

In light of the above, I’ve begun modifying my approach to position the meter as a more abstract symbol. I’ve started removing the scales on the meters and sometimes adding text. To satisfy the desire to interact, I’ve added controls to let the viewers modify the behavior. The meter is a powerful icon. It is trying to tell us something, people are drawn to it just as to a face, and there is something primal about a message reduced and abstracted to the motion of a single line.

Chris Vecchio
Christopher Vecchio

steam punk, steampunk, contemporary art, electronic art, new media, kinetic art, installation art, engineering, chris vecchio, the new craft tradition, steampunk, steam punk