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an interview with Markus Kayser…


Sweat and Sahara sand had forced my eyes closed so that, even as I stood in front of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, I saw nothing. My eyelids were a back-lit sandy-orange in the sun’s glare. I pried them open and squinted up at the shapes the pharaohs and their slaves had conjured out of the desert 4500 years ago. The Great Pyramid of Cheops towered over the camels and tour buses on the outskirts of Cairo.  It was a sight I will never forget and yet in the beginning I saw nothing.

Visitors often see the desert in this way, as an endless stretch of sun and sand and nothing.  But when German-born 3D Designer Markus Kayser first set his eyes upon the Egyptian desert, he saw possibilities. He imagined harnessing the resources which existed in great abundance here, sunlight and sand. And here he talks with Green Prophet about his 3D printer that runs on sun and sand.

Markus Kayser didn’t need tens of thousands of slaves to conjure something out of the desert. He used his own ingenuity to design and build a machine called a Solar Sinter. This machine uses photovoltaic panels to power a computer and the electromechanical workings of a 3D printer.

The print head holds a lens which concentrates sunlight from a larger Fresnel lens onto a tray of sand. This focused beam reaches temperatures of over 1400°C which sinters (melts) the sand to form a glass or ceramic object. The idea isn’t entirely new.  In the June, 1933 issue of Modern Mechanix, W.W. Beach envisioned giant lenses burning roads and canals into the desert.  Markus Kayser took the first steps towards making this dream possible.
Markus earned a BA in 3D Design from London Metropolitan University and a MA in Design Products at the Royal College of Art in London. He is busy with the next phase of his project but he was kind enough to allow me to interview him for Green Prophet.

Green Prophet: What changes would you like to see in the way products are manufactured and consumed?

Markus Kayser: The Solar Sinter project is all about a potential which questions current manufacturing in a positive way.  I would like to see changes in the way energy is used which in this case means to use the immense power of the sun in a more direct way than just the conversion to electricity.  I think there is a basic logic, which is that sunlight is ‘powering’ this earth as a whole and that this energy can also be used to produce the products or even buildings.

GP: Given your imagination, sunlight, sand and enough financial resources– how would you improve the environment in the Mideast?

MK: I would try to develop the material to be able to replace concrete as a building material.  I would concentrate on architecture and water distribution as well as sanitary products.

GP: Note that the production of concrete releases large amounts of CO2, consumes fossil fuels and requires large amounts of water. Solar sintered sand does not. Do you ever see a mass-produced product and say to yourself, “I could make that out of sand and sunlight?“

MK: I think there are plenty of glass and ceramic objects which could be produced with the Solar Sinter. Of course, the Solar Sinter as it is now is not developed into a manufacturing process but is a prototype for industry to get inspired to look in that direction. I also see a great potential in architecture and infrastructure (sanitary, water canals) for the process.

GP: Your project shows potential for desert manufacturing and architecture.  Can it scale or should it always remain a small scale project for producing unique art?

MK: Yes I think it can be scaled given enough funds to experiment on a large scale. I think it has already moved out of the ‘unique art’ context even though that’s what it is producing today.  I hope that it influence on industry will show in the future.  At the moment I’m sponsored by a big ceramic manufacturer (KOHLER) who are interested and supportive of the process as they see its potential for the future manufacturing.  I think that’s a small start in involving industry to really start thinking in this direction.

GP: What were the practical problems you encountered? Was it difficult to find the right kind of sand? Was it difficult to keep the sand from clogging the machine?

MK:  The problem with the first Solar Sinter was that there was very little time to experiment in the desert – only about two weeks.  So to get it working in that timescale was a challenge, which thankfully just worked out. Heat is of course one of the biggest problems with electronics involved.  Finding the right sand was not an issue as desert sand in Egypt and Morocco worked without previous tests.  I have build the machine fairly robust but lightweight for traveling and the mechanics are designed slightly oversized so that the sand cannot do any damage.

GP: How will 3D printing change the relationship between consumers, manufacturers and the environment?

MK: 3D printing is moving in two directions – desktop DIY printers and prints on demand for so called ‘mass-customization’ of products.  I think both will have a great impact in how products are consumed as well as on manufacturing. If for instance I can modify the product to my personal needs before I buy it, it might have an impact on the way I feel about the product, its usability and I might think twice before throwing it away as I was part of its ‘creation’.  This again could lead to less consumption.  Also the way in which DIY 3D printers are looking at recycling the printed products, reusing the once printed but now unwanted products to make new ones at home.

GP: How will 3D printing change architecture?

MK: In a way architecture has changed already through 3D printing as models of buildings are churned out by the hour in large architectural practices. This means a building can be analyzed very quickly.  3D printed full scale architecture is just emerging with works by Fosters+Partners and Enrico Dini (among others) and it could bring about more ‘intelligent’ materials, which include walls with cavities for all wiring etc. as well as materials with insulating thermal properties with possibly ever changing qualities copied from natural processes. (see Neri Oxman, MIT)

GP: What will you do next?

MK: At the moment I’m working on a new improved prototype as the first Solar Sinter is on exhibition tour.  I will be traveling to the desert again in March to produce new work with the Solar Sinter.

Many thanks to Markus Kayser for helping us see the resources of the desert with new eyes. 

Photos by Amos Field.

(GREEN PROPHET  2.20.12)


an interview with monster of rock — Timo..!


This Thursday, Spacehog fans fortunate enough to be at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall, will not only be amongst the first to hear live performances of tunes from the upcoming new album, but they will also be there for the debut of Spacehog’s new guitarist Timo Ellis. “Wait, what???,” you might be saying. That’s okay. Take a minute, I’ll wait.

Yessssss, you did read that correctly. There is a new album, As It Is On Earth, due out this May, and joining Royston, Jonny, and Rich, is The Netherlands’ Timo Ellis, who has stepped in on guitar and vocals for Antony, as Antony pursues fame and fortune in film on the west coast.

For those who may be wondering about this fresh face in the band, Timo was kind enough to allow me an interview.

Charlotte: Jonny Cragg once mentioned jamming with you and Sean Lennon back in the summer of 1994. Was this when you first met? What was your impression of the Spacehog guys at that time?

Timo: ..I just remember initially thinking that they were sweet and totally hilarious (and then not too much later that they were making a really great record!!)

C: On your website you list yourself as performer, producer, tv/film composer, arranger, drummer, guitarist, bassist, singer, songwriter, ukulele-r, programmer, visual artist, and graphic designer from New York City, and on your Facebook band page under genre you list that you do it all. Is it fair to ask if there is an instrument, a role in the music world, and/or a specific type of genre that you like best or is that too much like asking a parent which kid they like best?

T: I’m a drummer first but I’ve been playing guitar and bass for almost as long..in recent years I’ve done a lot more composing/ recording/ producing stuff as distinct from really becoming more virtuosic on any one instrument…+ “genre-wise” on a professional level it would probably help me if I really aesthetically refined/ simplified my “brand”, so to speak, but well, I don’t really feel like doing that, frankly!

C: Bands that you are currently in are The Netherlands, Miho Hatori, Cibo Matto, and of course Spacehog. How do you balance your time between various bands and any other projects that you may have in the works?

T: I work at least 12 hours a day, every day IE I don’t have a lot of “balance”. C’est la vie tho, ya know?

C: Thursday, February 16th, you play with both Spacehog and The Netherlands. Is that as exhausting as it sounds?

T: Not in the slightest! It’s gonna be wicked!!!

C: Is it true that you’ve released over 25 EP’s and Albums, including your first solo EP, The Enchanted Forest of Timo Ellis in 2001? What is it that inspires you?

T: I wouldn’t say I’m inspired really; obsessed is more like it

C: How long have you been working with Spacehog? You may be considered by fans to be “the new guy” but in eyeballing your accomplishments, your projects, and collaborations, some with names that have also been associated with other members of Spacehog, is “the new guy” an unfair or inaccurate assessment of your relationship with Spacehog?

T: I’ve only been playing with these guys this year..+ I am the “new guy” so I don’t mind being called that (+ doesn’t it connote being young, or “fresh” or something?)

C: After waiting over ten years, long time Spacehog fans finally got the news they wanted to hear last month, that the 4th album is to be released this spring. The website was revamped and a brand new Spacehog tune and video was premiered. Then holy moley, there was a bit of a shock, as fans realized that Antony Langdon was not in this line up. As Ant’s presence in the band has always been a strong one, there may be some fans who find the idea of someone, anyone, stepping in on guitar and vocals for him to be a bit disconcerting. Does knowing this affect you going on stage, particularly for the upcoming shows, where some fans may still not be aware of the change?

T: yeah…I’m not even caught up in any of that; hopefully people won’t be put off by it fer very long, if at all

C: You provide lead vocals in some of your other projects, will you share in the lead vocal duties with Roy for Spacehog? If so, would this be for some of the new songs, their old songs, or both?

T: yes, both! ..mad fun, it is!

C: The list of other musicians that you’ve collaborated with is quite extensive. So a fun question…. with no limits what so ever, even if a time machine were required, who or what band would you love to perform with?

T: Spacehog in 1996 (+ I was skinnier back then…)

C: What are your interests aside from music?

T: ..the arts!!! food, film, design, politics, history, philosophy…ya know, the humanities/ the usual left-wing stuff

Here’s sending huge amounts of gratitude to Timo for taking time out of his insanely busy schedule to answer my nosy questions! And for those reading this, quick, quick… turn up the volume and click the links below to hear and see the talented Mr. Ellis’s other projects…






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