Technology + design + art

Wave/Echo: The Gesture of a Wave, in Code

Wave/Echo, Santa Monica, Catherine Wagner

Photography by Phillip Bond. © Phillip Bond.


Wave/Echo is a public art project by artist Catherine Wagner sited at a new residential development in Santa Monica, California called Ocean Avenue South. The piece is located on the underside of a pedestrian bridge that spans the entrance to the development. Wave patterns represent, in real time, the state of wave activity as reported by NOAA buoys in nearby Santa Monica Bay, as well as the movement of pedestrians transiting the area beneath the bridge.

The central part of the application is the real-time wave simulator. Thermal imaging from a network camera detects the presence of motion and affects fluid density and displacement within the simulation. Buoy data drives the oscillation amplitude, frequency, and direction of waves. And a sunrise/sunset algorithm determines the timing of brightness and color adjustments throughout the day.


I worked with Catherine Wagner from the inception to the delivery of Wave/Echo—starting with, "It should be the gesture of a wave." Building on that idea, I prototyped potential solutions until we reached a clear direction. I built it, installed it, and now I maintain it. Much of the work though was figuring out what was possible, and then convincing stakeholders that the possibilities outweighed the risks. During installation, the site was still under heavy construction. When I switched it on for the first time, I knew we had realized those possibilities—a large group of construction workers immediately gathered underneath to dance and laugh.  

Conservation and protection of investment

Wave Echo is a reference application for electronic art pieces that must feature high-availability, ease of maintenance, and simple integration with common operational tools often found in traditional IT departments. This application can be monitored like any other system within an IT organization’s application portfolio. The conservation plan ensures long-term preservation through a policy of constant change and upgrades, thus protecting the developer's and residents' investment.

current development

The entire system is being rewritten as a native macOS application for installation in 2017. This allows for the migration to OpenCV 3 and a move away from Java and Aparapi. There will be some minor hardware upgrades, an OS upgrade, and some improvements to operational tool integration.


  • Catherine Wagner, artist
  • Michael Thompson, creative technology consultant
  • John BakerCarlson Arts LLC, construction project management and fabrication
  • Chris Falliers, architect
  • Related Companies, real-estate developer


Java SE7 on OS X Server, PApplet (Processing core), IntelliJ IDEA, Aparapi, OpenCL, OpenCV, Axis thermal network camera, NOAA National Data Buoy Center stations ICAC1 and 46221, Control P5, Datadog, Slack, Apple Remote Desktop.