What is it?

You can buy “self-blinking” LEDs which have tiny brains embedded inside: just power them up, and they try their best to blink 1.5 times per second. But they’re not perfectly precise: one might be ever-so-slightly faster than the next.

“Sync/Desync MARL-3” contains three “nodes” which each contain a different variety of self-controlled LEDs:

  • Self-blinking amber LEDs, which flash on and off. (Most of them start at full brightness.)
  • A mixture of red/blue and red/green flashing LEDs, which each alternate between their two colors. (They all start on red.)
  • “Candle flash” LEDs which do their best to imitate a candle flame.

Each of its nodes is a vintage, used MARL alert beacon (part no. 53496 or similar) with a custom, artist-designed circuit board inserted. The color node additionally contains a styrene diffuser.

The lights have no way of communicating. Each just slowly changes on its own, at its own pace; the structures and sequences we perceive are artifacts created by our pattern-sensing minds.

They are connected with twisted, reproduction cloth-jacketed wire which provides power to the LEDs. Additionally, “Sync/Desync MARL-3” is provided with a pushbutton power control which can be used to turn the artwork on and off—resetting the synchronization of the lights on demand.

The artwork is bright enough to be seen in typical indoor daylight illumination, and comparable to a bright nightlight in darkness.

To my mind, a lot of modern life boils down to finding patterns: matching things together, making theories that fit the data. Yes or no, us versus them. This was a useful talent for hunter-gatherers: seeing a pattern in the underbrush could mean the difference between eating or starving. But today I suspect that we detect less helpful patterns. We find signals in the noise, whether it’s there or not; Skinner’s pigeons, hopping one-footed.

What, where, when


Care and Feeding







    Flashing lights

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