ArcAttack brings singing Tesla coils to the masses

The group has mixed the singing Tesla coils they've had for some time with a PVC pipe organ, a robotic drum set, and original music.

Daniel Terdiman
April 17, 2008 4:34 p.m. PT
2 min read

ArcAttack's performances include two singing Tesla coils, a robotic drum set and a PVC pipe organ.

When you think of things related to science, music may not make the top of your list.

But the folks involved with a small collective called ArcAttack would like you to change your associations.

ArcAttack is all about one thing: building and crafting entire musical performances around them. For some time, at events like Dorkbot and other geekfests, the team--Joe DiPrima, Oliver Greaves, and Tony Smith--had been pulling off straightforward demonstrations of their creations. But they were synchronizing the machines to other people's music and not adding much in the way of their own innovations besides the singing Tesla coils themselves.

Now, however, ArcAttack has a whole ensemble mixing science and music and plastic--the Tesla coils, a pipe organ made from PVC, a robotic drumset--and putting it all together in short concerts with original music.

"We've got a solid 45 minutes or so of original content," DiPrima, an engineer at the University of Texas, told me recently, "and sometimes we'll incorporate themes from popular songs or do mixups with video game music.

When you see the singing Tesla coils, it takes a minute to really understand what you're watching. At first, you don't hear the tunes in the crackling of the electricity. But after a few moments, you realize what you're hearing and it's startling--especially if you have any experience with Tesla coils--to see these scientific wonders spitting out little bits of lightning with a beat.

"I've always loved music--playing it, and electronics too," DiPrima said. "I've been in a lot of bands, along with the other guys in the group, and this is probably the most fun we've had out of any other project we've been in. The way people respond to the coils playing real music with other instruments involved is amazing. People love it."

In particular, DiPrima suggested, ArcAttack's performances give their audiences--both in person and on the Web--a sense that music and science can indeed blend in a way that teaches something.
For many people, music is not the first thing they would associate with a Tesla coil, but ArcAttack has managed to build entire performances around its singing versions of the geek-favorite machines. ArcAttack

"It's...a great way to get people interested in the science behind it," he said, "to present a Tesla coil, not just (as) an 'air core resonant transformer,' but (as) an effective tool for high intensity music."

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