I witnessed a curious spectacle over the weekend. Lightning that sings. Or more appropriately stated: LIGHTNING!!! THAT SINGS!!!!
It was orchestrated by Arc Attack, a rock band of engineers and physicists whose lead instrument is two towering Tesla coils, generating million volt sparks of electricity. They’ve worked it out so the sound of those sparks can make music. This is tough to imagine, so let’s see the video footage. Here’s a clip of the concert captured by photographer Doug Springer…
(Watch the video on Youtube – I think I’m one of the blurry faces standing behind the stage)
I want to emphasize that what you’re seeing here is not just a “light show” to go with the music. The sparks themselves are creating the melody, creating sounds similar to a vintage synthesizer. I got awful curious as to how this whole thing worked, since I’ve yet to hear any TV theme songs naturally emanate from a lighting storm.
The basic concept is that any noise has the potential to become musical notes if it can be controlled. If you could tap your pen on your desk at a rate of 440 taps per second, you’d hear a pitch-perfect concert A note. The faster you tap, the higher pitch you’d hear. Same as a kitchen blender making a higher-pitched noise the faster you purée your smoothie.
In the case of the Singing Tesla Coil, the tone is generated by flipping the power on and off at the proper frequency. So to produce that concert A, the lighting bolt you see is actually 440 tiny lighting bolts per second. Each individual spark makes a single thunder clap, and at high frequencies the little claps blend together into beautiful music. Combine that with a robotic drummer and a couple guitarists and it makes for an entertaining show!
So… what’s the story on those kids that are getting zapped in the video? Isn’t that a tad bit dangerous?
Surprisingly, not at all! They are inside a cage wrapped in metal mesh. This technologically simple construction is called a Faraday Cage and will not let any sort of static or electromagnetic field pass to the interior of the cage. Not only will they not get touched by the million volt sparks passing inches away from their face… but they also can’t receive any call on their mobile phones. No signal will get in.
I do, however, feel obligated to point out that being near a large Tesla Coil without such protection is most certainly a threat to your life. Interesting to note, in certain cases ultra-high voltage electricity can cause damage to your body without you even feeling pain!