Chime Red - making music with Tesla coils
The School of Engineering and Computer Science staff and students are creating unique musical performances involving a trio of Tesla coils.
Tesla coils, invented by Serbian-American Nickola Tesla in the 1890s, produce high voltage electricity and have inspired many kinds of research and musical performances.
The coils can play a range of original compositions written by PhD students from Victoria’s Sonic Arts Engineering programme, along with a few covers.
The control software that drives the coils’ has been developed by Josh Bailey, a software engineer, who also owns two of the Tesla coils used for the performance. The name of the performance—Chime Red
—comes from the control system used to transmit the software to the coils, which was built by Mr Bailey and Victoria Masters graduate and staff member James McVay.
While music has been made with Tesla coils before, Mr Bailey’s software has taken things to the next level, with up to 16 notes able to be played simultaneously.
“As far as we know, there is no other system quite like this,” says Mr McVay. “Previously, the maximum number of notes that could be created was seven. Josh has more than doubled that.”
The whole performance is run from computers and, although songs can be played live, the compositions which make up Chime Red
is programmed ahead of time. Computers, running standard music software, are connected to each Chime Red
controlling a coil, which precisely controls the timing of arcs to achieve the desired notes.
“The faster you fire the coil, the higher the frequency you get. It’s hard to explain the sound. It’s very electronic, it doesn’t sound like any instrument I can think of,” says Mr McVay.
Along with an arc of electricity, Tesla coils also produce radio frequencies that can interfere with electronics. Each coil will have a cage on top of it to substantially reduce these frequencies but Mr McVay says other precautions will also be taken.
Radio New Zealand interviews James McVay, Jim Murphy and Jason Long: