The singing tesla coils of SXSW

AUSTIN, Texas--If you happened to be here for the South by Southwest edition of Dorkbot, the gatherings of artists and engineers in various cities that work with electronic art, I sure hope you saw the singing tesla coils.

I was in Brush Square Park for the Dorkbot meet-up Saturday evening, and the duo of singing coils were one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time.

I already love tesla coils--disruptive discharge transformer coils that shoot out bolts of electricity. But this took the concept to a whole new level: small, side-by-side versions of the electricity-spewing devices working in tandem, producing music.

Was it real music? Well, I suppose that the definition of "music" is open to interpretation, but in this case I say it was. There was a beat and a rhythm, and before I knew it, I found myself doing a little head bob to...the singing tesla coils.

So, I asked the coils' creators, Oliver Greaves and Joe DiPrima of The Geek Group, about the wondrous duo they said it took a year to build.

"We figured out we could do it when we started playing with solid state tesla coils," said DiPrima, adding it wouldn't have been possible without help from mentor Steve Ward. "We were the first group to document it."

I asked him to explain the concept to me, in layman's terms, as I was a little afraid of a lengthy explanation involving different kinds of waves and spectrometers and things I would never understand or be able to pass on to my readers.

DiPrima was very patient.

"We're using a computer to modulate the tesla coils," he said. "They're digitally controlled. We built (what we call the) 'Disruptor,' which takes music and turns it into digital pulses."

I asked him how much it would cost to build a version of their invention, and he said that it would cost only about $100, though his group had spent several thousand dollars on research and development.

He also said he wouldn't be proprietary about the design.

"I figure, if someone is smart enough to understand how it works," DiPrima told me, "then I'm willing to share the information."

Now, The Geek Group is working on a larger version of the singing tesla coils. The current version shoots out electrical pulses about a foot long. But in a future version, the bolts will be around six or eight feet long.

I can't wait to see it.

 

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