The Lightning Organ
Musical sound from pure energy.
The Lightning Organ is a musical sculpture that produces sound by governing the audible pitches of visible electric sparks. Conventionally, electronic musical instruments employ loudspeakers to convert electrical audio signals into acoustic sounds. A loudspeaker uses electricity to push and pull a speaker-cone which in turn imparts vibrations into the air. In contrast, The Lightning Organ impels sound directly into the air by emitting "tuned" electricity unmediated by any mechanism. The resulting bolt of energy produces an audible sound whose pitch - or musical note - is controlled using a familiar piano keyboard. Participants can play melodies made of pure energy.
The Lightning Organ serves to mend the disconnect between the energetic force we use to power our modern devices and the eventual outcome of the work they do. The piece exploits electrical energy not only to traverse the serpentines of circuitry used to synthesize and amplify sound, but also employs electricity as the actual product, in its true form, as blazing energy. The Lightning Organ releases the fruits of its labor into thin air, where we can see, hear and virtually feel the musical plasma during its bright passage across the spark gap.
Each spark is formed between two copper rods arranged in a "V" shape. For the duration of a musical note the spark travels upwards from the bottom of the "V," getting gradually wider until it disappears and reforms at the base again. This motion introduces subtle rhythmic patterns into any music that is being played. The piece can be configured to combine simultaneous notes into the same spark where together, they produce rich distorted sounds due to their complex interactions. Other configurations allow multiple pitches (chords) to be produced clearly by routing each note to its own spark gap. This creates a pleasing spatial effect as the harmonies are discharged from different positions around the keyboard.
The Lightning Organ affords players the novel opportunity of wielding great quantities of pure energy through familiar and simple musical gestures. Rarely are we able to compel such wild forces as lightning to exhibit the graceful nuance of harmonic melody.