Hannah McDougall talks with musician Josh Bailey and curator Dugal McKinnon from ‘Pyramider’ about their performance in the New Media New Music concert, which uses electric arcs from a Tesla coil to create music.


Who is involved and how did this group form?

JB: I work with Tesla coils as a hobby with a friend Patrick Herd. I thought it might be fun to meet with the school of design and see if we could come up with a performance. This led to a performance with Jack Hooker from NZ School of Music last year (PYRAMIDER). We all thought it would be fun to keep going, which lead to this performance. We all wanted to do something more than play Mario Brothers’ video tunes!

DM: There will be a number of electronic musicians/sound artists contributing to this iteration of Pyramider, all of whom are Wellington-based and have a connection (past or present) to the Sonic Arts program at the New Zealand School of Music. These people are: Mo Zareei, Jim Murphy, Bridget Johnson, Jason Post, Jason Erskine, Brooke Mitchell, and Blake Johnston.

Can you describe some of the technical aspects? What is involved in the process of making the sounds?

JB: The coil generates sound by heating air very rapidly with a hot electrical arc. We can control the amount of energy going into the arc fairly precisely and quickly. By doing this many times a second, at a rate proportional to the musical note or notes we want, we can produce music. There are quite a few technical challenges – the coil can’t run continuously at high frequencies without overheating, and certain notes, or combinations of notes, must be carefully controlled by a computer to avoid damaging the system.

DM: All the musicians involved are deeply engaged in developing new tools, in both hardware and software, for sound-based art and music. This project is an opportunity for them to bring their unique approaches into dialogue with Josh’s tesla coils, which are fairly rare instruments in themselves! The technical basis for the collaboration between Josh and the musicians is a new interface being developed by Blake Johnston, which allows more subtle and fine-grained control over the Tesla than has previously been possible.

What are your ambitions for the Arcade performance and what do you hope to achieve?

DM: To showcase the musical inventiveness and technological creativity of the artists contributing to the Pyramider event, and to give Wellingtonians an electrifying earful of what may well be the world’s most advanced tesla coil instrument!

JB: We all hope to see some unique research results from this project, and personally I would be very pleased if others are able to build on the software and hardware and continue to develop novel uses for the coil and put NZ squarely ahead in this area.

Pyramider performs on Friday 15th Feb in the New Media New Music concert in The Performance Arcade on Wellington’s waterfront. 7pm $10.00 admission, door sales only.



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