The headliner at the Temple of Tesla concert this weekend isn’t an energetic pop star or hardcore rock band. It's a pair of 13-feet-high coils pulsing about 20 kilowatts of electrical currents to produce its own versions of tunes such as Girl Talk’s “This is the Remix.”
These coils and their mastermind, Ian Charnas, constitute the Tesla Orchestra. “We make musical lighting bolts,” says Charnas, the orchestra's project manager.
Saturday’s show at the Masonic Performing Arts Center will feature the coils pumping out music from the recent Open Spark Project and the orchestra’s 2010 world tour. Attendees can watch Charnas don a chainmail suit and dance with the 10-feet-long sparks. Daring audience members will be invited to sit inside a steel cage as lighting strikes around it. The Chicago-based Blue Ribbon Glee Club will open the show with a capella covers of punk rock songs.
Charnas, a 2005 Case Western Reserve University graduate, thought up the orchestra while watching a similar performance in Austin, Texas in 2007. “I thought, ‘That looks like fun. I want to do that,’” he says. He wanted to add theatrics and make it into a “sci-fi rock” performance.
Three years and $10,000 later, Charnas built twin Tesla coils with the help of CWRU students, graduates, faculty and staff. Building the coils was a “slow and painful” process, he admits, but it paid off when he could finally produce music by sending a signal through the coils to turn the sparks on and off. “Any noise that you can turn on and off, you can turn it into music,” he says.