Here are a pair of Tesla coils playing Girl Talk's "This is the Remix." It is beautiful, and awesome. How does it work? I asked Ian Charnas, one of the brains behind the Open Spark Project, a group that paired musicians—and their original compositions—with the musical Tesla coils. Truly a match made in heaven.
It turns out, you can make music out of anything that makes noise, just by turning it on and off very rapidly.
If you record a noise of you tapping your fingers on your laptop keyboard, and then speed it up so you hear 440 taps per second, you'll hear A4, the A above middle C on the standard keyboard. Likewise with the tesla coils, we make a giant spark and then turn it on and off at the right audio frequency for the note we want to play.
This is accomplished by a series of circuits and microchips we designed, which convert a standard MIDI signal (coming from a MIDI keyboard or from the MIDI output on our laptop) to the fiber-optic signal that the tesla coil requires. Why fiber optic? Because we don't want a copper wire connecting our keyboardist to the thing that makes a million volts ;-)
Oh, and musicians, they're going to do another round of these videos sometime in the future. If you want a heads up the next time The Open Spark Project is looking for musical submissions, head over to their website and ask to "receive updates."
Thanks to Dr. Aaron for Submitterating!
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.