Gregory Shakar: The Lightning Organ

  • ©, Gregory Shakar, The Lightning Organ

Artist Statement:

    The Lightning Organ serves to heal the abstraction between the energetic force we use to power our devices, our tools, our art and the eventual result of the work that this energy does on our behalf. The piece employs electrical energy not only to traverse the dizzying serpentines of circuitry necessary to artificially synthesize and amplify sound, but also employs this electricity as the final goal, in its true form, visibly as a bolt of energy. With admiration and gratitude the Lightning Organ releases the results of it’s labor into thin air, where we can see, hear and almost feel the musical electrical energy during its bright passage across the spark gap. The Lightning Organ is a musical sculpture that produces sound by controlling the audible pitch of a visible electrical arc. Most electronic musical instruments employ loudspeakers to convert electrical energy into an acoustic sound. A loudspeaker uses electricity to push and pull a speaker cone which in turn imparts vibrations into the air. The Lightning Organ skips a step by releasing “tuned” electricity directly into the air. The resulting spark produces an audible sound whose pitch -or musical note – is controlled with a familiar musical keyboard interface, allowing participants to play a melody made of pure energy. Each spark is formed at the base of two copper rods that are arranged in a “V” shape. For the duration of the musical note, the spark travels up the “V”, disappears, and then reforms at the base again. This 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 they produce rich distorted sounds due to the formation of complex waveforms in the flowing plasma. Other configurations allow the chords to sound clear by routing each note to its own spark gap. This creates a pleasing spatial effect as the harmonies are discharged around the player. The Lightning Organ affords players the unique opportunity of wielding great amounts of pure energy through familiar and simple musical gestures. Rarely are we able to tame such wild forces as lightning with the grace of a musical instrument.