2020 Best Time-Based Art – Catherine Budd, Noah Kelly, Daniel Knauss, Lea Russo, and Andrew McDonald

Musical Tesla Coils

Our Musical Tesla Coils project focuses on creating an educational, interactive display to teach people about how Tesla Coils can be used to create music. It combines both engineering and music; engineering for the Tesla Coil display and the electrical wiring required and music that the display will be able to play. Tesla coils were originally invented by Nikola Tesla as a way to transport power through the air, as an alternative to the power lines that we currently use today. They function similarly to a swinging pendulum that converts kinetic energy to potential energy

in a continuous cycle by transforming electrical energy to magnetic energy in a constant cycle. Tesla coils use resonating RLC circuits to create high voltage between 150 kV to 5 MV, depending on the size, which causes the air around the head of the coil to become ionized, inducing a plasma arc. This plasma arc then fires through the air creating a sound and effect similar to thunder and lightning. Repeating these plasma arcs at different frequencies will cause the human ear to interpret the sound as solid tones that are then used to make music.

As can be seen in the video of our Tesla coil firing, one Tesla coil in our display can play up to three notes at a time due to polyphony by overlaying the different frequencies in its discharge. This improves the display’s ability to play music as the vast majority of music achieves its complexity and beauty through more than one musical tones playing at the same time. In the submitted video, a member of our team is playing simple notes and melodies to demonstrate the capabilities of the Tesla coil. A main feature of our display is that anyone is able to play different
notes and melodies on the attached keyboard to make the music and capabilities of Tesla coils more approachable for the general populace. The team believes that our Musical Tesla coil display combines both scientific concepts and artistic components well to create an educational, interactive display for the public.