NEW YORK, July 1 2014 — ArcAttack, a “band” from Austin, Texas, performance at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, NY on February 28, 2014 was nothing short of electrifying.
Instead of speakers to transform ArcAttack’s music into sound waves, they use lightning bolts. That’s right. Lightning bolts. Pure energy in the form of giant arcs of static electricity, calibrated to vibrate at perfect-pitch musical notes.
This is important to note because traditionally soundstages use conventional cone speakers. Cone speakers consist of a paper cone, which moves back and forth in response to an applied force. This back and forth manipulation of the cone’s base compresses the air inside the cone and generates sound waves that we hear.
As the show began, the room darkened and two large coils faced each other on the stage in a quiet stare. The stage darkened until only black existed on the stage. Suddenly the coils began to discharge intensely bright lightning bolts towards the center of the stage, blasting out perfectly synchronized energy and music. The lightning bolts danced hypnotically, then in an instant, would disappear as the note ended. The two coils together played the notes flawlessly in a visual spectacle never seen before by the masses. The sound the bolts generated was penetrating and exhilarating. It was beautiful. It was spiritual.
When the opening song ended, John DiPrima greeted the audience. John led the audience through some well-deserved education on electricity and Nikola Tesla, who was the creator of the base technology used in ArcAttack’s lightning performance. The kids in attendance did not mind the extra bit of education because the group kept it fun and humorous.
Next, “King Beat”, a robot the group made, entertained the audience and performed a song. As a side note, the group programmed King Beat to play a real drum kit during other portions of the show, which was amazing.
Following that performance, founding member of the group, Joe DiPrima, put on a full suit made of metal (Faraday Suit), that created a “metal bubble” between himself and the earth. As long as he remained in the bubble, he was impervious to the dangers of the stray static sparks while on stage. John modified a guitar for this performance, which had a conductive Faraday “cage” around it as well. The lights went low, and then Joe played the guitar.
Pure energy engulfed his body. There he stood, unharmed, standing in the lightning storm, as the audience was pummeled with the electrified reverberations of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”. The light flashed as he stood, rocking out, with more than a million volts of static energy flowing around him, which harmlessly dissipated into the stage. The crowd could not get enough.
After Joe’s jaw-dropping performance, the group set the coils into oscillation once more, playing a myriad of popular songs. The coils etched into the air the theme from Dr. Who, and Mira, my youngest daughter, literally had tears streaming down her face. It was moving for everyone in the theater.
At the end of the performance, John DiPrima took questions from the audience, while a large Faraday cage wheeled out onto center stage. Volunteers from the audience went up and got in the cage, and the Tesla coils discharged as the occupants in the cage smiled ear to ear.
The show was a great blend of entertainment, science, beauty, wonder, interaction, and education. Their performance was a beautiful mixture of education, humor, demonstrations, music and interactivity.
Joe DiPrima, provided CDN with an interview about a month after his performance. The story and the band is an amazing adventure. Since their inception, they have toured the country, appeared on television shows, “shocked” celebrities, such as actor Elijah Wood, along with Mythbusters stars Adam Savage and Grant Imahara. The group members consist of musicians and engineers, and some are both.
Joe explained that his father was a bio-medical engineer, so he got an early start in science and was soldering circuits at the age of five years old, and dismantling and rebuilding items at a young age.
He further explained that he saw his first Tesla coil while working his first job in electronics at a TV repair shop. His boss had a Tesla coil in the shop, which created sparks, but Joe admitted that it was a little boring since all it did was create sparks. A short time later, he met a friend who had a more advanced coil, which allowed control of the pitch of the output. This coil was different; newer circuitry allowed manipulation of the output. The newer circuitry used solid-state components, and this configuration put ideas into Joe’s head, such as making the tesla coil produce music.
Soon Joe had created his first amplifier/Tesla coil. He posted demonstration videos of his creation on YouTube and amassed a fan base. From there the popularity of his coils started to increase rapidly. Joe confessed there was a time when he thought the coils were too dangerous to appear on stage, but he went on to clarify that the evolution of the coils led up to the shows and the constant tinkering with the coils gave them the insight into how to wield the coils in a safe manner.
Joe noted that he picks songs that would sound good on the coils, such as Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, but also the number of YouTube viewings helped direct the band in which songs are popular.
Joe went on to say that education is of the highest importance. The group wants to engage the children and keep them talking about what they witnessed in the show. The show had a unique blend of education and demonstration and the kids loved it.
Tailoring shows to various audiences, ranging from children to corporate audiences presents unique challenges for the band. For example, each environment they perform in is different, and safely coordinating a show where lightning bolts shoot across the stage is very difficult and an ever-changing variable for the band. Joe went into detail about how the band manages these challenges with homegrown solutions, and stated that they are always learning new things in the process. He is confident the band can safely operate anywhere now that they have built components to assist in handling the electro-magnetic interference introduced into the stage by the coils.
Safety is of primary concern and ArcAttack spends a lot of time on safety. Joe noted that there is no governing body or standards concerning Tesla coil performers, and since they are the pioneers in this genre of performers, they are “writing the rules” in essence. He stated there is a vacuum in regards to mitigating the extreme liability associated with the coils but he is confident that as the number or performers increase, regulations and standards will follow. While working with magician David Blaine, ArcAttack made huge advances in safety as well as longevity of the coils themselves, as the coils had to discharge continuously for three days in an outdoor setting. The band engineered their own cooling systems using truck radiators and pool pumps in order to cool the coils for the three-day event.
Joe noted he is most proud of being able to live the American Dream, touring the country “doing his thing” and making his own way doing what he loves. It’s clear that Joe and the other members of ArcAttack are doing what they love, and in my view, that truly is the meaning of the word success.
In closing, on the show Through the Wormhole, Morgan Freeman commented on ArcAttack’s performance by saying: “This performance could initiate the greatest peaceful exchange of knowledge in our existence.”
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