Electric performance at Victoria

A unique musical performance involving a trio of Tesla coils will take place at Victoria University of Wellington next week (17 November).

Chime Red

Tesla coils, invented by Serbian-American Nickola Tesla in the 1890s, produce high voltage electricity and have inspired many kinds of research and musical performances

The coils, with back up from ‘Mechbass’, a mechatronic bass guitar, and robotic drums, will play a range of original compositions written by PhD students from Victoria’s Sonic Arts Engineering programme, along with a few covers.

While the Tesla coils are expected to steal the show the real talent will be back stage. The performance is being put together by students and staff from Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science and software engineer Josh Bailey.

The control software that drives the coils’ has been developed by Mr Bailey, who also owns two of the Tesla coils used for the performance.

The name of the performance—Chime Red—comes from the control system used to transmit the software to the coils, which was built by Mr Bailey and Victoria Masters graduate and staff member James McVay.

While music has been made with Tesla coils before, Mr Bailey’s software has taken things to the next level, with up to 16 notes able to be played simultaneously.

“As far as we know, there is no other system quite like this,” says Mr McVay. “Previously, the maximum number of notes that could be created was seven. Josh has more than doubled that.”

The whole performance is run from computers and, although songs can be played live, the compositions which make up Chime Red will be programmed ahead of time. Computers, running standard music software, are connected to each Chime Red controlling a coil, which precisely controls the timing of arcs to achieve the desired notes.

“The faster you fire the coil, the higher the frequency you get. It’s hard to explain the sound. It’s very electronic, it doesn’t sound like any instrument I can think of,” says Mr McVay.

Tesla coils deal with high voltages so safety is an important part of this performance.

Along with an arc of electricity, Tesla coils also produce radio frequencies that can interfere with electronics. Each coil will have a cage on top of it to substantially reduce these frequencies but Mr McVay says other precautions will also be taken.

“The audience will be separated from the coils by a barrier to ensure their safety.”


When: Monday 17 November, 6pm

Where: The Hub, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University of Wellington

Entry free, all welcome.