Solarbeat

Solarbeat is a proposed installation for Burning Man 2016. It is a scientific and musical instrument that helps people explore relationships between time, space, sound, and color. This chromatic harp sundial is played by groups of two to twelve people at a time, with lights identifying which notes will create ideal harmonies for that time of day.

The installation consists of a radial series of twelve trios of strings, anchors, processors, and resonators. Each note is anchored in the center and attached to a resonator on the outside edge which amplifies the sound. Each note can be played in one of three octaves.

The notes themselves are arranged according to the Circle of Fifths, such that any two adjacent notes will sound harmonious together--i.e. C is next to G, which is next to D. Each of these notes is assigned a corresponding color, arranged by hue. The hues complement each other as well as the notes do.

When any note is played, the other notes that would sound good with it light up! With two to six people, music and dancing patterns of color can be improvised. And if you don't know where to begin playing, the current position of the sun will light up a good starting point. Each note is arranged radially according to the path of the sun across the desert sky.

The sunrise is in C-major, and sunset is in F.

Behind the scenes, twelve microcontrollers (hidden in the resonators) are listening for any activity on the instrument and communicating their neighbors whether or not to light up. These are powered by three solar panels placed at the solar maximum for this part of the year, with battery-powered safety lights installed on each note so nobody runs into it with their art car while we're building it.

A perspective view of Solarbeat

Solarbeat is interactive. On its own, it's a colorful set of resonators and strings rising out of the desert, arranged to greet the sun. But the real magic happens when people interact with it.

Since the notes are arranged by fifths, one person on their own can play something that sounds pretty decent: If they're standing between C and G, They have six notes (C4, C5, C6, G4, G5, and G6) to play around with. And each time they play a note, others in the installation will light up (such as D and F).

When others join in, they participate in making their own part of the melody, harmony, or both! Up to twelve people (one per note) can reasonably play this at the same time. That's the heart of the shared experience of the piece--people creatively expressing music and light together.

As a scientific instrument, it teaches relationships between time, space, angle, time, and color. As a musical instrument, it teaches intervals, arpeggiation, chords, and cooperation. And as a social instrument, it brings people together for playful musical collaboration.

An on-axis view of Solarbeat

We decorate space with art to let participants decorate time with light and music.

Da Vinci created interdisciplinary contraptions to demonstrate and to leverage the relationships between time, space, sound, and light. This installation operates across the same comfortably familiar disciplines in new and engaging ways. Participants can arrive and play, or they can study and learn about music theory, color theory, and composition.

It's our hope that the experience of sharing music, light, and wonder will bring participants closer together.

A layout view of Solarbeat

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