The Gravity Harps are the result of a year-long collaboration between Björk and me.
Björk's Biophilia project integrated forces various forces of nature into the instruments.
The Gravity Harps created music with gravity.
This page shares some of many concepts and iterations in the process.
Here are the Gravity Harps in the Gund Lobby at MoMA.
Live with Björk
At the end of every show on the Biophilia tour, Björk sang accompanied by only the Gravity Harps.
And for the first year, I was right beside both of them offstage, anxiously operating the instrument.
At the beginning of the process, I produced and documented concepts in Boston and sent them to Björk in Reykjavík. Here's the video with the early pendulum concept.
Below are ideas for shapes for the many pendulums.
I designed a lot of other concepts for the Biophilia project in this period. This one uses water droplets on harp strings to play her new song Moon.
This prototype convinced me that it was nearly impossible.
The Gravity Harps are a direct descendant of this pendulum-harp system made with much help from collaborator Marina Porter.
These were hypnotic like a fireplace. Everybody in the room would stop talking and quietly watch and listen.
I liked the idea of creating music with ripples and their interactions. Arrays of optical sensors or a video camera would detect ripples and send the data to musical software. I would like to revisit this potential in a future project.
One walking machine weaves a musical fabric. The other plays it mechanically like a music box and unweaves it on spools. The two machines wander around with this tension of time and music between them.
An AI creates streams of original music and uses the emotional responses of a human listener for training and feedback. It's an intelligent machine that requires a human mind as one of its components. It's also a collaboration that requires no volition on the part of the human — just listen and feel.
The system should learn to create optimal music for each person that is completey unique. And these optima may reflect and reveal essential aspects of the listener. It could even have therapeutic use in the diagnosis or classification of brain conditions.
These early explorations foretold a musical world that could not be expressed with a typical keyboard.
I designed several new universal keyboards inspired by the work of Bosanquet and Fokker. These new keyboards included not just pitches but timbres and an exotic musical pantheon of intervals and harmonies. I will make time to share the digital versions of these if enough people ask.
When Björk told me that she wanted embed a gamelan in a keyboard instrument, I got very excited. I designed a number of physical keyboard instruments that held the variety of instruments from a Balinese gamelan. Gangsas, barungs, trompongs, sarons, demuns, slentems. It was a little nuts.
Björk soon told me that her plans were much more modest and less full of cultural appropriation. But not before I created two 2010-style, iPad-ready mockups that put that wie variety of timbres at a player's fingertips.
Click the image on the right for a chromatically-tuned version.
Click the image on the below for a version tuned in Balinese pelog tuning.
They need a few seconds to load fully.
Before the Gravity Harps, we started building a much larger instrument for one-time use in a Biophilia film with Björk.
This enormous instrument featured 38 pendulum-harps between two and five stories tall.
We all loved imagining how beautiful it would be.
We were designing and prototyping The Pendulum Ring around the clock — creating the harps, the mechanisms, the software, the sound.
Our friends at Hypersonic.cc created our first tests of a motion system. It taught us that there will be no way to fake the freely swinging motion. Even when the math looks perfect, the eye can tell if it's not.
All of these processes resulted in so many more collateral works than I have room to share.
Fully functioning harps. Three-story-high pendulums. And so many types of simulations.
The video to the left shows custom simulation software used to choreograph the pendulums to play the music.
When we got the word that the Pendulum Ring would have to go on tour, we all started having nightmares.
To make this beast robust and easy to dis/assemble required a complete redesign, reengineering, and new prototypes.
In a long lunch meeting with Björk, we designed a much smaller and simpler instrument.
We had only about five weeks to build the new system and to make it work.
We raced around the clock. We slept in the workshop to save time. All while still experimenting. This video shows a fiberglass harp prototype and our first controlled motion tests.
Every big project is an iceberg. Much of what makes it work isn't visible to the audience.
The Gravity Harps have a suit for software for composing, improvising, performing, and calibrating.
The assembly and calibration of the Gravity Harps is still an all-day affair. It is always fraught with unexpected troubles that need to be fixed before the clock runs out.
Here is a little peek at the process.