Lightning strikes again

Lightning strikes again

ArcAttack brings its high-voltage combo of rock and science to Caltech Friday 

By Carl Kozlowski 01/23/2014

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There are plenty of rock bands whose fans consider their performances electrifying. But ArcAttack is likely the only band on the planet for which that description can be taken literally. 

A 10-member musical collective based in Austin, Texas, ArcAttack has been performing its unique shows since 2005. Built around two custom-engineered, hand-built Tesla coils which throw out electrical arcs up to 12 feet long to produce sounds resembling early synthesizers, and a robotic drum set that also produces its own light show as it plays, the resulting musical mélange brings together live instruments with drum loops and samples. The result is rock, electronica and indie music with a bit of punk, metal and even pop music thrown in for good measure. 

While the music itself is instrumental, throughout the show a host engages both the crowd and the Tesla coils by walking through half-million-volt sparks while protected only by the relatively thin layer of his chainmail Faraday suit.  

The end product must be seen to be believed. Curious locals will have their chance to do just that Friday when ArcAttack performs at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium. 

Reached by phone, founder Joe DiPrima — who also serves as the group’s “lightning guitarist,” playing while the electric arcs emanate from the Tesla coils to his body — explained how it all began and why he still risks it. 

“Around 2003, I met my friend Steve Ward and saw his cool, solid-state Tesla coil, which had just two controls; a knob for frequency, and a knob for power,” explains DiPrima. “I realized that by moving the frequency knob around I could crudely play a melody through the Tesla coil arc. 

“A few years later I decided to build a Tesla coil, but focused on building it as a musical instrument and not just a machine that makes sparks,” DiPrima continues. “The result was a machine about 12 feet tall that was hooked to a musical keyboard. We posted some Youtube videos, and they got popular. After a while, we began getting requests to play at events, festivals, corporate gigs, as well as schools and theaters.” 

Perhaps the question that most audience members have for the members of ArcAttack is how they keep themselves safe amid the potentially shocking atmosphere. 

“Number one is to just keep a safe distance away,” says DiPrima. “When we are doing our lightning guitar stunt, our performer uses a ‘Faraday suit’, named after Michael Faraday, a pioneer behind the mathematics of electromagnetism, which keeps him safe by making the voltage potential equal around his body so that no current passes through him. Another way we do this is to set up ‘Faraday panels,’ which are nothing more than metal fences, so that we can get closer to the Tesla coils without having to worry about getting struck by them. The lightning strikes the fence instead.” 

ArcAttack performs at 7 p.m. Friday at Beckman Auditorium at Caltech, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $10 for youth. Email or call (626) 395-4652. 


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