The Gravity Harp

For her Biophilia tour, Bjork commisioned a variety of people to design and construct custom musical instruments. One of the people she approached was musical robot builder Andy Cavatorta. Cavatorta developed the concept of a harp based on a series of robotic pendulums and hired Patten Studio to develop the electronics and software needed to control the movements of the pendulums to make them play music. The Gravity Harp consists of four robotic pendulums, each with a harp containing eleven strings. These pendulums, designed to hang twenty-five feet in the air, slowly swing back and forth taking almost five seconds to make a complete sweep. The notes to be played are sent from a connected computer that allows one to improvise or play a predetermined melody. Most of the motion used to play the harp comes from the natural motion of the pendulums. The pendulum has a motor attached to start and stop it, as well as to restore energy lost to friction and adjust timing.

This project was so large that it would not fit inside our studio. It turns out that there are not a lot of warehouses available in Brooklyn that have 30 foot ceilings!

For those interested in the technical details: Each pendulum has a motor control circuit with an AVR microcontroller and two H bridges. (one to move the pendulum and one to rotate the harp so that a specific string hits the plucker) All of the pendulums communicate with a control computer using an RS485 network. Control software written in Python sends out commands to each pendulum to keep them synchronized and control which notes they play. In order to produce an even sequence of notes, each pendulum is 90 degrees out of phase with its neighbor. Timing is controlled to within a few milliseconds while the whole thing is running.

in collaboration with:
Andy Cavatorta
Marina Porter
Karl Biewald
Doug Ruska
Bill Washabaugh
Dan Paluska