Pushing Strings :: William Close & the Earth Harp

Pushing Strings :: William Close & the Earth Harp

William CloseThe Earth Harp’s sound rings softly on the wings of the horizon, as dust swirls and spirals in harmonic repose upon the oceanic Playa.  People young and old sit together in reverence and wonder as William Close, the creator of the Earth Harp, soars upon strings connected to the hearth of the land they call “Temple”.  You can feel the depth, as the raw vibration and resonance cuts straight to the core of your being.  It is truly a magical experience that enlivens the mind and nourishes the soul…

This was my first experience of the Earth Harp at Burning Man.  An experience that changed the way I viewed the healing power of instrumental music.”

.:: Josh Davis :: Solpurpose ::.

When did the Earth Harp first come into creation? How was it conceived? What is the story behind the development of this mythical instrument?

Earth Harp at the MASS semi anual Mountain Installatiton and performance series in Southern CaliforniaI studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and started designing and creating musical sculptures.  That led me to the creation of more experimental, sophisticated musical instruments. I began experimenting with different ideas and stretching strings longer and longer distances.  I eventually figured out that you can play the strings in the unique method I use now, with gloves and violin bow rosin.

Years later, I got involved with an art and science organization, The Sun Foundation. In late 1999, inspired by big installation artists like Christo, I proposed the idea of stringing the entire valley owned by the Sun Foundation.  They loved the idea.  So I mounted a series of chambers on one side of the valley and ran strings 1000 ft across to the other side and turned the entire valley into a giant harp.  This was the first manifestation of the Earth Harp.  It’s where the name comes from.  The results were so incredible that I started to explore more possibilities, especially with architecture.

The next installation was a field museum in Chicago where I strung the entire exterior of the building.  The next was in the garden of the old World Trade Center buildings.  That was a really powerful transformational event.  Since then, I have been developing and refining the instruments more and more.  I’ve strung a lot of different structures…the space needle in Seattle, the Arts Constantine next to the Coliseum in Rome, a temple in Vietnam and many more… It’s all been very rewarding and has only furthered my passion for creating instruments that inspire.

The Earth Harp has a pretty eclectic resume.  From personal showcases to events on the world stage.  Yet recently you have also begun to introduce this incredible instrument into the Transformational Festival scene.  When did you first get tapped into the Transformational Festival Culture?  Where are your favorite places to play and how does the sound vary from place to place?

My introduction to transformational festival culture began with the Do Lab.  Our first collaborations were of a big project out on the Santa Monica Pier called “Music Dome”.  Afterward, the Do Lab invited me to perform at the 2010 Lightning in a Bottle festival.  What an inspiring experience! As I shared my work with this community, I felt I was performing for truly open minds and ears, which can really make a difference in the level of interaction.  LIB has an amazing audience who are open to experiencing the deep and profound, who seek enjoyment in the creativity of life.  I really love performing for the that kind of audience as they seem to appreciate the deeper realms the Earth Harp explores.

I received the invitation to string the temple at Burning Man in 201,1 which was another pivotal project in my journey.  The Burning Man community embraced the Earth Harp wholeheartedly, and again I was astonished at how the music inspired people to connect more deeply and explore the ineffable   Now whenever and wherever possible, I love to bring the Earth Harp to the Transformational festival community.  I also love to perform at performing art centers, theaters, concert halls and interesting, unique events and environments. Wherever the Earth Harp is strung, the environment itself becomes the instrument.  The audience is essentially sitting inside the heart of the harp.

The installation is definitely site-specific, every place does sound a little bit different, though I do have a specific way to tune the harp so I can always get the same scales.  The architecture or landscape plays a big role in the instrument.  I strung it to the top of a mountain once.  The peak had these caves in it that really helped to resonate the sound.  It produced a really unique and vibrant sound.  You could hear the mountain singing through the chords of the Earth Harp.

You recently placed 3rd on “America’s Got Talent,” a reality show on cable television. What was that experience like for you? How did it feel to perform for millions of people with your craft?

William Close on America's Got Talent

The AGT experience was actually really cool.  It was great to be able to work at that level of production. The producers were all really genuine, and everyone working on the show helped immensely to elevate the Harp showcase to its full potential.  The judges were really supportive of what I am doing. In fact, I was their front runner.  The show took place in this massive theatre in New York City.  We strung the harp to the 4th floor balcony so the strings ended up being really vertical, but the resonance was quite astonishing.

There were a couple of times during the show that I was trending number three on Twitter and there was crazy facebook activity.  It was the first time that I realized that people could gather awareness around something in a split second and that’s exactly what happened.  I did my performance and all of a sudden there were over 100 million people talking about the Earth Harp online and to their friends. The idea that a piece of information can gather that much consciousness so quickly definitely made me stop to ponder the greater significance and potentials of my work.

William Close and the Earth Harp Collective from ArtHouseLive on Vimeo.

"The Human Experience" Portrait of David Block by Andrew Jones

Your first collaboration album was released late last year, crafted by David Block and featuring the Earth Harp. Bridging the worlds of experimental instruments and experimental digital electronic music production, this album breaks new ground with it’s sonic qualities. Can you tell us more about this collaboration and how it came to be?

This was the first collaborative record I have made that fits into the electronic music genre. Basically, what we did was go into the studio with the Earth Harp and we immersed into four days of continuous Earth Harp recording, working on certain melodies, styles and capturing the unique harmonics.  Then David took it into his world.  He did a great deal of production in the studio, which brought about an incredibly unique sound to the instrument.  It’s the Earth Harp like you never heard it before!

Where are your roots in the music world? What have been your musical inspirations throughout the years?

Phillip GlassA big inspiration for me was always the composer, Phillip Glass. He was composing minimalistic pattern stuff early on, way before electronic music hit the scene and he worked a lot with strings.  My music is inspired by classical, epic rock and electronica, with a touch of world music of course! A lot of my music is born out of the act of playing the Earth Harp.  When you unfold into the instrument, it begins playing your heart and emotions as much as you are playing with it.  Its a symbiotic relationship of creation.

You play the Earth Harp in a unique way using violin rosin as frictional substance while running your fingers along the strings. And equally as unique, the instrument is very large, resulting in a one of a kind performance. How do you experience the strings and the act of playing the Earth Harp? How has collaborating with this instrument transformed or altered your personal journey?

The concept I use to play the Earth Harp is a similar concept to running your finger around a crystal wine glass or playing a Tibetan bowl. I actually push the vibration through the molecules of the string, it’s not like a plucked string or a bowed string, so it plays a much more harmonic sound.

William Close on America's Got Talent 9

I tried lots of different types of wires and strings to try to make the sound the best that it can be. I finally found this special brass string that I have custom made with a special formula.

For me, the Earth Harp is the perfect synthesis of a creative musical experience and a sport adventure.  Because the instrument requires this unique installation every time, it sends me on some really fun inspiring journeys just to create.  One of the things that I love about the Earth Harp is that every environment calls for the instrument to be created in a unique and different way.  This personally expands my creative and technical abilities, but it also provides an amazing platform for listeners to fully immerse into new sonic soundscapes and environments.

The act of actually playing the instrument is like Tai Chi.  It’s very meditative, almost like a dance.  So it takes the place of a movement art for me.  I get to move with it physically, emotionally, and on a soul level.  And, I also get to have the vibrations of the sound right in the palm of my hand, which creates an incredible euphoric sensation.

The Earth Harp creates a very unique sound, beckoning people to instantaneously immerse into a grounded and meditative state. The harmonics are what makes this instrument truly magical. When you play the notes, the harmonics that vibrate off the strings are beautiful and complex.  So musically, the experience is really deep and has the ability to touch people in powerful transformational ways.

Their is a powerful neo-tribal renaissance underway which can be experienced at many of today’s Transformational Festivals; where art, music, and culture are synergizing into authentically expressed spiritual events. How do you feel your music adds to this movement and culture? Do you believe art, music, and conscious workshops are complementary in their goals??

William Close portrait by Andrew Jones

Art and music definitely play a key roll in expanding consciousness. I think that every religion or philosophical thought is, in essence, a performance, a piece of poetry or a work of art.  At the very root of all is art and performance and music.  And whether it is pure entertainment or something that is derived with a more spiritual context, I think that the results are one and the same – It’s really about uplifting people.

Thankfully, it seems there is a lot more awareness and open-mindedness to take this creative splendor to the next level.   And we are seeing it.  Look at artists like Andrew Jones and others that come from this neo-tribal movement, some of the images and dimensions that they are creating and depicting are unlike anything that I have ever seen.  I think that’s just one example of everything we are experiencing moving to the next level. It’s one of the reasons the Earth Harp is here. It’s an instrument that embodies and inspires new thinking and the creative expansion of the context of who and what we all are.

You also create highly unique and custom instruments, inspired creations with imaginative looks that span the line between art and instrument with incredible ingenuity.  Will you tell us about a few of your favorites?

"Aquatar" William CloseI have created over 100 unique instruments and I am always looking for ways to bring them into the shows.  The Aquatar – 3 neck guitar, guitar bass and sitar is one of my personal favorites.  Also the Drum Orb is a big sphere of drums with an aerial piece attachment that was featured in AGT.  The Violin Jacket – fashion and music combined collaboration with Skin Graft wireless and electric violin bows.  I have designed a few other jackets including percussion Jackets with midi triggers.  And of course, I have created lots of different styles of harps: A “Wing Harp” with a fifteen foot giant wing, a Long Bow Harp, a thirty foot free standing Earth Harp, and one of my other personal favorites, the Body Harp.  Someone lays back on a bridge with another bridge on top of them. The strings go over them so that their body becomes the instrument!  These are only just a handful of many instruments and experiments I am currently engaged with!

A huge number of my instruments were lost when my home and studio perished in the California Wild Fires in 2007.  This has challenged me to redesign and rebuild many of the instruments, and in fact pushed me to take them to entirely new levels of design, musical complexity and beauty.  It has been an amazing creative journey thus far!  And I excitedly look onward to all that comes next!

See William & the Earth Harp at Lightning in a Bottle this summer!!