beamjockey (beamjockey) wrote,

Zeusaphone: The Origin of the Word

As I write this, Google has 2770 hits for "zeusaphone" and 46 for the variant spelling "zeusophone."

Not bad for a word that didn't exist four months ago.

As you may know, high-voltage hobbyists have recently developed a so-called solid-state method for driving a Tesla coil. The pulse rate can be increased or decreased, so the sound of "lightning bolt" discharges from the coil have a varying tone. Think of it as a series of rapidly repeated thunderclaps.

I know Jeff Larson—we both work at Fermilab—and Jeff has introduced me to other Teslaphiles. Now and then, Jeff puts on a public demonstration, with wirelessly flickering fluorescent lamps, sparkling CDs, and giant arcs of barely-tamed lightning delighting crowds.

On the evening of 9 June 2007, Jeff set up a demonstration at Duckon, a science fiction convention in Naperville, Illinois. He was joined by Steve Ward, who has built one of the first "singing" Tesla coils. Jeff put his coil through its paces, which was impressive enough. But when Steve's device started playing music, it added a new dimension to the experience. Naturally, the audience went wild.

Several of us shot videos of the performance. One such video was posted to the Internet, and soon became the hottest thing on Youtube [footnote 1].

Around 19 June, in a phone call, I was describing the musical coil and the performance to another of Jeff's friends, Prof. Barry Gehm of Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas.

" the lightning is actually making the music," I said.

"Ah," said he, "then you could call it a Zeusaphone."

On 21 June, I reported Barry Gehm's neologism to a mailing list, and also e-mailed a copy to Steve Ward. Steve loved the name, quickly sought Barry's approval to use the name for his device, and just as quickly received it.

So that's how "Zeusaphone" was born, and how the world came to know about it.

As I wrote to Steve: "The Net is buzzing (so to speak) with talk about your performance. People who weren't at Duckon are envious of those who were. Perhaps it will all be forgotten the next time a kitten learns to flush a toilet on camera, but for now, your machine is a star..."

Meanwhile, in the Upper Peninsula, Dan Butler-Ehle posted this, also on 21 June, in response to my mentioning the Zeusaphone:

"Hee hee. When I showed the clip to my wife yesterday, I told her the device should be called a 'Thoremin.'"

This is also an excellent suggestion (and it has 48 Google hits).

On 16 August, after "Zeusaphone" had been in circulation a while, Steve Klec in Los Angeles registered "" for his business selling Tesla coil products.

Jeff Larson has now built a Zeusaphone of his own. On 8 September 2007, Jeff and Steve Ward demonstrated the first public duet at the "Lightning on the Lawn" festival in Baraboo, Wisconsin. And I'm sure there are more adventures ahead.

In fact, I'm positive.

Footnote 1: Since artificially-induced plasmas are involved, I mean this literally.
Tags: electicity, electronics, tesla coils, words, zeusaphone
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Lots of fun. The video links to the Geek Group response, which is more musical, but skip the first where they explain how it works, 'cos that's just electronics...
Cool! I could practically smell the ozone! Any chance they could play a recording of "I am the great and powerful Wizard of Oz"?
I remember when Steve did this at drsulak's bbq/burning party before Duckon. It was a spectacular sight/sound.
I was real glad when Steve decided to show up at Duckon.

Jeff and Steve's Lightning on the Lawn performances are a big hit at our office.
This is way cool [insert many exclamation points here].
Deploying its usual jillion exclamation points, Ain't It Cool News rounds up various. . . Advertisement Home Features Interviews cinema music dvd words games The Hater T.
Yes, I made sure to tell G to tell his friends at school - who think the video is AWESOME - that He Was There. I suspect that eventually Duckon will have had more people there than live in the city of Naperville ... I'm glad I went around and put up signs so people actually came out and watched, and videotaped. :-)
I even brought a tripod. So I have some nice movies of the Duckon performances that have never been released to the Net. (I did give Jeff a copy.)

I think "Smoke on the Water" would be great for a duet.

Zat zat zaaaat, zat zat zat-zat.

Do it right, and you could literally have the music accompanied by smoke on water. :-)

I saw this done live while at Dragon*Con this year. AMAZING stuff, it was 3 AM, I was overdue to get to sleep, and just could not leave until they shut it down.
Wow. That's pretty freaking sweet. And it reminds me of Daft Punk, for some reason.
Hi. I followed a link here from Kaja's journal. Mind if I add you to my friend's list?


Joel. Sousaphone player, geek, and wanna-be Zeusaphonist.
Mind if I add you to my friend's list?

Sure, why not?

Joel. Sousaphone player, geek, and wanna-be Zeusaphonist.

Once, back at Notre Dame, I went to a Glee Club performance. I spotted a couple of friends who played tuba in the Notre Dame Marching Band and sat down next to them.

Big mistake.

Every time the Glee Club vocalists essayed a grand old song about Notre Dame-- which, in a Glee Club concert, is pretty often-- the tuba players would hum the tuba part. I heard bass lines all evening, and little else.

Annoying at the time. In retrospect, it was a bizarre musical experience I wouldn't trade. (Along with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police playing Glenn Miller standards to the assembled officials of the Earth's space agencies, at eight in the morning.)

I'm just saying I am pleased to know a sousaphone player, but if we should attend an a capella concert together, kindly restrain yourself.
>if we should attend an a capella concert
>together, kindly restrain yourself.

I would be delighted to attend such a concert with you, though our lack of geographic proximity makes it currently improbable. My understanding of the etiquette of such is that it's impolite to perform *with* the performers unless explicitly invited to do so.

I also thank you for the giggle your anecdote generated.

Warmly with a side-order of meeting-hangover pomposity,

I followed your YouTube link and found, at this late date, that a whole sub-genre of videos had been spawned, featuring such performers as Dr. Zeus, ArcAttack!, Tesla Orchestra, and, of course, The Masters of Lightning.

This is a literal amplification of an early (and soon abandoned) radio technique of using the spark gap itself as the audio source. Nice to see that it works well at human-scale...