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Musician Pushes Boundaries with Earth Harp


Musician and inventor William Close achieved the world record for longest stringed instrument for the 2014 performance on his Earth Harp in Singapore. (M O'Sullivan/VOA)

Los Angeles musician William Close holds the world record for the longest stringed instrument, a device he invented and has played around the world called the Earth Harp.

Close uses resin-coated gloves to demonstrate the instrument at his Malibu studio, with strings stretched from the instrument to metal stakes in an adjacent hillside that overlooks the coastline.

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The harp's strings in this configuration are 30 meters (98 feet) long, and he says the idea in this or longer configurations is "to turn the earth into an instrument."

He built his first Earth Harp in 2000.

"I set it up on one side of the canyon and ran the strings to the other side," he recalls.

Since inventing the Earth Harp in 2000, the musician has taken to major venues around the world, from the Kennedy Center in Washington to Shanghai's Grand Theatre. (M O'Sullivan/VOA)
Since inventing the Earth Harp in 2000, the musician has taken to major venues around the world, from the Kennedy Center in Washington to Shanghai's Grand Theatre. (M O'Sullivan/VOA)

Since then, he has performed with a troupe of musicians and performance artists at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Shanghai's Grand Theatre, the Colosseum in Rome, the Burning Man Festival in Nevada and other venues. At each location, he rigs expanses of metal strings to the instrument's soundboard.

"I've strung it to the top of skyscrapers," he says of the instrument, "from the base of a skyscraper 52 stories straight up." That was for a 2014 performance in Singapore that earned the Guinness world record for longest stringed instrument, with the strings strung aloft nearly 300 meters (985 feet).

William Close has invented nearly 100 instruments, including a percussive device with dozens of drum heads. (M O'Sullivan/VOA)
William Close has invented nearly 100 instruments, including a percussive device with dozens of drum heads. (M O'Sullivan/VOA)

The musician has invented almost 100 instruments, from a hybrid that combines two Western guitars and Indian sitar to a percussion device with dozens of drum heads. He says some devices work better than others, but all, like the Earth Harp, push musical boundaries.

Close says the Earth Harp, which is his signature invention, has a symphonic sound with more high-end harmonics than those from a smaller instrument.

And the harp resonates with audiences. With strings towering overhead, he says listeners have the sense that they are inside the instrument as they hear musical compositions ranging from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.

"I think it's really emotional for people," says Close, who suggests that the experience for audiences is "encompassing."

He says the Earth Harp, although related to the harp, violin and cello, creates a distinctive kind of music powered by open spaces and Mother Earth.

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