"I swear to Christ, if one more person requests the intro to 'Don't Stop Believin'..."
Humanity became great for two reasons: our ability to create beauty through art, and our urge to build increasingly huge, terrifying gadgets. It only makes sense that these two impulses would converge in amazing, if largely useless, ways. That's how we wind up with huge and insane musical instruments like ...
Uberorgan isn't just the Internet username of millions of 15-year-old males -- it's also something much stranger. Imagine a series of gigantic alien bagpipes, mixed with a monstrous player piano, all connected by huge translucent worms that snake throughout the bulk of a 15,000-square-foot gallery. Pictured that yet? Good job! You just dreamed up the huge, terrifying musical instrument known as Uberorgan.
Uberorgan is a self-playing (and, we're convinced, self-aware) musical machine in which several bus-sized biomorphic balloons are tuned to different octaves so that when pressurized air is blown through a reed, a specific sound is produced. The notes themselves are encoded on a 250-foot-long scroll bearing dots and dashes that translate to "traditional hymns, pop songs and improvisational tunes." The score is deciphered by the organ's "brain," which is essentially a giant, light-sensitive player piano.
But what if you're not too keen on the built-in playlist? Well, due to the light-sensitive nature of the brain, you can always stop the score at a blank space and play the organ like a piano by blocking light from reaching each sensor. That is, until the thing finally decides that it's had enough of being cramped up in a museum and bursts out in a wave of destruction across Los Angeles like some kind of otherworldly jellyfish, puffing Katy Perry tunes the entire way.
As we've demonstrated in the past, the harp has long been a tinker toy for music majors with little to do after college but reinvent the proverbial musical wheel in their studio apartments (read: all music majors). However, unlike the laser harp that we showed you before, this particular creation is a little less sci-fi and a lot more down-to-earth. And huge. What you're looking at above is called the Earth Harp, which earned its hippie-friendly title by traversing a valley in the Santa Monica mountain range with a balanced tension system that looks like the result of Mother Nature getting knocked up by a cello.
The Earth Harp is the brainchild of Bill Close, artistic director of MASS Ensemble, who wanted to turn part of the planet itself into a giant, playable harp, because why the hell not? The instrument is composed of strings over 1,000 feet in length connecting the mountain ridge to a platform below, and holds the world record for the longest stringed instrument. Looking at it, you'd think it requires a huge robot or something to play it, but you can actually just play it with your regular old hands.
While this mountain installation is probably the most awe-inspiring, smaller scale Earth Harps have been strung across many famous architectural sites, such as the Space Needle in Seattle, the Los Angeles Natural History Museum and the World Financial Center in New York.
In some instances, the strings of the Earth Harp can actually be stretched over the heads of the audience, effectively placing them inside the instrument. It's been described as "standing inside the body of a cello or the belly of a whale." Of course, as far as we know no one has ever managed to survive either of those scenarios, so take that description with a grain of salt -- or a drop of acid.
You probably thought we were being facetious there, but we were really setting the stage to show you this Earth Harp that was constructed at Burning Man in 2011. That's called foreshadowing, people:
Yes, that staircase is playable. We wouldn't have included it on this list if it was just some stupid staircase somebody painted like piano keys. That working piano staircase is the creation of Volkswagen, whose marketing department is apparently comprised entirely of huge fans of the movie Big.
The point of the campaign is The Fun Theory, which was supposed to prove some kind of point about how people will usually choose the more fun option. You know, like their cars. Or something. Anyway, for the Piano Staircase, engineers from Volkswagen were redirected from, you know, designing cars, and sent to Sweden to make a musical staircase next to an escalator, in an effort to get people to play notes on the stairs, Tom Hanks-style, rather than letting the escalator haul their lazy asses up.
And apparently it worked. Volkswagen's goal was to see if more people would take the stairs if it was more fun than the escalator, and they did. They presumably had a secondary goal of seeing if it was funnier when fat people fell down the stairs if it made a comical little tune on the way down, but there is no video of those results.
And no, we still have no idea how this was supposed to help sell cars. Speaking of which ...
Some of you saw the "musical highway" featured in a Honda Civic commercial, and being the cynical types that you are, probably dismissed it as some kind of ad agency bullshit.
But it is an actual stretch of highway that is specifically tuned to play you a little song when you drive over it. How? Well, you know those annoying grooves they have on some highways to alert you that an intersection is coming up? And how they make an obnoxious fart sound when you drive over them?
The engineers at Honda figured that if you spaced the grooves just exactly right and made them just the right depth, you could change the tone to sound like musical notes. They had some highway engineers cut a carefully calibrated set of grooves into the pavement on a quarter-mile-long stretch of highway in Lancaster, California, the result being that the road played the William Tell Overture (also known as the Lone Ranger theme) whenever a car drove over it at 55 mph. We're assuming they asked somebody if they could do it first.
OK, so that's what the ad says, but they probably just dubbed in the song, right? There's no way they got it so perfectly timed and tuned that a set of rubber car tires could actually make it sound like anything. Well guess what, Mister Skeptic, here's a video of it actually working for some random, non-Honda-affiliated people:
Pretty cool, right? Now imagine you live near that road, with traffic driving over that shit all day, every day (and on into the night). It just got a little less cool, didn't it? Yeah, the local residents thought so, too. It made them so mad, in fact, that some residents forced the city to order Honda's little project paved over within a month of its completion.
But because the nice folks of Lancaster realized that, best case scenario, they were going to look like a bunch of crotchety old pricks who just wanted to spoil everyone's fun, they had the entire $35,000 project put back on an adjacent, less trafficked road, and it's still there to help attract your "gullible tourist" money today.
And it turns out that, though this was the first musical road in America, it wasn't exactly an original idea, because musical stretches of highway have been popping up in a number of places around the world -- such as the Anyang Singing Highway in Korea (playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb") and another road in Japan that plays a traditional Japanese tune and not, thankfully, a medley of J-pop tunes.
With all the Tom Cruises and atheists and vegans running amok, it's becoming increasingly difficult for a respectable, traditional church to keep its doors open in the 21st century. So to attract a new audience to the Olomouc Baroque chapel in the Czech Republic, they came up with a whole new Christian denomination based entirely on the teachings from the little known Book of Wii. Macula, a Prague-based projection mapping collective, outfitted the interior of the building with sound triggers, transforming it into an "interactive virtual musical instrument." And the best part? It's played with freaking lasers. Well, laser pointers, anyway.
The entire interior surface of the chapel has been tricked out with 3-D mapping technology to create triggers that initiate more than 100 different audiovisual reactions when the dot from a laser pointer hits them: The angel statues sing, the elements of the paintings represent distinct musical motifs, the pillars serve as effects sliders and the pulpit summons the spirit of Skrillex (probably).
Up to 10 visitors at a time can interact with the church, which is exactly 10 more people than have ever managed to use a laser pointer in church for anything other than making their fellow parishioners pray for their eternal damnation.
In 2005, a Croatian architect took approximately 230 feet of shoreline and installed a set of large marble stairs that descends into the sea, underneath which are a series of pipes and a resonating chamber that effectively transform the entire area into a colossal musical instrument played by the peaceful motions of the winds and the sea. The water flows into the pipes, and in turn pushes air out of a series of slots in the top stair.
The resulting sound is sort of a cross between what you'd hear when you put a conch shell next to your ear and the trippy opening of a '70s rock song:
It's not just random noise, either. You probably noticed that the organ plays "two musically cognate chords of the diatonic major scale" at very consistent intervals (what, you didn't notice that?). And since the waves don't make drastic changes in tempo all at once, the result is a soothingly haunting sound that could calm even the angriest of Cthulhus. Though we can't help but wonder what the thing would sound like in a hurricane.
For more unbelievably huge things on this planet, check out The 7 Most Terrifyingly Huge Things in the History of Nature and The 6 Most Gigantic Everything in the History of War.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Most Annoying Part of Working on the Death Star.