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The Earth Harp is the Biggest Harp in the World

The intersection of architecture and music.

Endorsed as a visionary by Howard Stern and Sharon Osbourne, William Close was a finalist on America's Got Talent for playing the world’s biggest stringed instrument, the Earth Harp. Now, the California-based musician just signed a record deal with Nettwerk for an album coming out this spring.

Exploring the intersection of architecture and music, the audience literally sits inside the belly of the harp as it is played. With strings that are 1,000 feet long in length, the body of the harp sits onstage with strings that shoot out over the audience to the back of the venue (or attached to landmarks if outside). To be "inside" the audience makes it feel like you’re in the belly of a whale. Close has played it everywhere from the Seattle Space Needle to the Philadelphia central train station and Frank Lloyd Wright's studio.

It all began when he first turned a valley into a giant harp, and draws his inspiration from the installation artist Christo. Close has always been inspired by the Wright quote, “Architecture is frozen music.” No surprise then, his past project includes the Symphonic House, where he retrofitted a home with electroacoustics. Set like a harp with strings on the walls, if you pluck strings in one room, it resonates through the others. The home owners practice all the time, and according to Close, have gotten quite good at playing it.

As Close gears up for the re-release of Behind the Veil, an atmospheric, spaced-out and a somewhat soulful listen with different guest vocalists, here are five wonderful and weird reasons to check out his stuff out, with comments from Close himself.


William Close playing the Earth Harp at Burning Man in 2011.

1. Celebrity-endorsed talent is worthy of checking out, even to just figure out why.

Being on America’s Got Talent allowed Close to garner a bigger audience – and more allies. Howard Stern and Sharon Osbourne “loved my work,” recalls Close. “They really believed in the unique power of what I do. Howard believes in original approaches to music and performance so it was a natural that he would like my stuff.

2. It looks insanely satisfying is it to play an instrument so big (but also a lot of work).

Built originally in 1999, it took Close time to figure out how to play it. “I have developed my abilities and techniques on the instrument through experimentation and musical abilities,” he said.

3. Close has created hundreds of other D.I.Y. instruments, from the Drumbella to the Percussion Jacket.

A creative inventor in his own right, many of Close’s instruments are outdoor-friendly. “I like exploring the combination of sculpture and architecture with music,” Close said. Pictured here is the Aquatar.

4. The Earth Harp is attached to a mountain in Malibu.

This is how Close practices in his studio. “The studio has an Earth Harp in it with strings that shoot out the studio and up to the mountain,” he said. The Earth Harp is part of MASS Ensemble, which is new takes on classical with invented, often one-of-a-kind and large-scale, musical instruments.

5. Next up, Close is working on a project the Sonic Odyssey.

He says it is “a new show about the journey of musical exploration.” Launching next fall, stay tuned.