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Alum, Students Light up the Music Scene

By day, Ian Charnas is a mild-mannered web designer who, from the relative safety of his home office, creates web pages and apps for clients across the globe.

By night, the Case Western Reserve alumnus assumes a less pedestrian identity, donning a chain mail suit and dancing to giant Tesla coils that transform lightning into music.

"We explode the air with audio frequencies, and the audience hears it as music," Charnas says. "It's a creative way of bringing art and technology together."

Charnas, who graduated from Case Western Reserve in 2005 with undergraduate degrees in computer—and mechanical engineering, started the Tesla Orchestra three years ago. Since then, his group—a troupe of students, musicians, dancers, script writers, choreographers and engineers—has performed in Croatia and Austria and been written about on wired.com, pitchfork.com and NPR Online.

"Students have really poured their heart into this project, and it's generated a lot of excitement," Charnas says. "It's a challenge, and it's fun and rewarding."

The group performs pop ditties by artists such as Lady Gaga and the B-52s, and last year hosted the Open Spark Project, which translated songs by artists from around the world into lightning. It even garnered a submission from Girl Talk, aka Gregg Gillis, a 2004 alumnus of the Case School of Engineering and Tesla Orchestra fan.

While Charnas, a self-professed nerd, enjoys playing with lightning—who wouldn't?—there's a message in his madness.

Through entertainment, he hopes to spur interest in science. "Nowadays, you have to grab kids by the eyeballs," Charnas says. "A Mr. Wizard-style show won't cut it anymore."

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