Grand finale to punctuate the Next Big Idea

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By Roger Snodgrass

Big ideas go on and on but The Next Big Idea will have a definite climax.

The first instance of what Los Alamos organizers hope will become an annual signature attraction, The Next Big Idea, is meant to showcase discoveries and inventions. In downtown Los Alamos Saturday, July 19, there will a variety of activities for youth in a “Discovery Zone,” where participants can see, squish and otherwise interact with innovations. The Bradbury Science Museum will facilitate “Zephyr” workshops and competitions for children and adults, and Gordons’ Concerts will present the Pete Amahl Quartet at 11 a.m., featuring Hillary Smith on vocals and the rhythm section from the Greg Abate Band.

The day is expected to reach a spectacular conclusion Saturday night at the Duane Smith Auditorium, if advance notices of the musical performance group MASS Ensemble are reliable guides.

The group’s founder and artistic director Bill Close said in a telephone interview Friday that the performers will be bringing their most famous musical creation for the occasion.

“We’re bringing in the Earth Harp,” Close said from his studio in Venice, Calif. “We’re going to set it up in the interior of the auditorium.”

The Earth Harp is a highly scalable instrument with 16 spaghetti-sized strings that are tuned with tuning blocks, like capos on a guitar. The harp has been adapted to a variety of environments from the World Trade Center to the Roman Coliseum.

The effect places the audience inside the instrument, which is played with resined gloves that run up and down on the strings rather than sideways like a bow.

“There is a really beautiful quality to the strings,” he said. “They’re very rich in harmonics. It sounds like sitting inside a string section in an orchestra.”

The Earth Harp was born in a valley in Peoria, Ill., in late 1999. It holds the world record for Longest Stringed Instrument at more than 1,000 feet in length, but it can be adapted to the performance space.

The group toured Asia in 2007, where they “strung” a new terminal in Hong Kong and “strung a temple” in Vietnam.

“Stringing the earth,” Close has said, is a metaphor for keeping the Earth in tune.

“We just did a big piece of the Utah Arts Festival,” Close said. “We do a lot of traveling.”

The Earth Harp, he said, is carried in eight extra bags.

“I’ve built everything so it breaks down into surfboard bags,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve probably set it up 300-400 times.”

He describes the music as “rock-classical,” and “symphonic, but rocking at the same time.”

It is a multimedia, performance-based music with themes, spoken words and lyrics that “develop little bits of narrative.”

Saturday’s performance will include drum sculptures, drum kits and other invented instruments, like the Aquitar, a three-necked guitar sculpture and the Violin Jacket, “a jacket that’s also a violin.”

The performance at Duane Smith will feature three performers, although the group is sometimes as many as 11.

As well as bringing The Next Big Idea day to a spectacular conclusion, the concert will be the first to take place in the newly renovated Duane Smith Auditorium.

Tickets are available online at www.nextbigideala.com for the 7 p.m. performance – $15 for adults and $10 for kids.

The Next Big Idea is a creation of Los Alamos MainStreet. For more information on MASS Ensemble, access www.massensemble.com.