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Grand Theater show has strings attached

A GIANT harp with strings more than 20 meters long will be played at the Shanghai Grand Theater on Friday, when MASS Ensemble presents their first concert in China as part of the Shanghai International Arts Festival.

MASS (Music, Architecture, Sonic, Sculpture) is an internationally renowned US performance group that combines unique musical sculptures and site-specific installations with traditional instrumentation. The most famous of MASS Ensemble's fascinating creations is the Earth Harp, the world's largest stringed instrument.

The Earth Harp and other original instruments such as the Drum Orb, Drum Clouds, Drumbrella and the Aquatar are all unique to MASS, as they were designed and created by Artistic Director Bill Close. The instruments, along with projections, provide a landscape in which the artists perform.

The Earth Harp gained its name after its first performance when it was installed in a valley, with strings running from one side of the valley across to the other side, turning the Earth's natural landscape into a giant harp. That is the longest harp that has been installed, but there have been many different versions designed according to the performance venue.

Whether in a theater or an outdoor plaza, the harp's size renders extraordinary experiences to musical performances.

The MASS Ensemble also has a specific plan for the performance in Shanghai with the longest string - a middle-C note connecting the stage and the auditorium on the second floor.

The Earth Harp is played with gloves that have violin rosin (a friction-reducing resin) on them, says Close. The hands are run along the strings to create a vibrational wave. The vibration transfers into the wooden resonating chamber that is attached to the stage.

The way the instrument is tuned is with tuning blocks that rest on the strings. A dampening block is put on each string at different distances from the resonating chamber. The further away from the chamber the block is placed on the string, the lower the pitch.

"Therefore, middle-C note is achieved by putting the block 20m away from the chamber, the octave below that is achieved by putting the block 40m away," says Close.

The sound quality of the instrument is astounding, and just one instrument is akin to a whole symphonic string section. The combination of violin, cello, bass, flute, dance, sculptural drums and other invented instruments create a powerful musical experience that is balanced by the symphonic sounds of the long string instrument.

This extraordinary performance has been staged worldwide, in venues including the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Coliseum in Rome, Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle and the 10th Anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China.

Date: October 22, 7:15pm

Address: 300 People's Ave

Tickets: 100-580 yuan

Tel: 6433-4236, 6437-6959


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