Picture of Rope and Sound Interactive Tensegrity Sculpture

A unique interactive musical harp using electronic sensing rope technology. 

This piece originally appeared as part of the Extreme Textiles exhibit at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in 2005.  During 2006 it was installed in the main lobby at Pixar.

This piece is currently seeking a new home in a museum or similar location!
Please email dan-at-MonkeyLectric-dot-com if you can help.

  • Grip any blue rope near the center of the rope
  • Pull hard to make a sound!
  • Each rope makes a different sound (listen to the mp3 file below)
  • Watch the display screen when you pull

  • Conductive fibers are braided with traditional fibers to produce a patented rope technology that is capable both of carrying a load and monitoring the weight of that load.  The rope acts as its own strain gauge, monitoring tension constantly while the rope is in use. In this installation, changing the tension in the blue sensing ropes creates an electrical signal that modulates the music that you hear through a synthesizer. Just as the human muscular-skeletal system is a tensegrity of muscle and bone, the ropes and aluminum tubes form a tensegrity of tension and compression, pushing and pulling, weightlessness and gravity.
  • Based on Tensegrity structures. The three main struts are held in place only by the tension of the ropes, they are not attached to each other or to the floor. A "standard" three-strut tensegrity of similar form has nine ropes required to hold it up. Here we have replaced each of those nine ropes with a spline of twelve, resulting in 108 total ropes. The resulting structure is surprisingly sturdy, it can easily support hundreds of pounds from the top end of each main strut with negligible deformation.

  • 9 feet high, 8 feet wide, 8 feet deep (dis-assembly is possible for transport)
  • approximately 300 pounds
  • three main struts are 12.5 feet long, 5.5 inch diameter.


You can build your own non-musical model of this structure in just a couple hours.  All you need are 3 sticks, a roll of string and a drill.  (see the last step of the instructable)

jack1soul12 years ago
hey can any one help me
i want to do it but i cannt know how many hole i should make
if any one can send me a vedio around it
i will be happy please help me fast
here is my email
Speedmite4 years ago
This look cool. It took a bit for me to realize what this is. I thought it was small...

But this looks great, I just wish that there was a desktop version, even if it didnt play.
dan (author)  Speedmite4 years ago
you can make your own non-musical one, no problem! all you need is 3 sticks, a spool of string, and a drill. drill 3 rows of equally spaced holes down the sticks (lets say, 3 rows of 12 holes). cut string into 9 pieces. feed the string through the holes. the models we made in step 4 are done just this way. you may need to have a 2nd person hold the 3 sticks in about the right orientation while you feed the strings through. i think i'll add this as a new step.
RMORENO75 dan3 years ago
Hey Dan, are you still looking for a museum for the "Rope and Sound Interactive Tensegrity Sculpture"? I'll be emailing you at your monkeylectric email with my info. Thanks.

Lic. Robert Moreno
This thing is amazing up until the part where you change hi-rezolution naturally complex signals into midi to trigger recordings of other instruments. You should be using models for re-synthesis instead. Then it will become more like a real instrument instead of another beautiful sculpture that mimics a midi-controller from the 80's.

I might like to help with that part, if you are interested. Thank you for the great instructable!
dan (author)  cloverstreet4 years ago
yes that would make it better. we didn't do that yet because it is much harder than for a normal stringed instrument. metal instrument strings are very good at having a predictable response that changes consistently depending on the strength and timing of the plucking. the response of our ropes varies a lot given the same input stimulus. this made it a challenge just to reliably detect that they were plucked at all.
randomray4 years ago
Cool sculpture , great idea . Just one thing your sculpture is based on one of Kenneth Snelson's designs . Bucky was pretty smart and cool and all that , but he got his idea from Snelson . Really look it up . Bucky was a shameless self promoter . LOL
dan (author)  randomray4 years ago
oh thanks, i added a link to that.
buteomont4 years ago
Ok, I'll be the first to ask - how much did this thing cost to build? It's a nice piece of artwork, but it had to be expensive!
dan (author)  buteomont4 years ago
About $10,000 in parts and materials. Labor not included.
wtf is 555 dan4 years ago
Lol, too much $$$ for musical jump-ropes tied to a girder.

It's nice though.
dan (author)  wtf is 5554 years ago
i've seen lots of times where a bunch of paint smeared onto a piece of cloth costs over $1 million. i mean really!
hammer9876 dan4 years ago
You know, you have a point there. LOL!
Rich994 years ago
begs for a vid of sculpture in use w/ good sound...
Nice work, a bit out of 'iblers usual league, but nice.

Is the rope commercially available ?
hg3414 years ago
yo uneed to do an 'ible on that sweet braider you have...
cool 'ible and nice art
Wozers! Talented man