“I’m a musician”, Henry Dagg says. The music press and many others would say he’s a sound artist or something more abstract still. Personally, I think he’s a musical genius who fits into several categories and none. There might be a leaning towards bonkers but this would be rather unfair and overlooking his tremendous talents as a designer, engineer, inventor and craftsman.
The Sharpsichord was intended to be an unmanned sound installation left outdoors for the public to play. With nobody to wind up the machine on a regular basis, Dagg rigged up solar panels to capture the sun’s energy to power it instead. Unfortunately, the immense time and cost invested in making the Sharpsichord was considered much too valuable to be put in the hands of the general public and sadly predictably vulnerable to metal thieves.
The stainless steel instrument is loosely based on the structure of a harp, with upright metal strings being plucked at the centre. A large rotating perforated drum contains the means to create different notes as pitch running along the length of the drum and time going around its circumference in 240 holes. Little metal pins are screwed into the drum at 1cm intervals and stand proud just enough to catch the mechanical plucking mechanisms at the rear. Piano keys are a secondary way of making it play, but exerting pressure on them requires great effort and is almost impossible with stretched fingers. It uses a concealed sliding horizontal weight on the strings to keep them taut and in tune. Gravity doesn’t change and the load on the strings is constant. For this reason, there is very little need for retuning at all.
This large showpiece was the unfamiliar sounding stringed instrument played on Sacrifice from Bjork’s 2011 album, Biophilia.
Other Dagg creations include the Voicycle, a motion created by cycling on a static tricycle and tightening/loosening the sideways pressure from a secondary disc controlled rather like a large handbrake from a car.