Here’s why I’m asking:
- I’m about to go interview the developer of my signature electric harp at his factory in France and I need a list of questions YOU want me to ask and images that YOU want to see.
- If you know an editor or writer at “Wired” who would be interested in this story – I need your help connecting with them. This is an unusual story of the collaborative relationship between a developer and a super-user.
- You techies out there – I’m probably using tech-terminology incorrectly in this story – but when you read it, you’ll know what I’m talking about – so please give me the right words so I can communicate with the tech community about this.
Here’s the story:
25 years ago I invented a new kind of harp — meaning, I visualized it and fell in love with the idea, started drawing designs of it, describing it to harp builders and begging them to make me a prototype.
It was a new kind of instrument – a harp the size and power of an electric guitar – like the love-child of a concert harp and an Stratocaster.
It’s the harp I play today. The one that’s named after me, the “DHC.”
Long story short …
I cobbled together a prototype and took it to the world’s most visionary harp builder – Joel Garnier, the head of CAMAC Harps in France. He made a ‘real’ prototype from mine, and it became my signature instrument.
When he died, his protégé, Jakez Francois, continued development and it’s now become the standard of electric harps and if you want one you can get on a waiting list – they’re in high demand.
But the road wasn’t totally smooth.
CAMAC’s first prototype was great, but was made of wood. It was heavy – and each progressive model got heavier as the hardware was improved. Eventually it became so heavy it was unplayable.
In 2010 I convinced CAMAC to collaborate with bicycle manufacturers in France to create a new super model of the instrument that would bringing racing bike technology to harp manufacturing. I wanted a model light enough to easily wear, powerful enough to solo with symphony orchestras and tour with a rock band. Because I do both those things.
And that’s exactly what happened. CAMAC did go to the bike builders. They used bike body-design to create a new carbon-fibre model harp, which has now become the standard for wearable electric harps and that’s the model that carries my name – the “DHC” model.
Success! Well … yes and no.
The CAMAC company is the manufacturer – but nobody on their team plays this instrument with the kind of physicality I do – so nobody puts the kind of performance demands on it that I do.
So, while the technology and design of the instrument is impeccable, the user interface can be problematic.
- The harness hardware works for a person who’s standing, but not for one who’s dancing.
- The harp stand is secure – but it weighs 15 pounds so it’s unrealistic to transport in luggage.
- Shifting the harp between the harness and the stand requires 30-60 seconds to adapt the hardware — completely unrealistic during a show where I’m taking the harp on and off regularly – plus it means removing a small proprietary piece of hardware that, if I lose it, makes the harp unusable.
That’s just the beginning.
Are these big “problems?” Well … sure … but … The truth is, it’s NORMAL and it’s part of the rich and ever-evolving collaborative process between a developer and a primary user. It’s actually a beautiful relationship and a rich collaboration.
Just Like a Software Developer and the Primary User
As my relationship with CAMAC has developed over the decades and we’ve collaborated on the development of new technology and all the ancillary elements that make that new technology actually usable I’ve been struck by how closely my experience with CAMAC parallels the relationship of software developers and the super users who make brilliant new technology actually USABLE by normal people.
For example: I designed the harness that makes it possible to actually wear the instrument, I write music people can play on it, I train harp players in how to use it and how to make the adaptations to the instrument that make it actually viable in concert.
As the instrument is now becoming a serious ‘player’ in the harp field, this is part of my role as the original conceptualizer and the primary player.
At first it totally frustrated me that I couldn’t use the harp ‘out of the box.’ Until I started using WordPress …
What WordPress Taught Me
When I started using WordPress, I was mystified by all the ‘plug-ins.’ I didn’t understand who was creating them and what their relationship to the basic platform was.
Slowly I began to understand that each plug-in is created by a user with specific needs and that user empowers the basic software for everyone through their plug-in.
Eventually some of those plug-ins become part of the software because they’re relevant to every user – and some remain plug-ins because they’re relevant to specific kinds of users.
I began to realize that that’s exactly what I was doing with the harp. The minute I take a new “DHC” out of the box, I have a set of adaptations and … well, plug-ins … that I do to make the instrument performance-ready.
Sometimes I convince CAMAC to use these in their new version of the instrument – sometimes they’re simply my plug-ins.
That’s why I want to talk to “Wired”
I realized my story provides an unusual – and highly visual (and audio!) – example of collaboration in the world of technology design. What I experience collaborating on new technology design with CAMAC is standard in the tech world – but this is a beautiful (truly – the harp is BEAUTIFUL) and unusual example of that same collaboration model.
This is fascinating. It’s visual. It’s art. It’s technology. It’s collaboration. And I want to share it.
Here’s why TIME is of the Essence
Next week I’m flying to the CAMAC factory in France to see these harps in production for the first time and to have a video interview with the genius behind the production of the “DHC,” Jakez Francois.
And I have a video crew!
I’ll be AT the factory WITH the developer. I can ask anything and we can tour the factory.
I want to get footage that will tell the story.
I want to ask questions that will illuminate that story.
This is where I need your help:
- What questions would you want me to ask of the man who brought my invention into being, what part of the story do you want to see or hear?
- What images and video from the factory do YOU want to see?
- Do you know an editor or writer at “Wired” who would LOVE telling this story with me?
- Are there other people you know – journalists, developers – who would LOVE telling this story, or who would have illuminating questions I should ask – because my story parallels the story they’re living and telling in this world?
If you have an idea, please add it to the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s what the harp …and I … look like today.
And here’s my dream scenario — off to the airport with my harp on my back and one bag. My next plug-in … a real backpack for the harp.