Geekmusic – MRI Update

August 18th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in not bad science | 14 Comments »

rca synth

Not bad science but there’s a great story in the Mail on Sunday about Prof Don Kurtz and his recordings from space: he’s changed the speed to get the frequencies into the audible range. You can listen to them below.

The Mail say they are “bell like tones”, and that’s not entirely inaccurate. They sound to me, as a music equipment nerd, a bit like the sound of a ring modulator, where the frequencies are mathematically related to each other but not in a classic harmonics kind of way.

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…and there are 13 more that won’t play in my flash mp3 player box thing, which you can find here:

badscience.net/files/blogentry/

Similar fun to be had with the eerie sound of Saturn’s radio emissions here.

There’s also quite a big scene for people making music out of the grinds and clanks of MRI scanners, showcased recently at dorkbot, but for some reason I can’t find any links on it right now. Are there any other good examples of music being extracted from lab equipment? Once upon a time, of course, that’s how all electronic music was made.

Update:

Here is the music of an MRI scanner, courteousy of Donald McRobbie, playing his guitar through the scanner, using the prodigiously huge magnet as a loudspeaker. You have to empty your pockets before you go anywhere near an MRI scanner, because metal items become projectiles. Me and my woman like to smear the entire room lens with vaseline before lying down next to an open fire listening to this first tune.

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“Basically – in “Shimming” the first sound you hear is the scanner running one of it’s normal routines. The first guitar is played through the MR gradient system using the magnet as a loudspeaker and recorded on a microphone. All the other instruments are added later. This is my own composition. Please acknowledge phonographic copyright to me 2003. The scanner was a 0.5T Picker.”

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“The second piece is recorded on a Siemens 1.5T Vision scanner, each guitar part being played through one physical gradient x,y, or z. The basic percussion part is a specially written MR pulse sequence. Other instruments are added later. All guitars are through the scanner.”

More Don music stuff below:

wildplum.co.uk/music/footloose/


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14 Responses



  1. crana said,

    August 14, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    It’s not quite the same, but I’ve seen music made from DNA and protein sequences

  2. coracle said,

    August 14, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    crana, Didn’t Liam Howlett of the Prodigy once try that? I never heard how that came out.

  3. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 14, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    i like the idea of using DNA as a source for music, especially as there are so many repetitive themes in there. have you got any links for that?

  4. dkb said,

    August 14, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    A Google search on DNA Sonification throws up a number of possibilities.

  5. dkb said,

    August 14, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    These are quite nice if you don’t object to their being a bit meandering:

    www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/bridges/inflections/mp3/

  6. Koant said,

    August 14, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    A couple of months ago, I had a quick go at turning MR spectra of brain tumours to sound bites to see if I could guess the tumour type simply by listening to the noise they make. I know next to nothing about music though and it didn’t go very far. I’ll try again at some point I think.

  7. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 14, 2006 at 8:08 pm

    The BBC just ran a story about sonification of seismic data of volcanoes, with a view to predicting their behaviour. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4777565.stm

    This is quite an important exercise for people who live anywhere near a volcano, as many people do, but I am puzzled that the sonified data are then put through computerised pattern recognition. One thinks, Would it not be better to analyse the actual seismic data, before putting them through a destructive process of sonification? Or to use the awesome pattern-recognition power of the human mind to listen – which doesn’t seem to be part of the story? Given that seismic information is geographically distributed, would a three-dimensional surround-sound presentation be helpful? And isn’t there already quite a large intersection between volcano prediction and woo-woo Bad Science – i.e., a lot of chancers at it in the past and present?

    I wasn’t awfully impressed that there was a [u]point[/u] to turning astronomical observations into funny noises either, but then I cannot really claim to be musical. Operetta is about as far as I go.

  8. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 14, 2006 at 8:24 pm

    just got this from prof k himself:

    Hi Ben,

    Please feel free to use anything from me and my colleagues on astero-
    and helioseismology. I attach a few sound files, most of which were on
    the Mail on Sunday site.

    You can find more on our developing outreach web site:

    astro.phys.au.dk/~jcd/HELAS/material.html

    and Zoltan Kollath’s stellar music site:

    www.konkoly.hu/staff/kollath/stellarmusic/

    Zoltan and his composer friend Jeno Keuler have composed two pieces of
    music now using the sounds of stars as the instruments of the orchestra
    (with a change of key by many octaves, of course).

    I hope those help; feel free to use them.

    The xi Hydrae “drumming” Red Giant star is from an European Southern
    Observatory press release

    www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2002/pr-10-02.html

    that you should be free to use. That is the file that my colleague in
    Belgium says she found kids dancing to in the discos.

    I know your Guardian column well and am delighted to hear from you. If
    there is anything else I can provide, just ask.

    all the best,

    Don

  9. tombola said,

    August 14, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    So you’re asking us to believe there is an astrophysicist called Kolláth Zoltán? Which is clearly the name of a baddie in Flash Gordon…

  10. Suw said,

    August 15, 2006 at 11:31 am

    I wonder if the guys at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, or any of the other cheesy scifi music composers from that bygon era, had any idea that their compositions would sound so much like real stars, as per www.konkoly.hu/staff/kollath/stellarmusic/

    I listened to Stellar Music No 1. and suddenly found myself expecting Captain Kirk to pop out from behind the fridge…

  11. hairnet said,

    August 17, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    www.spacesounds.com/home/

    for some great sounds

  12. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 19, 2006 at 11:37 pm

    I won’t compare the dates of [A For Andromeda] and the detection of pulsars, but certainly funny radio noises out of the sky were not new. In fact, they’re what your radio picks up when it doesn’t pick up anything else – at least on AM. So when radiophonic music sounds like a badly tuned radio receiver, it’s being authentically spacey. They shouldn’t have been allowed the budget to buy that Stylophone, though – the one that they stuck Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who with.

    …the other week they ran a [Two Ronnies] with a story where Ronnie Barker played both a genie summoned up by an ordinary bloke (guess who) and also Doctor Who, regenerated into Worzel Gummidge, both of course played by Jon Pertwee. The genie had transported Ronnie Corbett far back in time for no particularly good reason, and he borrowed the TARDIS to get home again.

    With this viewer and BBC 7 listener, it still only clicked a little while later than that that Ronnie Barker worked with Jon Pertwee for years on end, in [The Navy Lark]. It didn’t exactly show up in the performance, but I wouldn’t call it disrespectful.

    By the way, BBC 7 is playing a [Radio Roots] episode covering Pertwee’s radio career at 1800 on Wednesday – no other repeats (not this week), unusual for Seven. As another coincidence, the presenter is Russell Davies, but the other one.

  13. jjbp said,

    August 20, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    There was an article in Wired a bit back about a Prof in Computer Science in Aberystwyth who knew someone who was in the Shamen. It says a few paragraphs into the article that “he developed software that translated protein structures into musical chord sequences” and that there is an example of this on one of the Shamens’s albums.

    www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.08/robot.html

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