Technology and art have always advanced together. Material innovations lead to new media for artistic expression or enhancements to old ones. In recent times, engineers and scientists from various fields have used their knowledge to find new ways to compose music like never before.
Today we can hear music composed by, rather than inspired by, Mother Nature. The melodies of mathematics and statistics are as accessible as the music of Mozart. Here are ten examples of science and technology turned into music.
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10 Seismic activity
Fifty seismographs capture the 1,500 to 2,500 earthquakes in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park each year. The supervolcano there is almost always experiencing seismic activity, something that inspired composer and physicist Dr. Domenico Vicinanza to organize a unique concert at a conference in May 2023. He designed a computer program to convert seismic activity, traditionally represented by an engraving needle. on paper, in music in real time. The music could then be performed live on the flute.
The program works by translating the amplitude of vibrations into musical pitch, so larger vibrations are represented by higher notes. However, this unusual compositional method is not a mere musical curiosity. Dr. Vicinanza explains that he will help scientists investigate the patterns, peaks, and troughs that characterize seismic activity. He also believes that he will help promote the idea that everyone can enjoy science.
9 The solar system
Seismic activity was not the first scientific data that Dr. Vicinanza turned into music. In 2014, he turned 37 years of data collected by NASA’s two Voyager space probes into music for orchestra and piano. The result is surprisingly optimistic; space sounds more like the thrilling opening of Jupiter from Holst’s “The Planets” suite or Star Wars than the vast, slow magnificence of Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” better known as the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Dr. Vicinanza combined data from 320,000 proton count measurements per hour taken simultaneously by both spacecraft, billions of kilometers apart. He turned this into two exciting interwoven melodies where listeners can hear the patterns, changes, regularities, and shapes in the data.
8 Southern Ring and Carina Nebulae
In 2022, a team of scientists and musicians created sonifications of images taken by the James Webb Telescope to help visually impaired people distinguish key features in each image. Features such as the location, color, size, brightness, and age of each star in the two nebulae were translated into sounds using predefined musical parameters. The result is two strikingly different pieces, with the sympathy of the Carina Nebula offset by the uncomfortable dissonance of the South Ring.
The team also composed a third piece based on the spectrum of the atmosphere of the hot gas giant planet WASP-96 b. While their primary goal is to help visually impaired enthusiasts understand images through sound, they hope that music’s ability to reach people’s emotions will help make the discoveries of the James Webb telescope appeal to a broader audience. broad.
It’s not just physicists and astronomers who benefit from sonification; biologists have also joined. One who has benefited is molecular biologist Mark Temple, who discovered that the four bases of human DNA were easy to map to musical notes. The short melodies helped him identify patterns as he conducted vital research on cancer treatments. In fact, they were more effective than overwhelming visual demonstrations.
Later, he created his own software to convert data into sound, and began adding more instruments like guitars and drums to turn viruses, hormones, and proteins into music. However, he emphasizes that “musification” is different from “sonication”, as the latter is aimed at providing information and avoiding creative inputs, such as a heart rate monitor or a police siren. While molecular music may be less scientifically useful, he believes it can help improve scientific communication. During the pandemic, he worked with musician friends to produce a rock song out of the COVID-19 virus.
6 Bonn city, Germany
In litigious societies, it can be difficult for filmmakers to find music to include in their videos. The surest way to avoid a copyright claim is to have original music composed, but this option is not available to most people. However, it was available to the staff of the University of Bonn. Needing teaching music and training videos, the university staff partnered with students studying sound design.
The students had a unique approach to composition: they brought their recording equipment to the city of Bonn to capture sounds that they could later turn into samples. Each student was tasked with capturing 20 sounds. The noises, including popping beer bottles, bird chirping and an aerosol can, were worked into full tracks for use by university staff.
5 The brain waves of a philosopher
“All brains are musical, you and I are symphonies.” This is the belief of Dan Lloyd, who, while a professor of philosophy at Trinity College of Connecticut in 2016, decided to test his hypothesis that the dynamics of brain activity resemble that of musical compositions. He partnered with a local neuropsychiatry research center to capture the brain activity of fellow philosopher Daniel Dennett using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
He sonified 8,000 3D images of the eminent philosopher’s brain using familiar musical instruments and scales. He chose this approach because he believes that humans are adept at interpreting and filtering information when it is presented in a familiar way. He envisions this could eventually lead to a kind of fMRI stethoscope to help diagnose mental illness. For now, only Daniel Dennett’s brain is available for listening. How different the mind of this deep thinker is from the rest of humanity remains to be seen.
4 the northern lights
Alaskan composer Matthew Burtner grew up hearing stories of sounds produced by the aurora borealis, also known as the aurora borealis. He was finally able to solve the mystery in 2021 when he was commissioned by the BBC to compose a piece of music for their radio documentary “Songs of the Sky” and equipped with a very low frequency recorder. The device converts electromagnetic signals, including those produced by the aurora borealis, into sound waves so they can be heard.
However, it is not easy. The equipment is so sensitive that it picks up sounds from almost everything, meaning Burtner had to travel many miles away from any human activity. He described the original sounds of the lights as clicking and crackling, but they were unclear, so he reproduced them using electronic synthesizers. Able to hear more clearly, he later mapped them into parts of musical instruments. The entire composition, “Auroras”, attempts to sonically capture the feeling of seeing the lights outside on a clear night.
3 Lamborghini engines
In 2022, supercar maker Lamborghini’s sound engineers teamed up with music producer Alex Trecarichi to answer an intriguing question: What songs would a powerful Lamborghini engine turn into if it were turned into a piece of music? They tackled the task by capturing the vibrations of the V8, V10 and V12 engines across their full spectrum, from the low rumble of the engines idling to their most powerful roar.
Once the data, measured in hertz, was collected, mathematical formulas were applied to break it down into musical subcomponents, which could be tested for similarities to existing pieces of music. Instead of composing original pieces, the Lamborghini team worked to produce three “Engine Songs” playlists that included music that matched the sounds of each engine.
2 Polestar 2 car parts
Many people listen to music in cars, but cars are rarely heard in music. In 2021, the German musician and robotics engineer Moritz Simon Geist sought to remedy this. He started by building robots from parts of the popular Swedish electric car. Each robot produced a sound or had changes in its electromagnetic field recorded to make samples for Moritz to use. Both were necessary because the car is designed to minimize vibration, making it difficult to find sounds to record.
Moritz also focused on extracting sound waves from the car’s electrical components to make the samples specific to electric vehicles. He arranged samples of it into an original piece of music, “Sound of the Soul”, using the parts of the car as an orchestra. The samples were also released to the public so they could create their own music.
1 Climate change
Data sonification helps people interpret complex data by wrapping it in things like music, which they understand more intuitively than numbers on a spreadsheet. Therefore, it is not surprising that scientists have sonified one of the most important and difficult issues affecting the world today: climate change.
In 2018, a team of UC Berkeley graduates and a Stanford sound artist composed a piece of music based on 1,200 years of climate change data, specifically the correlation between atmospheric CO2 levels and global average temperatures since the year 850 AD C. until 2016. Music helps people experience the impact of climate change over time. When viewed on a chart, the data shows very little change before a sharp rise from around 1700 to the present.
But it’s hard to imagine what it really feels like to go so long without climate change, and how dramatic the recent increase has been. Scientists say that music allows people to experience time in a way that looking at a graph cannot. The piece is relaxing and pleasant at first, but quickly escalates towards the end when it starts to sound like an ambulance siren. Scientists hope this will help people understand its terrifying and urgent message.
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