the ‘radioactive orchestra’ uses data from the gamma decay of atoms as the foundation for electronic music composition
above: artist’s rendering of the omnipresence of natural radiation, a concept the team hopes to express through sound
‘radioactive orchestra‘, a web-based musical interface resultant from a collaboration between sweden’s royal institute of technology
(KTH) and nuclear safety and training institute (KSU), is designed to render aurally the processes of atomic gamma decay.
KTH professors arne johnson and bo cederwall and doctorate karin andgren envisioned and developed the project, which
was formalized by electronic artist kristofer hagbard into an interactive web interface for data exploration and sound track generation.
gamma decay occurs when a nucleus is unstable, as an atom emits a gamma ray to bring itself to a lower, more stable
energy state. every type of material (and every isotope of each type of atom) gives off a characteristic signature in this process,
which the KTH scientists were interested in representing in some physical form. ‘radioactive orchestra’ was also designed
to draw attention to the fact that ionizing radiation is not just a product of nuclear accidents or artificial processes but instead
is omnipresent in our bodies and environment.
the team explains:
‘if we could hear the radiation we would have constant sound around us all the time. we would hear different notes repeated,
maybe at quite a steady rate, but it would always be something new. [as it is,] we can’t feel ionizing radiation with our senses,
but we could translate it, and that is what this [project] is based on. we translate these characteristic gamma energies to notes
instead, to frequencies. then you get an audio impression directly from the characteristic radiation. these are the patterns
we explore and make [music] from.‘
screenshot from the ‘radioactive orchestra’ website
the first sound track created from the project was made by stockholm-based DJ axel boman, in collaboration with electronic artist
kristofer hagbard. the process of selecting isotopes, setting various physical and musical parameters (such as the speed of disintegration
and the musical scale) and compiling these sounds can be experimented with by users on the radioactive orchestra website.
boman reflects: ‘what is great about playing this to physicists is that they can understand what is happening. we only hear notes,
but if we tell them a bit about how we created these melodies , then they can predict what the melodies will sound like.‘
readers can explore the scientific and aural data, and create their own compositions on the ‘radioactive orchestra‘ website.