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Wed May 18 15:38:07 CDT 2011

"Forget Merrie Melodies, try holmium harmonies over bromine beats. 

The Radioactive Orchestra - an online tool that converts decaying
radioactive isotopes into musical notes - lets you rock out with your atomic
clock out, choosing from 3175 isotopes in the chart of nuclides to include
in your compositions

Created by Swedish company KSU in collaboration with DJ Axel Boman, the tool
is "a new way to understand radiation and atoms", and an attempt to "inspire
everyone to learn natural science by making it playful and beautiful". 

The concept is simple. Nuclides are atomic nuclei, and when one decays it
releases photons, which The Radioactive Orchestra represents as a musical
note. Different nuclides emit photons of different energies, and their
energy value in kiloelectronvolts (keV) is represented by the pitch of a
note in hertz, constrained by the software to the musical scale. You control
the overall tempo and the pitch of each decaying atomic nucleus through an
intuitive interface that looks like a mixing desk. You can even change the
waveform of the sound for a harsher melody line or rounder bass thump. 

As a bonus, you get your own (educational) music video while your
composition plays: simple animations represent the decaying atoms on one
side of the screen with coloured nuclei releasing their photons at different
energy states. 

I got the odd pleasant harmony as nuclides decayed at musically compatible
energy states - erbium-163 on its own sounds like a xylophone being attacked
by an overzealous sparrow, but twinned with a bismuth-196 bass at 160 beats
per minute it's the very definition of contrapuntal oompf. 

Quicken the tempo and the whole thing starts to sound like Super Mario on
speed. Fantastic. 

I played around with this (at work) for longer than I expected to or
possibly should have: it's fun, and quickly became a challenge to my musical
prowess to get those decay states sounding just right. One drawback is that
you can only load five isotopes in the mixing desk at a given time, so
aspirations for a radioactive symphony will have to be shelved for now. 

My offering ended up sounding like a minimalist cross between Lipps Inc's
Funkytown and Kraftwerk's The Robots. Who says you shouldn't play with


Link to the orchestra requires flash

Fred Dawson
New Malden

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