The Radioactive Orchestra

It all started as a day dream on a long road trip – what if a Geiger counter could be used to produce music instead of those hideous clicks, to illustrate the beauty of the radioactive world around us? With the help of the WM Makerspace, an Arduino, a MightyOhm.com Geiger tube, a few hours of coding, a few more hours of expanding and de-bugging, and a daily latte, a great and scary thing has been created.

You can hear the creation at work here.

The short explanation is that the Arduino takes a time interval, in milliseconds, between two successive ‘hits’ in the Geiger tube, and uses that randomness to send a MIDI signal (the language electric keyboards commonly use) to a computer to play a random tone, at a random volume, on a random instrument. Radiation initially used was simple background radiation – cosmic rays, earth’s radioactive elements, anything whizzing by us all the time. Later on, I used a small radioactive sample extracted from a common household smoke detector, held close to the detection tube, in order to get more notes per minute, and to ‘play’ the instrument – if I heard something I liked, I would move the sample away, so that the note held for longer.

The result is a synthetic, avant-garde, beautifully confusing orchestra of sounds, with a little bit of human input to make the builder feel relevant.

A more detail explanation of the project follows the break for those interested.

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