Making Music, Artist Spotlight

The Radioactive Orchestra

No Comments 12 November 2012

The Radioactive Orchestra

In one form or another, music can be preserved and be ever-present – whether through hardware or in the mind – but there always seems to be an intangible and invisible component involved in bringing it to primary human awareness, whether it’s electrical currents, waves of vibration or neurological recollection. How interesting of a pairing is it then, when one intangible, occasionally invisible presence cleverly highlights another?

The second phenom in question is radioactive material – specifically radioisotopes. This is one of many awe-inspiring accomplishments by the staff of Kollektivet Livet Produktion, a company, as stated on their website, that “delivers projects and solutions in areas like graphic production, design, events, advertising and public relations.”

Through a project appropriately titled “The Radioactive Orchestra,” Kollektivet Live has found a musical way to illuminate the presence of various radioactive isotopes across a very wide spectrum. Depending on the specific photon highlighted, the pitch heard is higher or lower. More gamma ray energy means higher pitch and vice versa. The key creators and researchers involved not only Kollektivet but also the Swedish Nuclear Safety and Training (KSU) and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). As described on, the audible translation of these subatomic particles is achieved though “a photon detector which is connected to a computer.” The science behind this statement is more than a little complicated for those not versed in physics but in short, it deals with the individual excited states and decays patterns of each isotope in the “orchestra’s repertoire,” which give each of these a distinct melodic counterpart.

Though the sounds produced by Kollectivet’s machine are not anything grandiose, (think 8-bit Nintendo music), the thought of limitless variation is certain to pique composer interest and is thanks in part, to quantum mechanics, which dictates one-of-a-kind patterns for the particles. The idea that infinite artistic creativity is due entirely to an inherent and scientifically proven process gives pause to the ongoing battle between the logical and the subjective.

The Radioactive Orchestra project was initiated last year but was recently brought into a widespread spotlight fitting of its mixed fieldwork. TEDx Göteborg hosted a talk on The Radioactive Orchestra back in September. For a more in-depth explanation of Kollektivet’s work and their work on The Radioactive Orchestra, see the video below. The video features the work of Swedish house DJ, Axel Boman, done through the Radioactive Orchestra. If you’d like to experiment with the orchestra yourself you can do so here:

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