Listen to Music “Played” by Very Unlikely Sources


Music, you might have been told, can come from anywhere — the sky! the trees! the rushing wind! Well, that’s definitely true, but in recent months we’ve been noticing a lot of more deliberate projects dedicated to tapping very unconventional sources for their musical potential. From the universe’s gamma rays to goldfish, from traffic patterns to brain waves, turns out almost anything in our world can create a beautiful symphony, if only we can figure out how best to listen. Click through to listen to the dulcet tones of music wrung from the weirdest of sources, and if you know of any we haven’t mentioned, add to our collection in the comments!

A Symphony by the Universe

NASA scientists have converted the gamma rays of our universe into a surprisingly beautiful musical score. Or to be more precise: “Thanks to the Fermi Large Area (LAT) telescope, we can now ‘see’ gamma rays (high frequency electromagnetic waves) in the universe. Gamma rays are comprised of photons (elementary particles), each of which have their own energy and frequency. The higher the energy, the higher the frequency. By measuring their frequency, we can convert rays into musical notes.”

City Symphonies

We’ve heard of cities having music of their own before, but this takes that idea to a whole new level. Mark McKeague, an interaction design student, let the traffic in London compose a musical score. According to WIRED, “McKeague simulated the movement of vehicles around Parliament Square. By noting where traffic lights were, and modelling the acceleration and slowing of real cars, he created fake traffic jams. Then he turned it into music. Using MaxMSP, he hooked up audio signals associated with each car. The sound that each emits depends on its proximity to other cars on the road and the distance from the listener. At junctions, the music becomes more complex, as groups split and different cars head in different directions.”

The Goldfish Orchestra

“Quinetto” is a music installation by the Italian artist collective Quiet Ensemble that tracks the movement of five goldfish and translates them into sound. That is, it’s “based on the study of casual movement of objects or living creatures used as input for the production of sounds. The basic concept is to reveal what we call “invisible concerts” of everyday life. The vertical movements of the 5 fishes in the acquariums is captured by a videocamera, that translates (through a computer software) their movements in digital sound signals. We’ll have 5 different musical instruments creating a totally unexpected live concert.”

Music by Nature

Composer Diego Stocco is known for turning the world — and particularly the natural world — into his instrument, but we particularly love this song he did in real time for Burt’s Bees.

A Turntable that Reads Tree Rings

Here’s another way to turn nature into music — but in a wholly different fashion. German artist Bartholomäus Traubeck has created a record player that digitally reads the rings on slices of trees and translates them into piano music, reading the tree’s “years” as if they were grooves in a record. The resulting music is — somewhat appropriately — very dramatic.

The Teletron

Robert Schneider, singer/guitarist for The Apples in Stereo, hacked his Mattel Mindflex to create an instrument that lets him make music with his mind! “The Teletron is really cool to play,” he told WIRED . “You have to be very conscious of your thoughts, and alter the music by agitating your mind.”

The Sewing Machine Orchestra

Canadian artist Martin Messier’s Sewing Machine Orchestra is a series of linked Singer Sewing Machines that play strange clacking music, accompanied by Messier’s light show.

The Stupid Orchestra

We’ve seen lots of “unconventional” orchestras before, but this incarnation is one of our favorites — “The Stupid Orchestra,” an art installation-slash-35-minute noise symphony created out of over 200 small vintage household appliances by German conductor, harpsichordist and composer Michael Petermann. After “auditioning” hundreds of mini machines, Petermann designed his own system to compose the symphony, which he calls the “MIDI-to-Household-Appliance-Interface.”