This Russian Soundsystem Turns Radiation Into Ambient Music

Dmitry Morozov has already shown us tattoos that make music. Here's his latest invention.

Dan Wilkinson

Unfortunately, radiation is a byproduct of pretty much all the things we love, from texting on your iPhone to watching Seinfeld re-runs or even buying X-ray records, it is truly a glowing green friend that we never want to be anywhere near in abundance. Now, thanks to mad Russian laboratory, we have more than Godzilla and the Hulk to add to the list of things that it has created.

Meet the Metaphase Sound Machine, a music making machine that uses a geiger counter to churn out the weirdest music this side of listenable. The Geiger counter is a device which picks up radiation and translates that into a signal depending how close it is. The oscillating sound is then modulated and feedbacks on itself - creating something that makes you aware of how much radiation is around, while soundtracking it with sounds more wild than an Animal Collective b-side.

The machine was part of a cultural project called Quantum Entanglement, by the Moscow laboratory arts and science space for the Future Everything festival, and it was created by Dmitry Morozov (pictured above), an experimental media artist who has already brought musical tattoos to Noisey’s attention in the past. This new sound machine is inspired by the cult physicist Nick Herbert’s quantum experiments, which resulted in the metaphasic typewriter machine, an invention not easily explained in one sentence, but involves: typewriting, quantum physics, and ghosts.

I talked to Dmitry, known by his artist name ::vtol::, about his radiation sound system, the wild theories of Nick Herbert, and how to explain quantum physics to someone like me.

Noisey: How does your latest invention, the Metaphase Sound Machine (pictured below), work?
Radiation detected by the Geiger counter controls speed of the disc, with microphones and speakers that produce feedback noises which are used as generators for music composition.

It’s not music as most people know it.
Well, the machine produces feedback whistles when one of the mics is close to its neighbourhood speaker. These whistles are used as triggers for a more complex sound engine that produces rich tones of algorithmic ambient compositions.

Not exactly hitmaking material then. So, where did the idea come from?
The idea came from my study of the history of quantum physics, through it I found out about the work of Nick Herbert and the metaphasic typewriter machine. The whole project was commissioned by the festival Future Everything which has a collaborative exhibition with Moscow laboratory art and science space. The exhibition was called Quantum Entanglement, and I thought this was the perfect way to communicate how interesting quantum physics can be.

Tell me more about Nick Herbert. He seems pretty... out there?
Nick Herbert is an American physicist who was studying quantum physics in the mid-70s. He was also mixing fundamental physics with non-traditional ideas like psychedelic drugs, paranormal activity, the nature of consciousness, and speculative connections of these areas with quantum physics. And he built machines that were trying to use quantum physics ideas to contact spirits.

Am I right in thinking he created a typewriter for contacting ghosts?
With Richard Shoup of Xerox’s research department, Herbert constructed a metaphase typewriter, a quantum operated device whose purpose was to communicate with disembodied spirits. Despite many tests, including an attempt to contact the spirit of the escape artist Harry Houdini on the hundredth anniversary of his birth, the group reported no success with the device.

So what's the science behind your sound machine?
So basically I just made the same machine as Herbert, where the geiger counter is used as random source data to get a flow of random events and then to organise some process based on this flow. But instead of letters and numbers my machine plays music through infinite soundscapes.

What’s unique about it?
The unique thing about my machine is that it using a real random generator (chaotic radiation particles), in opposition to computer random generators which are always finite as a source for infinity music composition. So, thanks to being dictated by radiation, this music genuinely has an infinite amount of directions that it can go in.

How does a person get into making these kinds of inventions?
Well this style is inspired by many things like old sci-fi movies, laboratory test machines, prototypes, and robots. But I’m always trying to make not just a piece of hardware, but a project which is full of different layers of meaning and ideas.

What motivates you to create them though?
I have unstoppable passion to build and find inspirations and concepts for new machines and projects. I’m reading a lot books about futurology, technologies, science, new media art and media archaeology, it’s a great source for ideas and concepts.

The last time we talked it was about your project which could turn tattoos into music. How was the response to that?
That project, Reading My Body (watch below), got really amazing feedback! Lots of good comments and views on vimeo, I got in Wired as well! I was also invited to few international festivals.