Last week, the Internet was buzzing about Dmitry Morozov, a man with a musical tattoo. Morozov — a media researcher and scientist — created an instrument that uses a black line sensor and a Wii remote to transform his tattoo into musical tones that can range anywhere from light piano notes to grinding synth sounds.
His instrument is especially innovative and not particularly pleasant to hear (he has big plans for his next instruments that will allow musicians to generate electronic music in real time through the movement of their bodies), but he's just one of many musician scientists revolutionizing music with a whole new world of instruments that could completely change how we interact with our surroundings.
The rhythms of the body. Greg Fox is another such innovator working to translate bodily movements into sound. To create his most recent album Miteral Transmissions, he used biofeedback technology to translate the various rhythms of his heart into a full melodic orchestra. He wound up discovering something beautiful and useful to medical doctors.
The technology uses computer programs, created by Jazz musician Milford Graves, to capture variations in the heart's rhythms and pitches, which are caused by muscle and valve movement. Graves found that the pitches of heartbeats correspond to actual notes on the Western musical scale and, when they're raised several octaves, they make for very pleasant and complex polyrhythmic music.
As Graves played with his technology, he discovered that the music he was creating could also have incredible medical applications. By raising the pitch of the heart's tones into our melodic register, doctors may be able to detect irregularities and help patients correct them. "You can pinpoint things by the melody," Graves said, "You can hear something and say, 'Ah, sounds like a problem in the right atrium.'"
Vegetable sounds. Fox's label, Data Garden, has developed numerous projects that excavate beautiful music from the real world (many of these are showcased in the Personified art exhibit). Among his various inventions: fruits and vegetables that turn our bodies' biological patterns into music.
Sensors are attached to apples or other fruits which, when touched, read the electric signals passing through your skin into the fruit and then transmit them to a computer which turns them into beautiful sounds.
Music is everywhere. The singing vegetables are similar to a another musical project called Makey Makey. The project of a MIT graduate program that can essentially turn anything into a sonic trigger. Alligator clips connect from a simple switchboard to a user and to an object, such as a banana. When the two come in contact and complete the connection, an electronic signal is produced. This can be translated into a command input or musical tone. And it sounds beautiful:
What all this means for music. Right now, these projects are still in their infancy, but there's a sea change afoot in music — one that will change first our sounds and then our songwriting, opening up endless opportunities to turn literally anything into a work of art. One of the reasons so much electronic music sounds the same, and follows the same formulaic songwriting process is because it's limited by the instruments we most commonly use. But as we turn ourselves and our world (vegetables, included) into instruments, we're remaking how we think about art and, more importantly, our own world.