Musical Mod Lets MRI Scanner Soothe The Frazzled Patient

Hackers love to make music with things that aren’t normally considered musical instruments. We’ve all seen floppy drive orchestras, and the musical abilities of a Tesla coil can be ear-shatteringly impressive. Those are all just for fun, though. It would be nice if there were practical applications for making music from normally non-musical devices.

Thanks to a group of engineers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, there is now: a magnetic resonance imaging machine that plays soothing music. And we don’t mean music piped into the MRI suite to distract patients from the notoriously noisy exam. The music is actually being played through the gradient coils of the MRI scanner. We covered the inner working of MRI scanners before and discussed why they’re so darn noisy. The noise basically amounts to Lorenz forces mechanically vibrating the gradient coils in the audio frequency range as the machine shapes the powerful magnetic field around the patient’s body. To turn these ear-hammering noises into music, the researchers converted an MP3 of [Yo Yo Ma] playing [Bach]’s “Cello Suite No. 1” into encoding data for the gradient coils. A low-pass filter keeps anything past 4 kHz from getting to the gradient coils, but that works fine for the cello. The video below shows the remarkable fidelity that the coils are capable of reproducing, but the most amazing fact is that the musical modification actually produces diagnostically useful scans.

Our tastes don’t generally run to classical music, but having suffered through more than one head-banging scan, a half-hour of cello music would be a more than welcome change. Here’s hoping the technique gets further refined.

Thanks to [Laine] for the tip.

27 thoughts on “Musical Mod Lets MRI Scanner Soothe The Frazzled Patient

  1. There is a slight problem here: listening to music affects which parts of your brain are active. Also, if intensity is needed for sharper imaging then death metal just got clinical. ;)

  2. This used to be a party trick of MRI salesmen and service engineers, at least ten years ago; though they weren’t scanning with these patterns. I find it a stretch to believe that a musical scan takes a similar amount of time, however.
    Very pleasing to hear!

  3. I would prefer Pablo Casals or Jacqueline Du Pre’. Bach is great the Bartok suites would have been too strong and full of gaps. This requires a steady tone at any range of pitch but continuous tone. Tonight the 1200th program of Music From the Hearts of Space was on space guitar artists, many would be good for this project. Soothing and continuous sounds.

  4. Impressive, and great idea in general, even better that it can apparently still perform scans while doing this, if i ever end up needing an MRI scan i hope this has become a standard by then :)

    1. Hmm, playing the sixth or the ninth would definitely show activity in my pleasure centres. There’s nothing like actually watching a thunderstorm while listening to the fourth movement of the sixth.

  5. The last time I had an MRI (of the head) I fell asleep during the test – much to the amusement of the operator. They asked if the noise bothered me and I said ‘No, I listen to a lot of Daft Punk and Kraftwerk so this was just like being at a concert. I found it relaxing”

    ‘DeRezzed’ by Daft Punk would sound bloody awesome on an MRI.

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