The Kosmophone is a gamma-ray spectrometer operating in the range of about 3 to 7 million electron-volts (MeV) controlling a MIDI music synthesizer.
This octave of the electromagnetic spectrum, about a million times higher frequency than the octave our eyes respond to, contains very little energy that originates in our solar system. Almost all of the energy in this band is a result of unbelievably energetic radiation coming from the far reaches of the universe, 'Cosmic Rays'. Fortunately, they tend not to make it all the way through the approximately 100 miles of air over our heads. As they smash their way through the atmosphere the collisions produce energetic emissions and it is these secondary emissions the Kosmophone responds to. The energy level of each detected event is measured and that information is sent to the MIDI control port of a music synthesizer. The 'cosmic data' is not altered or supplemented in any way and would be presumed to be completely random.
The measured distribution of energy values is indeed very uniform and the rate does not vary from local day to night. Apparently the normal output of our sun contains no significant gamma rays (which is a very good thing for us!) but they are produced in bursts during solar flares.
One of the gamma-ray detectors used in the Kosmophone. This is a 3 by 4 inch crystal of sodium iodide doped with thallium. When gamma radiation interacts with the crystal lattices, a very faint pulse of ultra-violet light is emitted. The brightness of that pulse represents the energy level of the gamma ray that produced it and the flashes are detected by an extremely sensitive photo-detector called a photomultiplier tube or PMT. This one is 5 inches in diameter and this type of detector typically measures energy levels to about 7% accuracy.
Click on any image to enlarge it.
Another type of gamma detector is this 3 inch by 3 inch cylinder of very high purity germanium. The HPGE detector has spectacular resolution, in the fractions of a percent but has the severe disadvantage of needing to be cooled with liquid nitrogen. This can get expensive! The larger gray portion of the detector is a dewar (vacuum flask) that when filled with 7 liters of liquid nitrogen from the larger blue dewar on the left, will stay cold for 5 days.
The first iteration of the Kosmophone is built from a combination of standard nuclear instrumentation modules and a couple of custom boards. These types of detectors require about 1,000 and 4,000 volts respectively to function. Pulses sent from the detector are processed and digitized to 12 bits accuracy. The most significant 7 bits are sent as the MIDI pitch word and the least significant 4 bits are processed to the velocity word.
The second iteration of the Kosmophone is as a self contained portable package for showing at the 'Electricity and Me' show at Gallery Lombardi in Austin Texas. This package has an integral detector, a self-contained nuclear analyzer, an Alesis QSR synthesizer and a 100 watt / channel power amplifier.
The Kosmophone on display at Gallery Lombardi in Austin Texas from October 14 to 30, 2004. www.gallerylombardi.com
On 21 Nov. 2004 Leif Brush participated in a Fast Forward performance piece titled Feeding Frenzy at the University of Minnesota, where he is a Professor Emeritus. He collects and generates sounds from and related to the Earth with complex arrays of sophisticated sensors. As part of the live-mixed music for this performance he combined (among other things) sounds from his Terrain Instruments with Kosmophone sounds. Both musically and conceptually this adds a whole new dimension of anchoring for these sounds. The constant chattering of the Earth is combined with the constant chattering of the stars as if they are singing to each other. Earth - Star Songs
Leif Brush links:
** Note error in the above article:
** The magnetar would have fried Earth if it had been -10- light years away.
Austin Museum of Art August 20 - October 30, 2005
Galveston Arts Center November 26 - January 8, 2006
Dallas Center for Contemporary Art March 31 - June 10, 2006
Please contact Jerry Chamkis at: jchamkis (hat minus h) jchamkis (dotty minus ty) com
About a minute apiece of 14 presets on a Roland JX-305 synthesizer gives an idea of the variety of tonalities available. Star Catalog
20 minutes of continuous data expressed as preset voice C-65 on a Roland JX-305. Roland C65
The same 20 minutes of voice C65 and a different 20 minutes of voice A16. Since the two sets of data are taken at different times, the two parts are presumably as non-correlated as any two items can be. Roland C65 + A16
As above but using the Alesis QSR synthesizer. This is a segment from a 15 minute recording. Star Jazz
This is an early recording with the minimum energy threshold set too low and 2.2 MeV radioactive decay gamma rays from Thorium 226 are included in the output. Trace amounts of radioactive elements in the primordial rock of planet Earth produce about 100 times as many gamma rays as the cosmic ray background at sea level but of course the terrestrial background varies cosiderably from place to place. The thorium causes a persistent basso-proFUNdo note to be sounded that's wonderful on really big speakers. This is a segment from a 70 minute CD. Kosmic Bell
Most people are not aware of it but at the center of black holes there is a miniscule little tiny rain forest with a full range of creatures from the very tiny little mosqatto to the (relatively) huge elefemto. (Just kidding.) Alesis QSR Black Hole Forest
Twelve layers of sounds simulate a detector about the size of a human head. This is a mad fugue that might make good dance music for robots. The efficiency of this detector is bound to be less than 50% so there are more than twice this many cosmic rays passing through your head all the time and hundreds of times more passing through your entire body. (Alesis QSR synthesizer) Thermonuclear Pipes
Michio Kaku is the science commentator for the Pacifica Radio Network and a leading proponent of String Theory. On 9 November '04 he read an item about the origin of cosmic rays which is here embellished with the Kosmophone. (Alesis QSR synthesizer) Sirens of the Stars
Here are some examples of sending the same MIDI data stream to a second music synthesizer. The two are set to respond to different MIDI channels and the channel number is set to the low-order bits of the cosmic data. This gives ever-changing combinations of A, B, and A+B. This is an excerpt, done from two Alesis QSR synthesizers. Note that this is a 'live' performance. That is, there is no post-production layering- this is exactly what the pair sound like in real-time Gamma Rays For Two Synths Plain #1
As above but now the patch of the second synth is varied from the front panel. Gamma Rays For Two Synths Plain #3
Questions? Comments? Corrections? Please email me at the address at bottom right.
All contents of this page Copyright (C) 2004 AERCO Inc. Patent Pending