MIT’s zero-gravity musical instrument provides a soundtrack for space travel

From Furby synth orchestras to an oddball cyberpunk saxophone, we’re no strangers to writing about weird, otherworldly instruments here at Digital Trends. But a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab project takes the “otherworldly” part of this equation quite literally — with an instrument that is designed specifically for astronauts to play in the zero-gravity expanse of space.

“The Telemetron is the first electronic musical instrument to be designed specifically to be performed in zero gravity,” Sands Fish, one of the co-creators (with Nicole L’Huillier) of the futuristic instrument, told Digital Trends. “We were interested in capturing the poetics of motion in zero gravity, so we built a chamber with a number of elements inside that we call chimes. While they don’t make any audible sounds themselves, they each contain a gyroscope that can detect how fast each of the chimes are spinning in any direction. We take these rotational speeds and wirelessly transmit them to a nearby laptop, where they are transformed into sounds.”

The Telemetron was created in response to a call from the MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative asking for experiments to test in zero-gravity flight. The instrument has already been put through its paces on a zero-gravity parabolic flight, although it has yet to actually make it into outer space for real. According to Sands, the pair has learned a lot during their initial tests, and are now “excited to play with other possible shapes and ways of interacting and performing in zero-g.”

While the music that astronauts end up playing in space probably isn’t the most pressing concern we have (personally, we’d be pretty happy to just have Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien soundtrack on loop and leave it at that!), Sands notes that it is nonetheless one of many areas of interest that are ripe for investigation.

“There are many aspects of human life in space that have yet to be explored, from different architectures and materials to unique forms of culture, activities, and play that support psychological health,” he said. “I am currently launching a design firm specifically to pursue these novel design constraints and opportunities.”

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