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When Technology Becomes Techno: DJ Matthew Dear Crafts Beats from the Sounds of Big Machines

Drop

Verb: To let or make something fall vertically.

Noun (musical): A switch in the rhythm or bass line following a long crescendo. A musical climax.

The industrial world buzzes, whirs, thrums and beeps – sometimes audibly, at other times just out of the range of human hearing. For most of us, these noises are the background track of the modern world, but for DJ and musician Matthew Dear, there’s music in the science.

Dear recently collaborated with scientists at GE’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna to gather 1,000 samples from some of the world’s most powerful machines. “There’s music in everything,” Dear said. “Whether it be nature and birds or man-made sound.” Armed with an hour of source material from machines around the world, Dear disappeared into his home studio and emerged with a three-minute sonic odyssey called “Drop Science.”

Dear worked with GE Acoustics Engineer Andrew Gorton, one of several researchers at GE labs around the world who listen to machines and try to divine what they’re saying. Acoustics can tell you in advance that there’s a problem, Gorton explains, long before the problem is visible. For DJs and industrial equipment alike, a missed beat or an off-key note can mean failure. 

For those who know their music history, “Drop Science” is a play on “Droppin’ Science”, a classic early hip-hop track by Marley Marl. The term itself means to say something unique, which is apropos for industrial machinery. “An acoustic signature from a piece of equipment is like a fingerprint from a human. No two sounds are the same,” says GE Measurement and Control’s Fabian Dawson.

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Acoustics can tell engineers when equipment, especially in hard-to-reach places like deep-sea oil wells, is working properly. For example, GE’s Subsea Condition Monitoring System, a device that resembles an oversized birdcage, uses crystals that respond to sounds in a 1,600-foot radius. The cage is already at work in some 130 sites in the North Sea, determining the health of undersea pumps, motors and cables and transmitting the data through the Industrial Internet.

For his drop, Dear used sounds from MRI scan sequences, acceleration tests of GEnx engines and sound files from equipment that measures light over fiber optic cables. The sounds build around a beat before crescendoing just after the two-minute mark.

For remixers, the bundle of sounds, videos, photos and cover art is available on BitTorrent, and the track will be available to subscribers to Dear’s label, Ghostly, on Drip.fm. The Djay 2 app will also feature an integrated sound pack with audio recorded at GE facilities that users can access to remix “Drop Science” or any other track so the science can continue to drop.

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