Music between the ears

The aging process seems to be a cue for all sorts of new experiences.  X-rays, ultrasounds and MRI’s had been a mystery to me until recently, but over the past few years they have become a routine feature of everyday life.

My first MRI scan was something of a revelation.  I am not very good doing as I am told, especially when it entails lying perfectly still while a person or a machine prods and probes my body.  A visit to the dentist in particular is a bit of a nightmare, not just for me, I well recognise, but also for the poor long suffering dentist.  Various friends who know this had prepared me for the MRI experience, telling me of the mask which would be placed over my head, and the strange sounds and loud bangs which the machine would make as it traversed the relevant part of my body, in this case, my head.

It did not start well when I turned up at the hospital early for my 9.30 appointment.  Half an hour early, I had thought, but no.  I was twelve and a half hours early.  The appointment was for 9.30 in the evening.  There are times when the 24 hour clock has its advantages.

So twelve and a bit hours later I was laid down on a bench and fitted with a mask which I suspect gave me the appearance not dissimilar to Hannibal Lekter or one of many characters in the more scary video games which my grandsons so enjoy, but as no-one else was there, it did not really matter.

Then I was told to lie perfectly still and to relax, as the machine swallowed me up and all I could see through the mask was a small patch of the ceiling .  Initally, relaxation was the last thing achievable by my tensed up mind and body.  But then – not unlike the Concerto for Violin and Percussion I described hearing last week, a pattern of sounds emerged.  The process is not called Magnetic Resonance for nothing.  The electrical frequencies which power the magnet are almost like music. The banging and clanging is at times rhythmic, at times apparently random, but always intriguing, making you wonder what will happen next.

Now more relaxed, I found myself imagining an accompaniment to the machine.  Lots of percussion, perhaps with full orchestra including all the brass, or perhaps just a string quartet to provide a better contrast with the machine.

So here is a challenge to Australian composers – write a concerto for MRI scanner and orchestra.  There must be a group who would play it and any number of MRI patients who would love to re-live their medical experience.  Or surely in this day and age it should be possible for an MRI machine to synthesise a musical accompaniment to its activities in real time, thereby making the original experience more enjoyable, and creating an up-sell opportunity for its operators..

Just in case readers are interested, the MRI proved what my friends and family could have told the medics without the need for a scan – there is absolutely nothing of note between my ears.  Which, for me, is good news.

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