Musicians draw from sights and sounds of MRI

It’s usually the “image” part of medical imaging that seems to make its way into art, such as in photography or various digital creations, but musicians are also finding inspiration in the technology. For example, U.K. musician Sivu sang during real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to create his debut video, whereas French singer Charlotte Gainsbourg incorporated the strange sounds of MRI into her music.

Sivu, whose actual name is James Page, released his debut single, “Better Man Than He,” in February of this year. To create the video, he was scanned while singing the track inside an MRI scanner at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (known as Barts) in London; the resulting images were then used to create the final product:

The video was directed by Adam Powell, according to the video description, and was inspired by cleft lip and palate research conducted at the hospital. In an interview on DIY, Page comments on how they arrived at the MRI concept:

I was talking to the director Adam Powell for a long time about ideas for a video. We both always said we wanted to push the boundaries and just really try and make an impression with the first video. Adam had seen some MRI footage online and we spoke about it, and it just felt right. Lucky enough, thanks to Barts Hospital, they helped to put our idea together. I remember when we were doing it being unsure if the two [the song and the technology] would fit, but I am so happy with the results and really feel they complement each other.

For those wondering about radiation exposure at this point, MRI uses radiofrequency waves and magnetic fields, not ionizing radiation, which is the type making safety headlines these days for computed tomography and other exams.


Taking a different approach, instead of using MR images to complement her music, Charlotte Gainsbourg made the sounds of the scan part of the music itself. Her third album, co-written and produced by Beck, was released in 2010 and titled “IRM,” the acronym for Imagerie par Résonance Magnétique (MRI in French).

The second track on the album also bears the same name. You can listen to a live version of the song on Gainsbourg’s website.

Gainsbourg came to incorporate the characteristic sounds of MRI scanners due to a waterskiing accident, the New York Times reported. After the accident, she complained of headaches, and an MRI scan eventually revealed a brain hemorrhage. Though surgery was successful, she continued to undergo the scans periodically, worrying about her health.

It will be interesting to see what other works become possible as imaging continues to evolve — I’m sure things we can’t even imagine right now. If you know of other musicians working with such technologies, let us know in the comments below.

Note: The home page image, “Headcase,” is from the following stream and is courtesy of a Creative Commons license.


Nicole is an editor and writer living in San Francisco.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *