Sending bad drugs up in musical flames

The three tubed Fire Organ dancing to a single Concert C. All photo credit: Ryan Johnson

What do third-rate ecstasy, flames and superbugs have in common? An organ. This became apparent a a party given by the genius crew at Guerilla Science at which I encountered the Fire Organ, created by maverick engineers Burohappold. Acoustics  consultant Natalia Szcepanczyk and others on the engineering team will doubtless correct me, but essentially, the fire organ reproduces the shape of sound in flame. The minute I saw it, I thought of something else entirely: drugs. More precisely, bad street drugs. In fact it looked a lot like this:

Ecstasy spectrogram

It’s an image regular readers of Contagion may recognise: MDMA put through a mass spectrometer, showing all the particles in the Ecstasy pill (including a lot of shit that shouldn’t be in any pill that a human is likely to swallow). The reason I’ve got it hanging around is that I was looking for mass spec images or real and fake antimalarial drugs. The real ones save lives. The fake ones don’t. Worse, because they often expose bugs to small doses of medicine, they prompt resistant bugs to build up their strength and spread. In other words, they help breed superbugs.

Since mass spec images also look a lot like the output of electronic composition and editing programmes, I turned the Bad Drug graphs over to our music tech partners at CM Sounds, to see if they could reverse-engineer the sound of it.  When I saw the fire organ (and as one beer led to another) it seemed too perfect not to close the circle by then trying to play that music back into the fire organ, to recreate the graph in flames. If it works, you’ll be able to see AND hear the difference between good smack and bad, and between medicines that will cure you and those that might kill you. It would bring David McCandless-type beautiful information together with some of the sound nerdiness collected by the folks at the Programming Historian. Wouldn’t that be trippy?