Mechanical engineer takes "hip music" to whole new level

It’s hip without the hop – a research manager from the University of Leeds has been creating music from an unlikely source.

David Brady, from the School of Mechanical Engineering, has used one of the University’s hip replacement simulators to create sounds which wouldn’t be out of place on your favourite trance playlist.

Derived from tribology research – the study of how surfaces interact – the music is a result of data collected as part of the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield's ‘Friction: The Tribology Enigma’ project, which has investigated friction prediction in engineering applications.

A microphone was placed at several points around the simulator and at different times during the machine's operation. 

David said: “I’ve been a musician and a pianist all my life, and I like to look for unconventional ways of creating and manipulating sounds. Being a project manager for the research grant, I became fascinated by two areas of potential sound interest – the hip replacement simulators and ultrasonic sensors.”

He also created music from data collected as part of the University of Sheffield’s half of the project – but was faced with the challenge of creating sound from signals which are usually inaudible to humans. 

Using a code, he was able to create a piece of music within the human range of hearing by converting the ultrasonic noises from piston rings and ball bearings.

Finding natural rhythms

David added: “When I had both sets of audio, I found natural rhythms in the recordings and started to build musical arrangements from that. I tried to complement the natural harmonics and timbre of the recordings as well, with the tempo taken from the simulator’s natural speed.

“Ultimately, my two compositions were made using 100% of the raw audio files, only manipulated, stretched, pitched up and down, slowed down and sped up, creating almost false musical instruments from them.”

The music shows the field of tribology in a new and creative context and David hopes the unusual use he has found for the machines will make the subject more accessible and inspire people to study it.

Principal Investigator of ‘Friction: The Tribology Enigma’, Professor Rob Dwyer-Joyce said: “David’s wonderful idea was something we could use as a form of outreach, to get people interested in the field of tribology. This innovative expression of sound brings a new and creative perspective of research data interpretation.”

David presented his work at the annual Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers Conference in Long Beach, California earlier this year. 

Friction: The Tribology Enigma is an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Programme Grant.

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