Music for Hacked Geiger Counters

In Geiger Counter #1, Musician and Sound Designer Ant Dickinson uses Geiger counters to modulate a 1924 recording of the aria One Fine Day, performed by Rosina Buckman (1881-1948), part of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly (widely considered her best role).

Rosina Buckman’s career spanned both world wars: on one occasion she continued to sing during an air raid, until the manager forcibly cleared the stage.

On retirement, Rosina Buckman lived out the rest of her life in a seaside cottage in North Wales on the site of the now shutdown Wylfa Nuclear Power Station (1971-2015). It is believed locally that her spirit still haunts the site.

“The work was made in direct response to the Power In The Land Project.  I think that all of the artists involved felt that the Geiger sound had a really powerful emotional impact…. It instantly gets you thinking about radiation and the dangers that you can’t actually see…In the old units like the Victoreen’s that I have used, there is a great organic sonic quality that comes from the analog circuitry.  I knew I had to use it as a starting point”.

Ant Dickinson, 2017



The making of the three artworks in the Geiger Counter Series, by Ant Dickinson involved altering the Geiger counters’ physical structures and integrating digitally programmed motorised rails used to control the distance of test sources from the Geiger tubes (the closer the test source, the greater the reading and therefore the denser the audible oscillations from the Geiger counter circuitry) and reprogramming them with digital information. The proximity of the test sources was automated via an Arduino which was also responsible for the storage and triggering of recorded sounds.

In Geiger Counter#2, (2017) Ant Dickinson hacked into the circuitry of Geiger counters to control and alter the pitch of the sounds emitted. It’s a physical sound sculpture, in which manipulated Geiger counters are played as electronic musical instruments – creating a musical sound track imbued with the dreadful significance that any alterations to the rhythm of a Geiger counter’s clicks articulates invisible and unimaginable dangers.

In Geiger counter#3, (2017) Ant Dickinson hacked into the circuitry of a Geiger counter, this time so that it emits sounds sampled from audio recordings of the decontamination process of the Wylfa Nuclear Power Station. Like each of the three artworks in this series, Geiger Counter#3 contrasts the brilliant, factual 1928 technology of the Geiger-Müller tube (which gives a voice to measurable radiation) with humanities attempts to control/qualify something unpredictable, unquantifiable and eerie – and as elusive as the notes of a ghost soprano brought momentarily by the wind.

A lot of other sound work I do incorporates ideas of randomness and unpredictability.  The rhythms that come from a Geiger counter, other than being dense or sparse are very random and could therefore be considered difficult/impossible to control.  The idea of hacking Geiger counters circuitry for me was meant to be a metaphor for the futility of trying to control something that can’t be….”

Ant Dickinson, 2017

The Music for Hacked Geiger Counter Series was created for the recent touring exhibition Power in the Land, supported by Arts Council of Wales.



Ant Dickenson

Ant is a Musician, Sound Designer and Creative Technologist who uses unconventionally applied instrumentation combined with digital tools integrating elements of improvisation, indeterminism and mechanics. In 2013/14 he was Sound and Music’s first international artist in residence at ElektronMusikStudion in Stockholm, performing at NorbergFestival, Stockholm and Cafe Oto, London.

He has also performed and exhibited in Berlin, Finland, Cyberfest Digital Arts Festival at The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg and Adelaide Festival, Australia. Throughout 2016 he was part of Sound Book Project performing at numerous venues throughout the UK including the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and Other Worlds Experimental Music Festival.

Ant has undertaken compositional commissions for organisations including Cadw, Kew Palace and Trinity Laban Dance and also regularly writes scores for independent film, one of which he performed live at Fact Liverpool in 2016. He has recently completed a ‘generative’ sound-scape for an interactive multimedia work supported by The Space, and Arts Council Wales.

Find out more about Ant and his work on his personal website here,
or access the Power in the Land website here.

Music for Hacked Geiger Counters, by Ant Dickinson was selected for Digital Gene Pool exhibition programme by Tim Skinner.

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