Sounds from memory #1: The MRI Scan

November 19, 2007

The intention of these series of posts is to document sounds that have remained in memory. Not sounds that are particularly pleasant or trigger ‘Proustian Resonance’ but unique sounds that once heard are never forgotten (therefore impossible to reproduce or record). If i get enough – and please add your own – i’ll organise them into a top ten ‘mnemaudio’ chart.


The MRI Scan

Andy (Wilson) and I regularly cite the MRI scanning machine as a prime influence on sunseastar’s music having both been fortunate enough to witness the machines unique timbre up close (…are sunseastar the only group where all members have had brain scan?). The Magnetic Resonance Image Scanner is a medical device used to generate images of the soft tissues of the brain for the diagnosis of illnesses. The unfortunate patient is strapped to a horizontal bed which is introduced slowly into the small cavity of a large metal wheel – a very claustrophobic and alarming experience – you are allowed a view of your feet via a mirror near your head but apart from that you can see nothing. The staff switch the machine on and leave the room with unsettling haste.

The sounds come in a series of about six sequences ( different angles of the scanning device through the head?) of a few minutes each over a total of thirty minutes (in my case). The noise is very impressive due to it’s volume and unexpectedness – It’s very loud and very close and, because you are strapped in to a small space, there’s no way to get away from it:

“Due to the construction of MRI scanners, they are potentially unpleasant to lie in. The part of the body being imaged needs to lie at the center of the magnet (which is often a long, narrow tube). Because scan times may be long (perhaps one hour), people with even mild claustrophobia are often unable to tolerate an MRI scan without management.”

The noise can be described as a high volume grating mechanical ‘GRRRR’ of regular but varying tone on each pass. If this sound came from any other machine it would be an indication that it was about to fail with catastrophic and lethal effect – which is quite alarming considering it is inches from your unprotected face:

Acoustic noise: Loud noises and vibrations are produced by forces resulting from rapidly switched magnetic gradients interacting with the main magnetic field, in turn causing minute expansions and contractions of the coil itself. This is most marked with high-field machines and rapid-imaging techniques in which sound intensity can reach 130 dB – equivalent to a jet engine at take-off.”

20 Responses to “Sounds from memory #1: The MRI Scan”

  1. We have a central heating system that is fired by a coal fire – if the back boiler is allowed to overheat before the central heating pump can be turned on, when the pump is turned on the resultant bangs, pops and hisses in sequences that obey chaotic principles such that the 10-15 second burst is actually always different but always remembered in the same way.

  2. I’ve been to a few scans myself, and the last time they asked me what music I wanted in my ears. My reply was: “nothing”. I simply prefer to listen to it as it is. The wonderful sounds is something I would love to record one day.

  3. I have had a bunch of head scans. I have given names to some of the scanning “tunes.” Names like: jackhammer, outboard motor, didjeridoo, heavy pulse, strong vibes. I even have made up tunes to go with the MRI “rhythms.” Might as well since you’re stuck there for a while, and it makes it more fun.

  4. Michael Berry said

    Had a brain and spinal cord MRI scan yesterday, totally un-prepared for the experience. The noises were so loud, and I can only liken it to something out of a 1950s sci-fi film. I’m pretty sound with most things, nothing much phases me, but fucking hell, this was very un-nerving, don’t know how anyone with a nervous disposition, or someone claustraphobic might cope with it. An unforgetable experience. Get me results in 2 weeks, hope to fuck I’m ok.

    • Marsha said

      Could not have put it better myself, Michael! As if it’s not enough being strapped to a table by the head and neck. It starts to feel like some form of unconventional torture. There should be a CD to take home and preview over and over until a person is desensitized to it.

      • Murray Smith said

        Prick of a machine. An hour and a half in one today , whilst encased in medievil like head cage. Horrendous noise. No idea as to finish time. Very, very, very unsettling. Never again, unless out to the count.

  5. yes, I’ve had an MRI scan as well – so when do we get the MRI Collective Un-Consciousness Orkestra together?

    they never asked me what music I’d like to listen to, so I was stuck with the machine sounds…

  6. rob beeston said

    (p.s. i was at uni with illi cook. a while back he mentioned he was working with you, drumming-away like there’s no tomorrow.)

  7. Grant Cowling said

    I had my first MRI yesterday for a busted shoulder. Scarred the hell
    out of me, i felt so claustraphobic. I couldn’t believe
    how loud it was, i just took deep breaths, kinda felt like
    i was in world war 2, so i just imagined i was in game
    shooting pricks with a machine gun… But still, i wouldn’t
    call it a pleasent experience….

  8. emily? said

    i love the sounds an mri makes.
    i have to get one once a year
    for eye cancer
    and even if they offered music,
    i would still prefer the mri sounds.
    and my friends are the mri techs,
    so it’s a bigbig partay whenever i
    get an mri.

  9. Snita said

    I had my first MRI scan for my right wrist today, Omg I literally thought I would stop breathing. 10 minutes into the scanning I had to press the emergency button. I was’nt prepared at all. And now the Hospital want to invite me again for another go! There has got to be another way to take detailed images of my damn wrist!

  10. Libby said

    I have had 2 MRI scan’s and a CAT scan and felt I must comment on the negative views shown here. I didn’t find them to be a bad experience at all.

    Yes, you are in a tube that can be a little claustrophobic ( which I do suffer from ) but you can look out either end.

    It is very loud but you can ask for music or ear plugs.

    These scan’s only take a few minutes and are looking for a way to deal with your illness or injury. The scan technicians are very helpful and will make the experience as pleasant as possible. I think it should be seen as something positive which not everyone gets to have. Just think how much technology goes into viewing the inner workings of the body and how many people do not get to have this special experience. These machines cost an absolute fortune to buy and maintain, and you are privileged to have been given the chance to have this treatment. Without this you would need to have invasive surgery to find and treat the problem. It is definitely more pleasant than the other options.

    Above all relax and don’t panic and you will be fine. Enjoy the experience, I did !

  11. I had an MRI scan last week on my stomache and to the person that says it only lasts minutes in my case it lasted 20. It has so trumatised me that I have cried every time I thought or tried to describe the scan. I came on this site because I thought I was blowing this experience out of proportion and was really glad to read that I was not the only one to have had an awful experience.

    I would not ever go for another MRI scan unless I was asleep if that isn’t possible I would go without and live with whatever propted the hospital to think I needed this test.

  12. fitz said

    just came back from an MRI Never Never again, i know i took 3 panic attacks while in it and i just wanted to get out and run a mile!! they didnt tell me how i could press any panic button or what to do it was just awful i want to cry even thinking bout it!! i would have got out of it if i had of known how but i was afraid to break the equipment, i couldnt even open my eyes, an awful experience!! while waiting outside another lady came running out and said i cant handle that, and they had to sedate her, if i had of known people are like this i wouldnt have felt so bad about wanting to get out!!! I just prayed the whole time i know this helped me through!!

  13. JenMac73 said

    I had my first MRI scan earlier this week. I sympathise with everyone who found the experience un-nerving. I usually am unfazed by such things, but the confined space and trying to stay still for 20 minutes whilst in pain felt like I was in there for hours!

    Needless to say, once out of the machine, I felt euphoric to be out. I’ve since been scouring the internet to see if I can find the noises the MRI scanner makes, as they were quite interesting (once I’d calmed down!)

    I managed a glimpse of some of my scans on the way out – that was seriously cool!

  14. Louise said

    I had an MRI on my wrist today and ZOMG it was like being inside an insane robot!!!
    There should definitely be some way to warn you what types of sounds to expect, and no two were the same. When I got used to one it changed for something equally unnerving, all interspersed with a ‘ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk’ that signalled a change in type.
    Also, no offer of piped music for me :(

  15. Ken said

    Ive just come back from a scan due to potential cartilage dammage on my knee. I too wasn’t prepared for the noise, i think worse was the apprehension when he legged it out the room. I had these crappy headphones on with tubes piping the radio, which helped, although i was only into it up to my neck. Seeing as im a tad sensitive to claustrophobia im not sure id be keen about going head first in there with that noise fuck. I guess a valium would of possibly enabled me to.

  16. Judy De Haven said

    I recently had two MRI scans. MRI of thoracic spine took twenty minutes, and I rember lots of whirring, Unpleasant. Brain and cervical MRI was awful. Strapped in, caged in, earplugs, AND headphones, and the noise was far far louder. Jackhammers, jet engines, pounding, for an hour. INCHES AWAY FROM THE TOP OF THE SCANNER. After it was over, I felt terribly dizzy. had a headache, and had to be helped to my feet. For some reason the brain scan was ten times worse than the thoracic spine MRI. Perhaps because the head is positioned right next to the magnet? Anyone know the reason?

  17. Charles Allen said

    Had my first MRI yesterday ( A brain scan) what a trip told the tech when it was done that I would do it again with no hesitation. I heard sounds that were somewhat familiar but most I had never heard before they were not from this planet. While in the tube I imagined that there were people outside of the tube with every tool imaginable trying to get in or get me out it is loud but an awesome experience. Unfortunate that those that get to experience it are those with a medical issue.

  18. Prema said

    Hello I am really impressed with this blog! Very clear explanation of issues is given and it is open to everyone. Thanks for sharing this post. When i was also searching for CT Scan Centre in Jayanagar, Bangalore. I got one new center that is Prima Diagnostics. It is excellent centre for CT Scan Centre in Jayanagar, Bangalore. If you are also searching for best diagnostics centre you can visit here. If you want any more info. please go here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: