“Fusion is the energy of the future and I try to create the soundtrack of the future”, says Carlos Arillo, leader of a music group called “Poupées Électriques”. They are a group of experimental electronic musicians influenced by the “futurism” movement of the early 20th century and compose music to the sounds of engines, mechanical wings or airplanes. Naturally, they invited the Joint European Torus to become a singer in their band.

Nick Balshaw (left) with Carlos Arillo in JET’s torus hall. Carlos records the sounds of JET.

Nick Balshaw (left) with Carlos Arillo in JET’s torus hall. Carlos records the sounds of JET.

You might consider it fate when Carlos met again with his friend Ana Manzanares. While they were updating each other about what had happened since they had lost sight, Ana started talking about her job at the Joint European Torus (JET) in Culham. JET is considered the pre-step to a new kind of energy, a symbol for the future. At this point, Carlos became all ears and finally asked her: “What sounds does JET produce?”

“You would love it! JET is full of amazing noises!” is what Ana answered. And so the story began.

JET is about to become a music star

While searching for resonance in and outside the tokamak, Ana received support from one who knows the machine like the back of his hand: Nick Balshaw, JET’s current Acting Chief Engineer. He really enjoyed the idea that his long-time tokamak colleague should become the star of a music piece: “I am not a fan of alternative music, but I am a fan of JET. Anything that brings our tokamak to the attention of the public is a good thing”, he says.

Chasing the sounds on site

Nick showed Ana where to tune into the machine’s clamours: the fly-wheels, the cooling towers or the fizzling noises of the electric cables after a pulse had been fired. His favourite: “A surprising tone is the jingling of the amplifiers and bus bars for the toroidal field coils.”

Time was scarce while recording the different tunes. The team had only a few minutes to quickly change locations before another pulse was shot. “You know the signs of the machine when there will be another pulse. So, I checked the countdown on my phone and ensured we could make it to the different places in time”, says Nick.

Connecting the old and the new

Carlos, who has been searching for futuristic noises for 20 years now, is still amazed by the world’s most developed fusion experiment: “I was left speechless by the richness of JET’s tunes. They come with a large spectrum of frequencies and dynamic changes.” He who performs with up to six musicians on stage gave the machine the space it would need in its music piece. The Spanish artist did not make use of much instrumentation as he converted the 20 hours of JET sounds into 50 minutes on a CD. ”I have only used a synthesizer to interact with some of the frequencies”, he says. He also added his speciality to the fusion orchestra: the theremin, the first electronical musical instrument. “The theremin, the oldest ‘new’ instrument in the world, will connect with fusion, the newest way of realising energy.”

Ana Manzanares, scientist at JET, and Carlos Arillo, musician in JET's entrance hall. Picture: private

Ana Manzanares, scientist at JET, and Carlos Arillo, musician, in JET’s entrance hall. Picture: private

The project will be released as a boxed CD in summer this year. The package contains a disc with the music made from JET’s sounds as well as additional video and information material on fusion and the JET project itself. The work will be introduced during an event at the Medialab Prado in Madrid. The first concert will be played at CCFE so that JET can listen itself.