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Medal Music

Medal Music

October 14, 2016 In the News

Athletes from the United States won 117 medals. Those from Ukraine, Great Britain, and China won even more. We are talking about medals at the 2016 Paralympics that followed the summer Olympics in Rio da Janeiro. While the summer Olympics get all their deserved attention, the Paralympics that follow hold a place of particular importance in the Olympic movement. This year’s Paralympics in Rio had a unique twist for us sound geeks.

Brazilian sculptor Nelson Carneiro gave the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, a Brazilian makeover and posed her in front of the Parthenon to create the main relief of the medals. This has been the chosen motif for Olympic and Paralympic medals since 2004. The medals were made out of recycled metal by the Brazilian mint. Nothing too far out of the ordinary so far. Medal winners at the Olympics were seen on the podium either kissing their medals or striking the iconic pose of taking a bite out it. Nothing new there either. The auditory twist came at the Paralympics where the medal winners were seen shaking their medals by their ears, rather than kissing or biting them.

Was this a message to the world to listen to each other more and bite others less? Not quite! The medals for the Paralympics were built with a unique feature that turned them into rattles. These medals were built to be hollow, and the cavity was filled with steel balls. The bronze medal had 16 of these tiny steel balls, the silver 20, and the gold 28. The medals can be seen being made in the video below.

So you are a winner. Get to the podium, get your medal, the adulation of the crowd, and then hold up your medal to your ear and give it a little shake. Your hard-earned medal starts making music. A very well thought-through essential feature for those with visual impairments, and a pleasant and playful twist for all.

Now imagine you are Tatyana McFadden and you have your friends and family over to celebrate yet another Chicago Marathon victory this past weekend. Of course, the conversation drifts to the six Paralympic medals you brought home for Rio this summer. Out come the medals from their glass display case at the appropriate time. But now you can play psychoacoustician by just blindfolding your guests and having them listen to the medals to identify the color. Should the guests try amplitude discrimination or frequency discrimination? Many psychoacoustic and audiology labs are frantically trying to answer just that very question. What do you think?

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