Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center MARGRET & H. A. REY
for Nonlinear Dynamics in Medicine
Harvard Medical School

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Welcome to the Heartsongs Page at ReyLab

The Heartsongs project originated from basic research work by Dr. C.-K. Peng, Dr. Ary Goldberger, Dr. Gene Stanley, and colleagues [1,2]. It was developed to probe the fractal features common to both music [3-5] and the complex rhythms of the healthy heart [1,2]. Fractals are geometric objects or processes that have structure on multiple scales of space or time. Further, these structures are self-similar: the large scale structure resembles the small scale structures, as in the branchings of a tree.

Recent research has demonstrated that many biological structures and physiologic fluctuations exhibit complex fractal patterns. Remarkably, these fractal patterns also show up in a wide range of creations of the human imagination, exemplified in certain works of art, architecture and music [4,6,7].

In biological systems, disease and aging are associated with degradation of these fractal structures and processes [8-10]. Mapping heart rate time series of healthy and diseased heart into musical notes, hopefully, provides a way to begin appreciating the differences in the dynamics of health and disease that can be quantified by sophisticated mathematical calculations.

The Heartsongs project has been implemented in an exhibition (The Dance of Chance) at the Boston Museum of Science. You can find detailed instructions of how to convert actual heart rate data to musical notes and hear some demonstrations here. The Heartsongs project was also featured in the Sacred Balance TV series. There is also an online game on the Sacred Balance website.

This scientific project also led to the production of a CD entitled Heartsongs: Musical Mappings of the Heartbeat (Ivory Moon Recordings, 1995) created by composer-pianist Zach Goldberger, MD (working under the professional name of Zach Davids at the time) and consists of musical compositions based on heartbeat intervals in health and disease. Click here for more information.

You can also check out the PhysioNet website to download heart rate time series and other complex physiologic signals [11].


1. Peng C-K, Mietus J, Hausdorff JM, Havlin S, Stanley HE, Goldberger AL. Long-range anti-correlations and non-Gaussian behavior of the heartbeat. Phys Rev Lett 1993;70:1343-1346.

2. Peng C-K, Havlin S, Stanley HE, Goldberger AL. Quantification of scaling exponents and crossover phenomena in nonstationary heartbeat time series. Chaos 1995;5:82-87.

3. Voss RF, Clarke J. 1/f Noise in Music and Speech. Nature 1975;258:317-318.

4. Hsu, KJ, Hsu, A. Fractal geometry of music. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1990;87:938-941.

5. Gardner, Martin. Fractal Music, Hypercards and More: Mathematical Recreations from Scientific American Magazine. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1992.

6. Goldberger AL. Fractals and the birth of Gothic: reflections on the biologic basis of creativity. Molecular Psychiatry 1996;1:99-104. PDF file downloadable with the permission of the Nature Publishing Company.

7. Taylor RP, Micolich AP, Jonas D. Fractal Analysis of Pollock's Drip Paintings. Nature 1999;399:422.

8. Goldberger AL. Non-linear dynamics for clinicians: chaos theory, fractals, and complexity at the bedside. Lancet 1996;347:1312-1314.

9. Goldberger AL, Amaral LAN, Hausdorff JM, Ivanov PCh, Peng C-K, Stanley HE. Fractal dynamics in physiology: alterations with disease and aging. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2002;99[suppl 1]:2466-2472.

10. Goldberger AL, Peng C-K, Lipsitz LA. What is physiologic complexity and how does it change with aging and disease? Neurobiol Aging 2002;23:23-26.

11. Goldberger AL, Amaral LAN, Glass L, Hausdorff JM, Ivanov PCh, Mark RG, Mietus JE, Moody GB, Peng C-K, Stanley HE. PhysioBank, PhysioToolkit, and PhysioNet: Components of a new Research Resource for Complex Physiologic Signals. Circulation 2000;101:e215-e220.