Meet the machine that’s transforming heartbeats into music — and sharing a deeply heartfelt expression of a struggle.
The CHD-4 is a unique drum-like machine that decoded electrocardiograms from four children with heart defects and transformed the patterns into sequences, which ultimately produced sounds based on their unique heartbeats (the individual shape, pace, and beats per minute).
According to Fast Company, the idea for this invention originated from Oskar Hellqvist, a father of two sons with heart issues. His second son was born with congenital heart disease and his oldest has congenital heart defects (CHD), which are conditions that are present at birth and can impact the structure of a newborn’s heart and the way it works, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 40,000 children in the U.S. are born with CHD each year. Fortunately, most of these cases can be treated. However, the American Heart Association explains that while children are living longer with CHD, it’s also associated with an increased risk of anxiety.
Hoping to hold space for this struggle in a tangible and intentional way, Hellqvist reached out to Swedish audiovisual artist and woodworker Love Hultén. From there, the CHD-4 was born, thanks to a collaboration with Swedish electronics company Teenage Engineering.
How does it work? The Heartbeat Drum Machine website explains that “the device, functioning as a modular synthesizer, produces rhythms made using the electrocardiograms of four children with different heart defects. The different ECGs have been decoded into a sequencer, making it possible to play on the heartbeat of each child.”
Fast Company describes Hultén’s invention as a “one-of-a-kind machine designed to produce rhythm and music where there is none,” with Hellqvist adding that “it takes dark and heavy experiences and transforms them into something beautiful. Into hope and change.”
On Valentine’s Day, the CHD-4 went up for auction to raise awareness for CHD. It sold for 3,417 euros (around $3,851), with all proceeds going to the Swedish Heartchild Foundation — a nonprofit supporting children born with congenital heart diseases and their families.
The device is a beautiful reminder that art can bring humanity together, tell stories, and be a part of an even bigger message for an important cause.