To image an artist singing live in your MRI scanner, you will need a set-up a bit different from a normal scan. On top of an MRI scanner, you first need something called a "coil" that is positionned around the region you are going to image. The one we are using for speech is called a neuro-vascular coil but we refer to it as the Darth Vader helmet, the next picture clearly shows why:
In order, to protect your ears (the scanner is very noisy) and to communicate with the operator, you also have to wear earphones. They are large and restrict the space inside the Darth Vader helmet, for most people it is a tight fit! As if the space was not restricted enough, we have to use a fiber optic microphone (see image below).
The black box is fixed on the top of the Darth Vader Helmet and then the microphone is curled to go inside the coil and for the white end to touch the lips. Not ideal conditions for singing, that might explain why James (holding the earphones) looked so relieved at the end of the session:
The MR-compatible (fiber optic) microphone is a very important part of the set-up. It is connected to a laptop (you can see it on a movie on the next page) and records on two different channels. This allows the scanner noise to be "cancelled" after a few seconds (using a clever algorithm) and to record the person talking or singing a lot more clearly. The laptop/microphone set-up is also connected to the scanner to record a specific pulse, this allows us to align the sound to the MRI images with great precision.