Gavin Wray

Cymatics

Cymatics is the study of visible sound. When sound passes through material such as water, wood or metal, the material vibrates in relation to the frequency of the sound passing through it. Beautiful geometric and symmetric patterns emerge.

With solid materials, you can see the shapes when you place sand on the material’s surface, then transmit sound through the material using a bow or speaker. For example, this chladni plate built by Matt Venn:

Chladni plate on top of a recycled speaker with sand arranged in a pattern on the plate's surface

Photo of a chladni plate by Matt Venn (Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0)

In water, shapes are visible as rippling waves on the surface. The pattern changes with the sound frequency, becoming ever more complex as the frequency increases.

The following images (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Evan Grant, a creative technologist who has given TED talks on cymatics and its applications:

Cymatics image by Evan Grant

Cymatics image by Evan Grant

Cymatics image by Evan Grant

Until two weeks ago, I’d never heard of cymatics. I saw it on When Björk Met Attenborough, a documentary in which the two luminaries discuss the relationship between music, technology and the natural world. It’s a theme at the heart of Björk’s Biophilia art project. (Calling Biophilia an ‘album’ would be one heck of an understatement!)

I found the shapes and patterns mesmerising, particularly how the shapes change transform at different sound frequencies.

As Grant says in his TED talk, cymatics is “like a looking glass into a hidden world”.

Content © 2008-2019 Gavin Wray
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