Science vs Music: Cymatics Artist Uses Science Experiments to Visualize Sounds
Experimental musician Nigel Stanford's latest music video was shot before the music was written. Why? Because he was inspired to make the video by Cymatics, which is defined as "the study of visible sound co vibration." In other words, it's the scientific study of the visual representation of sound. In this video, Stanford uses visually interesting scientific experiments that use the vibrations of certain frequencies of sound in order to manipulate matter in seemingly laws of physics-defying ways.
He also explained the scientific basis behind each experiment in his "Behind the Scenes" videos:
The Chladni Plate is simply a speaker attached to a metal plate. When Stanford poured sand on the plate, and played different sounds through the speaker, the "vibrations of the plate move the sand into different patterns depending on the pitch of the sounds."
In order to make the water appear to freeze into a sine shape, Stanford used both the physical properties of water and an optical illusion. "This is really happening but is also a camera trick - if the speaker is vibrating at the same rate as the camera's frame rate, the water will be in the same position each time a frame is taken, and will appear to freeze. A similar effect can often be seen when filming the hubcaps of a car moving at the right speed."
The speaker dish is simply a dish of liquid (frozen vodka in this case) above a speaker, with the liquid manipulated by the emitted vibrations. "We thought this would be like the Chladni Plate, where the size of the dish meant we'd find a tone that resonated it perfectly, but in fact it was more like the hose pipe, where matching the camera frame rate made the liquid appear to stop moving. Unlike the hose pipe, doubling the frequency make a nice pattern too, and so I ended up with two useful frequencies to use, and therefore two notes."
Ferrofluid is a liquid that becomes highly magnetized when exposed to a magnetic field, made of ferrimagnetic particles suspended in a carrier fluid (often water). This magnetic quality allows it to be manipulated into these strange and spiky shapes. Usually, this phenomenon is recorded in the form of images rather than video, as the shapes generally take a long time to form unless one has extremely high-powered magnets. "Eventually we found a good balance of magnet size where a spikey shape would form fast enough for our liking, and placed magnets in a dish where you could see the ripples in the liquid once the magnet was turned off. The ripples implied that the sound should have an echo, and so this became the lead instrument in the first half of the song."
A Ruben's Tube is simply a long pipe filled with propane, used in this video to visualize the sounds of an organ. "When you play tones that match the resonant frequency of the tube, it forms high and low pressure zones of gas and this effects the height of the flame. We could control the number of waves of fire that appeared, and ended up using three different tones that created three, four, and five waves of fire. The stand I built reminded Shahir of a 'Gothic Church Organ', and so I wrote a musical part using organ sounds."
A Tesla Coil is a high-voltage device that literally creates arcs of electricity flowing through the air. "Tesla Coils generate a number of sparks per second, and you hear this as a rough distorted note. Some coils allow you to control the timing of the sparks, allowing you to control the pitch and play tunes on the coil. We liked this idea, and recorded audio of our small coil playing the music from the final section, but in the end the sound was a bit too rough, and for the music mix I reverted back to using high pitched synthesizers instead."
Stanford used a plasma ball in his video because he "liked the idea of seeing electricity." A plasma ball has noble gases in the center and plasma electrodes connecting its nucleus to the glass insulator, which gives the illusion of many beams of colored light. "I am 'playing' it with my hand in the video by having it turn on and off with each note of the keyboard. The position of my hand is supposed to imply the amount of filter being applied to the sound. I selected a synth sound that reminded me of electricity."