Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cymatics - Visualizing Sound

Wow. Just wow.

TED Talks are presentations of research and ideas by experts in every field imaginable. You can watch them on YouTube or the TEDTalks website. They range from a few minutes up to almost half an hour. I have no idea if the videos are the entire presentation (and thus some people just get 5 minutes while others get 20) or if they are edited for time (and thus some people just get 5 minutes while others get 20). Frustratingly, it seems like hard science presentations get much less time than sociology, psychology, and economics. Anyway ...

Evan Grant did a short presentation on cymatics. Cymatics is the visual representation of sound; not in the symbolic manner of onomatopoeia or musical notes but in actuality. The process usually involved a flat metal plate with sand scattered atop; as sound vibrated the plate, the sand formed into patterns. Increased frequency yielded increased complexity of pattern. Da Vinci and Galileo studied cymatics to some degree, so it has been around for several hundred years at least.

Newer technologies have allowed for computer modeling of sound. During the presentation, Evan shows a number of pictures of these computer models and he plays a clip of real-time cymatics using a Pink Floyd song. It is this section that inspires this post.

I imagine a race of deaf creatures that can visualize sound. Loud sounds appear brighter and thereby pose a risk of blindness rather than deafness. In a high magic world, these creatures might "speak" in visual sound as well. Since each sound presumably results in the same pattern each time it is visualized, their written and spoken languages are the same (and the written would be very difficult to reproduce because of the complexity of the shapes and nearly impossible if they needed to render the symbols in three dimensions). Perhaps the written language compresses the three dimensional shape into a two dimensional symbol. Or maybe it is indicated through depth in carving the symbols.

Evan also brings up the point that cymatics may have played a part in the shaping of our universe. The waves that accompanied the big bang would be similar to sound waves and maybe created a complex pattern in the dust of the cosmos.

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