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Sound waves, geometry and patterns

In the 18th century, Ernst Chladni invented a technique to show the various modes of vibration of a rigid surface. First published in 1787 in his book Entdeckungen über die Theorie des Klanges, the technique consists of drawing a bow over a (circular, square, or rectangular) plate or membrane whose surface is lightly covered with sand. When stroked, a given plate will resonate at one of its natural frequencies. The sand bounces about on the plate until settling at nodal points (areas of zero movement) thereby producing intricate patterns. These patterns are now called Chladni figures.

Table from Entdeckungen über die Theorie des Klanges, 1787.


Another example of how sound generates geometric patterns, are the results of H. Irwine Whitty, who studied the connection between music and geometry with the aid of the harmonograph, a mechanical machine that uses pendulums to create geometric figures and drawings. He concludes that “the facts that musical notes are due to regular air-pulses, and that the pitch of the note depends on the frequency with which these pulses succeed each other, are too well known to require any extended notice”, referring to the already established works of Chladni.

Plate VIII, Harmonograph, H. Irwine Whitty, 1893


Hans Jenny took these studies further and defined a new science, Cymatics, developing devices and machines that generated frequencies on different types of mediums. In Cymatics: A Study of Wave Phenomena and Vibration he concluded that these frequencies are not part of an unregulated chaos, but rather from a dynamic and balanced system.

If you spear a little of your imagination, as you watch this film as it runs, you will see many things that answers many questions, you will see living forms, living amoeba, almost animal like creatures. You will see continents being formed, the Earth itself coming to existence, explosions, erruptions, atomic explosions and bombs. You can see all this and watch it before your eyes. Everything owes it existence solely and completely to sound.


A lot of work has been put into showing how each sound and frequency has its own geometric shape and the results are quite astonishing. For example, the studies of the Cymascope project, revealed that the human voice can have the same effect on fluids and even rigid substances. Below, a male vowel can alter the surface geometry of water, showing the complex arrays of harmonics that make each person’s voice unique:

Taking all this into consideration, the complex system of connections between sound and matter can be visually compelling and further more, can produce not only scientific results but also architectural or artistic. The latest years have provided countless reproduction of these patterns in architecture projects like wall embedded elements or glass surfaces, or visual representations combined with new media solutions that enabled futuristic experiences. This makes a great way of finding out more about this important property of sound and seeing how geometry can be present in even the smallest details of matter.


  1. Mirabela Luntraru Mirabela Luntraru May 28, 2017


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