Seeing Sound Through Cymatics

Cymatics is the study of sound made visible, the word deriving from the Greek 'kyma', meaning 'wave'. It is an emergent science that is utterly fascinating and exciting, involving water being imprinted by sound, as if by magic, into beautiful patterns and forms. Once seen, it is never forgotten.

As you may know, LOCZIdesign was asked by curators of The San Francisco Exploratorium to design a Seed of Life lounge dedicated to Earth Sciences for the Gala event connected with the Grand Opening. We embraced this opportunity to shine and join forces with local influential artisans in the Bay Area who like us, honor the earth in their everyday practice. Karly Sue Smith, an experiential artist who teamed up with LOCZIdesign to help create this designedCOLLECTIVE experience, specifically designing and editing the video montage we displayed during the evening’s installation, was influential in our success. She introduced us to Cymatics as a powerful way to display sacred Geometry aligned with sound and our natural environment. In doing so, we were able to meet John Stuart Reid, one of the most celebrated masters of Cymatics:

"Sue Smith, we were immediately taken by the name of the opening event planned for the Exporatorium: Seeds of Life," John explained. "This title is particularly resonant with the CymaScope team because our work has repeatedly shown that the creation of life on earth seems to have been intimately connected with sound. When we see what appear to be living, dynamic forms in sonically imprinted water, when in fact the forms are merely life-like in their dynamism and shape, that leads us to believe that sound may have been the very seed of life in the primordial oceans.  We were delighted to support the new Exploratorium's Gala event and hope that one day children and adults will be able to see such dynamic, cymascopic seeds of life in an Exploratorium exhibit."

English acoustic-physics researcher, John Stuart Reid, is co-inventor of this new scientific instrument. He has researched the world of sound for over 30 years and has spoken extensively on his findings to audiences in the US and the UK. Reid was kind enough to give us his personal notes (below) to help further explain the beautiful geometry and important aspects of the cymascopic imagery on display in the installation.

By adding layers of visual interpretation of sound, tactile sensation and smell, Loczi aimed to integrate a complex sensory experience to the lounge, creating the effect of being wrapped in a cocoon of soft light and sound. Inspired by the very center of the design, the Douglas Fir tree, the lounge drew attention to life on a complex and grand scale.

This designedCOLLECTIVE installation was a synthesis of art, creativity, science and technology creating a temporary environment,” said Loczi. “We wanted to honor the life and natural science exhibits paying homage to both our planet and human creativity by showcasing the world seen and unseen.”

The 'Seed of Life' installation had two distinct areas: Since the interior of the tree naturally creates a personal, reflective setting, the “dwell” portion, inside the massive trunk, was furnished with low tactile objects and elements to create a quiet space. The use of wool, metal, alpaca and leather added richness to the environment. The “lounge” portion, set outside the tree, was designed to be more conducive to banter, relaxing and eating. Layered with earth-toned soil, wood, soft wool and formed steel, the living-room-inspired space was surrounded by a screen woven from lightweight materials and a wall of flora. Nestled to the side of the 14' root system, stunning images from our video montage entranced the viewer.

Some of the footage displayed had only been seen by the public at the Smithsonian, whereas some footage had yet to be witnessed outside of the team at Cymascope in the United Kingdom. The patrons at the Gala opening would be the first to witness these images in the United States. Included images and footage displayed the sonic signatures of sounds from our natural environment; the Sun, the stars, a woman's voice, a human heartbeat, a living cell, The Schumann Cavity Resonance, and special content from an artistic Cymatics video entitled “Sound Made Visible” by Bay Area video artist Stephanie Ku. All images rendered visible were made on a new scientific device known as the CymaScope, which completed the vignette .

Here are a few notes on the videos we displayed during the "Seed of Life" installation at the Exploratorium:

Atmospheric Science Schumann Cavity Resonance (Shown at the Exploratorium for the first time at this gala installation.)

The Schumann Cavity Resonance was named after physicist Winfried Otto Schumann who predicted it mathematically in 1952 and is popularly known as 'the heartbeat of the earth.'

The SCR occurs in the spherical cavity formed between the surface of the Earth and the ionosphere with the electromagnetic resonance occurring in the ELF band between 3 Hz and 60 Hz. The highest intensity mode occurs close to 7.83 Hz, which is the frequency made visible for the first time on the CymaScope instrument. The excitation of the cavity is theorised to be driven by electric storms although its resonant properties can also be influenced by solar-induced perturbations that affect the cavity’s upper ‘wall’.

A growing body of research appears to be indicating that SCR has an influence on all living organisms both in the ancient past and even today, particularly in brain wave rhythms.

Asteroseismology Star Sounds Made Visible (first shown at the Smithsonian Institute)

The atomic processes in stars make very low-pitched sounds that cause the light from the star to twinkle faintly. The faint twinkles of starlight can be converted to sounds with special equipment and the sounds can be made visible using a CymaScope instrument, which imprints the sonic vibrations on the surface membrane of pure water, creating sound patterns consisting of small waves with valleys and crests. The sound patterns are invisible to the unaided eye but when viewed under special lighting, the valleys reflect the light back to the eye and reveal the sound patterns.

The study of star sound is called 'asteroseismology,' which is a branch of astrophysics and the star sounds can help scientists learn more about the atomic processes deep inside the star.

Cardiology Human Heart Beat Made Visible

A leading cardiologist, Dr Cuneyt Konuralp, believes that making heart sounds visible on a CymaScope instrument might one day lead to a novel way of diagnosing heart diseases. In this video we see the stethoscopically-recorded heart sounds of a male subject made visible, cymascopically. Interestingly some of the imagery resembles a living heart, including ventricle features in the center of the imagery.

Phonology Human Voice Sounds (the world's first female vowels made visible cymascopically)

The CymaScope represents a significant breakthrough in the study of phonology and as a powerful audio-visual aid in speech pathology/therapy and vocal coaching. The instant production of voice figures or "CymaGlyphs" as a result of the client's own vocalizations can provide visual feedback that not only allows the client to shape their sounds visually, thus improving articulation and intonation, but also provides an effective method of enhancing pitch recognition. In addition vibrato can be taught or modified.

Previously it had been assumed that each of the five vowels would have the same basic form for every person. However, our present cymascopic study of vocal sounds has revealed a surprising result. The geometry of vowels actually varies from pitch-to-pitch for each person and from person to person. Nature, it seems, loves variety.

The female voice test subject is that of graphics artist, Vera Gadman.

Musicology Piano Notes Made Visible

The sonic energy envelope of a piano note changes over time as the string's harmonics mix in the piano's wooden bridge. Instead of the envelope being fairly stable, as had been imagined, the harmonics actually cause the resulting sound images to be wonderfully dynamic. Our ears can easily detect the changes in the harmonics of an individual piano note, as a string vibrates, and the CymaScope now reveals them.

MusicMadeVisible The Video Art of Stefanie Ku, in collaboration with

While the CymaScope's main function is that of a new breed of scientific instrument that can make sound visible, the beauty of its imagery also has artistic applications, such as cymascopically-inspired fine art and video art. The Exploratorium CymaScope showreel includes two examples by Bay Area video artist, Stefanie Ku, in which she has woven CymaScope footage into two short videos, titled Flowers (above) and Snow. In the future it will be possible to transcribe any music to MusicMadeVisible, not only rendering its frequencies visible for study but to enjoy.

Zoology 'Humble Bumble' Grizzly Bear sounds made visible

Zoology is the branch of biology that focuses on the structure, function, behavior, and evolution of animals. The study of animal sounds in science has so far been focused on the Spectrograph or Sonagraph instrument (Sonagraph is sometimes confused with the "Sonogram" an ultrasound medical diagnostic instrument). The Spectrograph or Sonagraph are forms of spectrum analysis that provide a three-dimensional representation of a sound signal, the three co-ordinates being frequency, time and intensity. Intensity is typically represented by shading or color.

The CymaScope instrument provides a cymascopic analog of what our eyes would see if we could see sound. All audible sounds are spherical in form, not wave like as is commonly believed and the CymaScope shows us a 2D slice through the sonic bubble, allowing us to observe the interior structures of a given sound. Still photographs can show us a moment in time of a given animal sound and these have been named "CymaGlyphs."

In the video we see the sound of thumb-sucking "Humble Bumble" made visible, a Grizzly bear who likes to suck his thumb! He is cared for by the Earthfire Institute, a wildlife sanctuary in Driggs, Idaho. The video shows a surprising amount of structure in what appears to be a simple sound.

For more information about the amazing scientific exploration of cymatics, visit CymaScope[dot]com.