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Posted on October 9th, by amoeboar in classes, cookingwithsound. No Comments

A study of cymatics, observable and visible sound and vibration in fluid mediums.

A few weeks ago, I did some research about cymatics, and began thinking about how I would perform an experiment to observe the phenomenon myself.


I obtained a 15″ Speaker

I tested my speaker and amp setup using small plastic tray lids and water, to see how the fluid would respond.

I also made three modifications to see which lid would reflect the light the way I wanted. One was left clear, one was sprayed black on the inside (liquid side), and the last was sprayed on the outside, maintaining the glossy inside with a darkened background. I held a light source directly overhead and got these results:

I found that the clear tray did not isolate the reflective peaks, and the tray sprayed on the outside created too much sheen to see the peaks clearly. The best option was to spray the interir of the tray with a black matte spraypaint.

This was a successful study, but I needed a larger tray for more interesting patterns.

I also needed to contain the water in a uniformly distributed ring, as I found the tray ridges along the outer edge were interfering with the natural wave formations. I cut a half-inch strip of acetate and glued it to the inner ring to hold the water.

For my actual test, I chose three fluids of varying viscocity (in addition to water): alcohol, walnut oil (which had the most translucency and least amount of yellow coloring), and varnish.

During the experiment, I wanted to try a range of frequencies and wave forms over the variety of mediums.

The fluids that responded most effectively to low frequencies were (beginning with the most successful): water, alcohol, walnut oil, petroleum distillates (varnish). At higher frequencies, the water and alcohol were most successul in producing consistent patterns.

The oil and varnish were the most viscous, and did not respond to high frequencies unless the amplitude was increased significantly, in which case the sound became distorted, causing inconsistency in the patterns, bubbles to form, and liquid to splash out of the dish.

Here is a video documenting the work:

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I will do this experiment again. Here is what I woud like to do differently next time:

  • Create a dish that is better suited for this application. I would use some sort of thin metal as opposed to plastic, which  although had an excellent thickness for vibration, had a tendency to warp and break down over time, especially as harsh chemicals were added. Towards the end of my sessions, the dish had warped to an extent such that the patterns were extremely inconsistent.
  • Stick with less viscous fluids, like water or perhaps superfluids like liquid hydrogen. I would also like to incorporate a fine powder into this experiment. Additionally, the harsher fluids began stripping the paint off the tray.
  • Incorporate complex waveforms, such as an audio or music signal.


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