Amongst all the CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the visual that’s etched most deeply into my memory is a simple glass of water. As the tyrannosaurus loomed closer, ripples in the water’s surface grew larger. We couldn’t see the monster yet, but this simple image demonstrated how outmatched the puny humans were about to be.
Sonic Water, by Sven Meyer & Kim Pörksen, is a flowing, undulating art installation that explores the same phenomenon–cymatics (or the study of vibration)–as the Spielberg classic. Though in Sonic Water, the dinosaurs have been replaced by music. And music is a stand-in for the most primal, sonic building blocks of the universe.
“Cymatics is like a magical tool that unveils the substance of things not seen. Sound does have form, and you can see that sound can affect matter and cause form in matter,” Pörksen tells Co.Design. “So maybe in the beginning there was sound, which shaped all matter. Indeed, we think sound has a fundamental influence on the formation of the universe itself.”
Of course, Pörksen points out the more simple by-product of cymatics: It’s “the coolest sound visualizer” built from near scraps. Because as stunning as their installation may be, it’s little more than a speaker (playing music), topped with a plate (which vibrates), topped with a bottle cap filled with water (which translates the music’s frequencies into hypnotic patterns). It’s a rig simple enough for anyone to build, simply retrofitted with a dSLR and projected on the wall for extra visual flare.
“My guess is that it’s not so special for the people as they first see the projection,” Pörksen admits. “But when they come to the cube with the speaker and they suddenly understand the mechanism, people are really amazed that such a simple setup can create such amazing visuals.”
Even still, this is just “an icebreaker” for what’s to come. Because from here, the viewer is invited to a DIY lab to create their own cymatic visualizations with music of their own choosing. It’s a celebration of pop culture and a physics lesson in one.
“What does it look like if they hum loudly their favorite tune into the microphone? What does ‘Gangam Style’ look like in cymatics?” Pörksen asks. “They become the Big Bang and part of the Genesis.”