Ernst Chladni (1), the jurist, musician and physicist, was born in 1756 - the same year as Mozart, and died in 1829 - the same year as Beethoven. In 1787 he published Entdeckungen über die Theorie des Klangesor (Discoveries Concerning the Theory of Music). Chladni laid the foundations for the discipline within physics that came to be called acoustics - the science of sound.

He made visible what sound waves generate. With the help of a violin bow which he drew perpendicularly across the edge of flat plates covered with sand, he produced those patterns and shapes which today go by the term Chladni figures (2). Thus he demonstrated that sound actually does affect physical matter and that it has the quality of creating geometric patterns.

In 1815 the American mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch began studying the patterns created by the intersection of two sine curves whose axes are perpendicular to each other, sometimes called Bowditch curves, but more often Lissajous figures (3).

This after the French mathematician Jules-Antoine Lissajous, who, independently of Bowditch, investigated them in 1857 - 58. Both concluded that the condition for these designs to arise was that the frequencies, or oscillations per second, of both curves stood in simple whole-number ratios to each other, such as 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, and so on.

In fact, one can produce Lissajous figures (3) even if the frequencies are not in perfect whole-number ratios to each other. If the difference is insignificant, the phenomenon that arises is that the designs keep changing their appearance. They move. What creates the variations in the shapes of these designs is the phase differential, or the angle between the two curves. In other words, the way in which their rhythms or periods coincide. If the curves have different frequencies and are out of phase with each other, intricate web-like designs arise.


In 1967 Hans Jenny (4), a Swiss scientist, published Kymatik -Wellen und Schwingungen mit ihrer Struktur und Dynamik. In this book Jenny showed what happens when one takes various materials like sand, spores, iron filings, water, and viscous substances, and places them on vibrating metal plates and membranes. What appears are shapes and motion - patterns which vary from the nearly perfectly ordered and stationary to those that are turbulently developing, organic, and constantly in motion.

Jenny made use of crystal oscillators and an invention of his own called the tonoscope to set these plates and membranes vibrating. The advantage with crystal oscillators is that one can determine exactly which frequency and amplitude/volume one wants. It was thus possible to research and follow a continuous train of events in which one could change the frequency or the amplitude or both.

The tonoscope made the human voice visible – thus one was able to see the physical image of the vowel, tone or song a human being produced directly. Not only could you hear a melody - you could see it, too.

Jenny called this new area of research cymatics, which comes from the Greek kyma, wave. Cymatics could be translated as: the study of how vibrations, in the broad sense, generate and influence patterns, shapes and moving processes.


Jenny produced both the Chladni figures and Lissajous figures in his experiments. He discovered also that if he vibrated a plate at a specific frequency and amplitude the shapes and motion patterns characteristic of that vibration appeared in the material on the plate. If he changed the frequency or amplitude, the pattern changed as well. He found that if he increased the frequency, the complexity of the patterns increased, the number of elements became greater. If on the other hand he increased the amplitude, the motions became more rapid and turbulent and could even create small eruptions. (5)

The shapes, figures and patterns of motion that appeared proved to be primarily a function of frequency, amplitude, and the inherent characteristics of the various materials(6) . He also discovered that under certain conditions he could make the shapes change continuously, despite his having altered neither frequency nor amplitude.(7)

When Jenny experimented with fluids of various kinds he produced wave motions, spirals, and wave-like patterns in continuous circulation. In his research with plant spores, he found an enormous variety and complexity, but even so, there was a unity in the shapes and dynamic developments that aROSÉ .

In his research with the tonoscope, Jenny noticed that when the vowels of the ancient languages of Hebrew and Sanskrit were pronounced, the sand took the shape of the written symbols for these vowels (8), while our modern languages, on the other hand, did not generate the same result.


Alexander Lauterwasser, a German researcher and photographer based his work on work done by Ernst Chladni and Hans Jenny in the field of Cymatics.

Lauterwasser is most especially interested in the phenomenology and typography of the shapes formed by vibration and sound and in the issues of morphogenesis, the shaping processes which occur in nature.

Having spent many years studying the "Chladni sound figures", i.e. the interaction between individual tones and a very wide range of vibrating metal plates which appears in the sand line images as a type of "sound hieroglyhics", he then moved on to considering “the effects of more complex sounds and moving music in water, a medium which is exceedingly receptive and which responds in a very sensitive manner”. During this part of his work, all the sound vibrations were transferred into the water by a vessel to enable the continually penetrating and superimposed waves to create numerous impressive structures and water-sound images in the water and on its surface. These structures and images were then displayed using special reflections of light and can be photographed or filmed.

In 2002 Lauterwasser published his book Wasser Klang Bilder (Water Sound Images) with imagery of water surfaces set into motion by sound sources ranging from pure sine waves to music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Karlheinz Stockhausen and even overtone chanting.
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