Stunning and weird portraits of musical note vibrations


Originally published at:


I wonder what the difference would be if you played the same note in a different keyoctave.

Edit: Octave. I meant octave.


I refuse to look at the image of A440, only A432 is acceptable because I know it will be more beautiful and will embody the magical healing power of the universe.


They’re pretty.

But aren’t they more influenced by the properties of the equipment (size and shape of the basin, camera and lighting position…) than by the pitches?


No no no, this is not what musical notes “look like.” It would be just great if the artists had a chat with any high school physics teacher. The complexity in these patterns is caused not by the base note, but by the overtones that give the sound its flavor. Also, the base frequency interacts with the resonances of the bucket, which are different for every brand of bucket.

If you were to repeat this experiment, you would not get the same designs. If the artists had replicated their results like scientists, they would have noticed this.

Resonance in a circular chamber or membrane is really complex and interesting. Enharmonic overtones sound weird. They do not look like the tree in the garden of Eden.


Similarly, I’m not at all sure that you would get the same design if you used a different sized apparatus. I suspect that their reproducibility is an artifact of the specific experimental setup, not an inherent property of the pitches.


all sound looks like slinkies when projected on a one dimensional vector. the metal kind, not the blasphemous plastic ones.

no, i’m not joking.


why would you get the same design when the ‘design’ is an emergent property of the medium and its boundaries, and not a fundamental property of the waveform itself?


lastly, speaking of enharmonics who doesn’t want an Orthotonophonium?


these are not representative of “normal” notes but rather of very unusual manufactured sounds which eventually yield an image that is acceptable to the author/artist.


It’s also dependant on the shape of the container that you are vibrating. The set of frequencies a bounded container vibrates at can tell you quite a lot about its shape. There was a semi-well-known article about it “Can one hear the shape of a drum?”


That’s not what musical notes look like!



Aside from the physics issues already mentioned I figure those descriptions are rather individual perception.

Anyway thanks for a wonderful thing @pesco


B major was always one of my favs to play in. No matter the instrument the scales, chords, and modes were always fun.


So, those with synesthesia: what do these notes look (taste/smell/feel) like?


The gizmo that makes musical notes visible at the Exploratorium doesn’t produce anywhere near such complex patterns. I think they’re doing something sneaky.


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