The Geometry of Sound: Watch Artist Kenichi Kanazawa Make Amazing Geometric Designs Out of Sand, Using Sound Waves Alone

Before our eyes, Japan­ese artist Kenichi Kanaza­wa cre­ates crisp shapes and geo­met­ric pat­terns with no spe­cial tools but sand and sound, the kind of work that at first looks express­ly designed to go viral on social media. But he’s been at it much longer than that: “Orig­i­nal­ly a sculp­tor by trade,” accord­ing to Spoon & Tam­ago’s John­ny Wald­man, “Kanaza­wa began work­ing with steel and sound in 1987 after col­lab­o­rat­ing with the late sound artist Hiroshi Yoshimu­ra. Today, his work pri­mar­i­ly involves ele­ments like sound, vibra­tion and heat: mak­ing the invis­i­ble, vis­i­ble.” Or in oth­er words, using what crit­ic and music Ted Gioia calls, in a tweet of one of Kanaza­wa’s short table­top per­for­mances, “the pow­er of sound to cre­ate order out of chaos.”

Kanaza­wa does­n’t use just any old tables, but spe­cial ones made of steel, the bet­ter to res­onate when he taps and strokes them with his vari­ety of mal­lets. Nor does he use just any old sand, opt­ing instead for either a pure white — for max­i­mum visu­al stark­ness against the black steel — or a set of bright col­ors, as in the video at the top of the post.

What­ev­er its place on the spec­trum, the stuff seems to rearrange itself across the sur­face in response to the tones cre­at­ed by the artist. The strik­ing pre­ci­sion of the effects pro­duced by this inter­ac­tion of sand, steel, and sound gets view­ers won­der­ing what, sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, is going on here. The under­ly­ing set of phe­nom­e­na has a name: cymat­ics, coined in the 1960s by a Swiss doc­tor named Hans Jen­ny.

In his book Heal­ing Songs, Gioia calls Jen­ny’s study of cymat­ics “the most impres­sive and rig­or­ous inquiry yet made into the nature of vibra­tions and their impact on phys­i­cal objects of var­i­ous sorts.” In such a medi­um sen­si­tive to son­ic vibra­tions, Jen­ny him­self writes, “a pat­tern appears to take shape before the eye and, as long as the sound is spo­ken, to behave like some­thing alive.” This also fair­ly describes Kanaza­wa’s danc­ing sand, whether seen from up close or at a dis­tance. Phys­i­cal­ly speak­ing, sound is, of course, a form of vibra­tion, which is itself a form of motion. But for an observ­er like Jen­ny — an adher­ent of eso­teric philoso­pher Rudolf Stein­er’s anthro­pos­o­phy, a school of thought ori­ent­ed toward the obser­va­tion of the spir­i­tu­al world through sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence — Kanaza­wa’s work would sure­ly have, as it were, much deep­er res­o­nances.

via @Ted­Gioia

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Geom­e­try of Sound Waves Visu­al­ized

What Does Sound Look Like?: The Audi­ble Ren­dered Vis­i­ble Through Clever Tech­nol­o­gy

The Physics of Play­ing a Gui­tar Visu­al­ized: Metallica’s “Noth­ing Else Mat­ters” Viewed from Inside the Gui­tar

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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  • jeff volk says:

    I am the pub­lish­er of Hans Jen­ny’s com­pos­ite edi­tion of his two books, Cymat­ics Vols.I&II, first Eng­lish edi­tion, 2001. Just around Thanks­giv­ing 2020, as I was con­sid­er­ing reprint­ing the book, Ted Gioia post­ed an excerpt of Kenichi Kanaza­wa’s video clip of his “cymat­ic coro­na” (def­i­nite­ly the best coro­na going around at that time!) and as the cos­mic trick­ster would have it, it went viral (no pun intend­ed). Our reprint plans were delayed thanks to the oth­er virus, but that has giv­en us time to exten­sive­ly revise this 5th edi­tion. In this edi­tion we will be print­ing a fore­word by Gioia in which he describes his amaze­ment upon see­ing Kanaza­wa’s demonstration,and we would like to include an image or two of this clip in his text. I would like to con­tact the artist to request his per­mis­sion to do so, so I am ask­ing you to send me his con­tact infor­ma­tion so I can write to him direct­ly. You can reach me via the email address above and I thank you in advance for your assis­tance.
    I look for­ward to hear­ing back from you at your ear­li­est con­ve­nience. In res­o­nance, Jeff Volk, Pub­lish­er, MACRO­me­dia Pub­lish­ing, Eliot, Maine, USA.

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