Let visual sound blow your mind

There’s something about sound that has captured humanity’s attention for thousands of years. It’s one of the five kinds of input we receive to be able to interact with one another and the world around us. It’s pretty much our central mode of communication.

So it’s no surprise that some of the most creative minds in our community of humans are enthralled with being able to visually representing the audible. From music videos to fancy sculptures, what we hear is more and more often shown to us optically.

Let’s start off looking into the straight-up scientific form of this phenomenon:

It’s not just art that allows sound visualization, but the advent of new technologies that show us what sound really looks like.

Software visualization

One of the main ways our favorite music nerds have found to express a little sonic something, is by analyzing the data behind the noise, finding ways to measure the different qualities of the audio and then assigning a visual component to them.

Atari Video Music

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Take the Atari Video Music system, released in 1976. It’s recognized as the first commercially available music visualizer, essentially a video game where you input your Hi-Fi stereo system to see its visual representation.

Milkdrop

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For a more modern take on this, see Milkdrop. It’s a plugin, an open-source project that creates the now-familiar psychadelic abstract art to the beat of your favorite songs.

Sculptural interpretation

Creating a still capture of sound and freezing time is an oft-explored pathway to audial illustration. It can be capturing the way a sound’s vibrations move the world around it, or reshaping an ideal world based on the projection of sound — these ideas create a new surreal space.

Sonic Sculptures by Martin Klimas

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This photographer used high-speed shooting to capture the movement of paint splattered on speakers, to vibrantly demonstrate raucous sound. Pictured are “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis (left) and “Transistor” by Kraftwerk (right).

Daniel Palacios, Waves

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Installation art is a great way to experiment with sound, and in Waves artist Palacios explores the movement of a piece of rope in sight and sound through that undulating motion. See the video.

Noize Chair by Estudio Guta Requena

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A 3D printer is used by this design firm to imprint the sounds of metropolitan Brazil onto a designer chair.

Crystallize by Tokujin Yoshioka

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Japanese artist Tokujin Yoshioka has made perhaps the most elegant interpretation of this group, growing delicately ethereal crystal sculptures from the vibrations produced by looping Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

Nigel Stanford’s CYMATICS

A brilliantly addictive video exploring the way sound moves different mediums through vibrations — water, fire, electricity, and more.

Conceptual imaging

There are plenty of non-literal interpretations to this trend — artists taking the concept of a sound and creating a piece of art from that.

Erdal Inci’s Gifs

Stumblers

Inci’s gifs are a riot of repetition, pattern, and light. They’re created from his fascination with sound, his desire to find a way to visualize a single note: “If you clone a motion backwards in time until it fills the frame, it makes that motion perpetual so the timeline will become like a circle… like a tone.”

Stephen Malinowski’s animations

He uses his own creation, the Music Animation Machine, to create easily interpreted musical scores. The word on the street is he started these in 1974 after taking LSD and listening to Bach.

Ólafur Arnalds – Ljósið

Ambient electronic music has found a perfect output with the colored smoke creatures flitting their way across the screen in Icelanic artist Ólafur Arnalds’ music video for his song Ljósið.

SoundViz

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SoundViz was the inspiration for this post — a company founded by one of our own 99staffers, our email marketing manager Chelsea Haupt, and her fiancé.

The site allows you to capture your favorite sound in a visual format, a clean and geometric graphic wave that’s customizable in color and shape. Creating these things is super addictive — I probably made ten of them before deciding on my favorite (a clip of my personal favorite song, Loser by Beck).

Chelsea answered a couple of my questions about her company in a mini-interview:

What inspired you to start making these designs?

Tyler, my fiancé, is a musician and software engineer. Back in 2013 he produced a song he was really proud of and wanted to create a visual representation of it to hang on our wall. He stayed up all night and built an algorithm that turned his song into a visual soundwave. Once I saw how great it turned out I thought this could be something people would buy, and voilà SoundViz was born a year later!

How exactly does it work?

When a sound is uploaded to SoundViz, we analyze it for loudness and tone. These metrics allow us to create accurate, colorful wave forms that can be fully customized by the user. We wanted to give our customers full control to make a soundwave their own — from the color, shape and style. You can then choose to get your soundwave delivered as a fine art print, canvas or digital file.

What were the biggest challenges you faced starting SoundViz?

I think the biggest challenge we’ve faced so far has been user acquisition. We realized that one of our barriers to entry was the fact that the user has to own a digital file of the sound they want converted in order to customize a soundwave.

Since more and more consumers are using music streaming services like Spotify, Rdio and Pandora, this is especially a challenge for us. In a perfect world we’d love to integrate with those companies to make the user’s experience seamless, but for now we’re making changes to the product that lets you play around without having a digital file. Once somebody is able to see the value of what we offer they’re hooked, but it’s getting them to that step that has been a challenge.

Test it out with your favorite song or sound — personalized music visualization, at your mouse-tip.

Know of another great example of sound visualization? Share it in the comments!

The author

Kaitlyn Ellison
Kaitlyn Ellison

Kaitlyn is part of the Community Team at 99designs.com. She grew up in Boulder, CO and went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago. When she's not blogging, she spends her time having adventures and being generally creative. She's all about having new experiences as often as possible!

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