Seeing Sound 3

iPhoto slideshow and video documentation of my presentation and performance with Ben Lycett at Seeing Sound 3, Bath Spa University, UK on 23rd-24th November 2013.

Seeing Sound
Practice-Led Research Symposium, Bath Spa University

Seeing Sound is an informal practice-led symposium exploring multimedia work which foregrounds the relationship between sound and image.

It explores areas such as visual music, abstract cinema, experimental animation, audiovisual performance and installation practice through paper sessions, screenings, performances and installations.

We are inviting proposals for papers, fixed-media audiovisual works, audiovisual performances and installations. Papers should be approximately 20 minutes in duration. Papers, performances and installations will require the presence of the proposer at the symposium. Note that opportunities for performances and (in particular) installations may be limited by economic and logistic constraints.

Seeing Sound 3 was not only an ideal opportunity to present the latest developments in my PhD Practice as Research project, but also to realise the last of three artistic outputs – a live audiovisual performance – proposed in my initial research proposal. So I submitted to all three categories: paper, performance and installation.

Paper – The Augmented Tonoscope – Musical Interface and Composition

The Augmented Tonoscope is a Practice as Research PhD project working towards a deeper understanding of the interplay between sound and image in Visual Music.

While there are numerous examples of projects that deploy Cymatics, there are few that explore it as a means to create a form of visual or visible music – with the notable exception of John Telfer’s ‘Cymatic Music’. Telfer argues that a correspondence between musical note and cymatic pattern is more likely to be found in perfect interval, Just Intonation based music traditions – where the spans between notes are calculated based on small whole number ratios. His ‘Harmonicism’ theory led to development of the Lamdoma Matrix as a practical, creative resource for music making – extending the overtone and undertone progressions of the Pythagorean lamdoid by making these the axis of a 2D grid.

Struck by the similarity of this matrix to the form of the monome controller, Sykes has integrated both into a musical interface for his instrument, allowing him to access the tunings of the Lamdoma Matrix using the monome as physical ‘window’ – its buttons become the ‘keys’ of a 2D keyboard. He has started to explore the harmonic landscape of this tuning framework and worked out ways to record and compose using his own Nodal sequencer and more conventional Ableton Live DAW.

This paper presents Telfer’s key arguments and demonstrates Sykes’ efforts to extend and develop Telfers’ ideas through his own work integrating cymatic patterns and harmonic based virtual models.

Performance – The Augmented Tonoscope – Selected Works – Lewis Sykes with Ben Lycett

This set features four, short, abstract audiovisual works created as part of Lewis Sykes’ Practice as Research PhD and recent collaborative practice with Ben Lycett – all of which attempt to show a deeper connection between what is heard and what is seen by making the audible visible. By looking for similar qualities to the vibrations that generate sound in the visual domain, they try to create an amalgam of the audio and visual where there is a more literal ‘harmony’.

Stravinsky Rose is a real-time visualisation of Igor Stravinsky’s colourful and witty ‘Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo’ as performed by Fiona Cross of Manchester Camerata. It adapts an algorithm developed by seminal computer-aided animator John Whitney Sr. to create dynamic, alternately diverging and converging, naturalistic patterns, more or less equivalent to the harmonies within the music itself. Moiré Modes is an audiovisual work that uses moire effects to help the vibrational modes of a perfect, virtual drum-head playing ‘Up & Coming’ (Brown STC), an unaccompanied solo for five timpani, retuned to the first five ‘preferred’ modes. Whitney Triptych explores the counterpoint in J. S. Bach’s ‘Fugue in F minor BWV 881’ by visualising the harmonically interdependent right and left hand parts of the Prelude each as a ‘Whitney Rose’ pattern with a third, central rose displaying the harmonic relationship between them. Three Phase is a live audiovisual performance which inks the melodies and sonic textures within a minimal techno soundscape directly to abstract visualisations inspired by experimental animators John Whitney Sr and Larry Cuba.

The works explore real-time audiovisual performance using custom-made hardware and software systems developed by Sykes and Lycett using the creative C++ toolkit openFrameworks – which may well will include ‘fricken’ lasers!

Installation – Cymatic Adufe

The Cymatic Adufe is an installation piece for a gallery setting that applies the phenomenon of stationary waves – a technological, sculptural, sound-based, generative, audiovisual artwork that explores the rich vocal and musical tradition of the Idanha a Nova region of central Portugal. The work investigates the interplay between sounds and images, materials and forms emblematic of rural life. It was last exhibited at MUDE: Museu Do Design E Da Moda, Lisbon, May-September ’13 as part of the ’21st Century Rural Museum’ exhibition.

In May 2012, Lewis travelled to Monsanto, a small, mountain top village in rural Portugal and spent time experiencing the local culture. He was particularly struck by the Adufeiras do Monsanto, a group of mostly elderly women from the village who celebrate their traditional culture by performing a repertoire of traditional folk songs in brightly coloured costumes using just voice accompanied by rhythms played on an adufe – a square-framed hand drum of Arabic origin.

The work deploys Cymatics to visualise the traditional Portuguese folk melody of the Senhora do Almortão as dynamic and shifting patterns on the surface of an adufe. Simultaneously projected onto the top of the drum, superimposing on and augmenting these natural cymatics forms, are digital versions of geometric patterns often found in rural Portuguese decorative design and architectural elements – generated digitally using a sound responsive adaptation of the Superformula, a generic geometric transformation equation first proposed by Johan Gielis that encompasses a wide range forms found in nature.


In the end, Seeing Sound 3 didn’t feature installations – though conference convenor Jo Hyde expressed interest in the Cymatic Adufe and requested video documentation – but I was very pleased to be selected for the presentation and performance.


Although I started to work on a ‘script’ for my presentation as part of the Paper Session 5a, in the end I decided against it, reflecting on my previous experiences at ORCiM Seminar ’13 and the Understanding Visual Music ’13 colloquium. Instead I ‘talked to’ an iPhoto slideshow of images, videos and bullet points which helped structure my talk and integrated a series of live software demos. I rambled a little, but was generally much happier with the feel and flow of this presentation – and I think the video documentation shows as much. Although the Seeing Sound 3 team documented most of the proceedings, they haven’t made them publicly available, so this is not great quality recording using my own Canon S100.

Also video documentation (not amazing quality – also our main camera shut off half-way through the set, so the last 10 mins uses footage from our back-up camera which has the screen obscured by silhouettes of our heads!) of my and Ben Lycett’s performance as part of the Performance 2 session.