Sound-Generated Chladni Paintings

Craft & Design
Sound-Generated Chladni Paintings


Detroit-based artist Bethany Shorb is always pushing the envelop with her art, whether it be her inventive silkscreening techniques for her line of the most original ties on the planet, Cyberoptix Tie Lab, or her newest venture into sound-generated Chladni figure paintings using industrial polymer paint and metal flake on aluminum. Aside from being a skilled artist, Bethany is also involved in the maker community, having shown her work at Maker Faires, and embodies the maker spirit in her desire to share knowledge and innovate.

Her new series of sound-generated paintings is on display at Devotion Gallery in Brooklyn, N.Y., from now until October 20. Tonight is the opening from 7p.m. to 9p.m.

From the gallery site:

Viewers may be familiar with the seminal physics class demonstration in which square steel plates are sprinkled with salt or sand, an electronic musical tone is applied, and through the resultant flexural vibration, a visual representation of the plate’s resonant frequency is depicted. These, “Chladni Figures,” are named for musician and physicist Ernst Chladni who in 1787, first ran a violin bow across a brass plate lightly covered in sand and pictorially recorded the waveforms that appeared.

Shorb re-creates classic sonic experiments with a modified sub-woofer, tone generation software, and industrial pigments typically used in the automotive industry. As the input amplitude is increased and a harmonic frequency found, the powdered pigment bounces about on the aluminum plates until settling at nodal points (areas of no movement) and moving away from antinodal points (areas of intense vibration) thereby producing intricate patterns of linear motion and cyclonic rotation which are then immobilized into a single, sonorous visualization. When more plates from the same frequency are tiled together, more of the waveform comes into view, reminiscent of Tibetan Buddhist mandalas; a cenophobic adornment seen through a hyper colored prismatic, low-rider metallic-flaked lens.


We chatted with Bethany to find out some details on her new series:

1. How did you get interested in Chladni figures?
I’ve been familiar with the school experiment for a number of years; however, it was only when I began using powdered pigments in my sculptural practice that led me to make the connection that perhaps other materials (though not nearly as easily!) could be substituted for the sand or salt traditionally used in making Chladni figures. Having tinkered with electronic music for the past 15 years in both circuit bending and DJ performance, the idea of being able to harness sound waves into the act of visual art-making made a connection in my brain I just couldn’t put down.

While I always appreciated the experiment in its raw form, the impermanence of it didn’t excite me as an artist, therefore I wanted to take on the challenge of being able to permanently fix and solidify the figures to the plate. The intersection of science and art is one that has always grabbed my attention and one I’d like to pursue further. I hope, even in some small way, I can inspire youth to explore this intersection as well.


2. What materials do you use for the paintings themselves?
All of the paintings are on water-jet-cut aluminum, and some are additionally mounted on deep steel boxes and others on angled
wall-brackets so the more complex three dimensional geometries could be joined.

3. What’s going on on your laptop when you’re making these?
I’m using a $40 shareware app called ToneGen, which is a Mac function generator emulator. While I enjoy the precision of being able to type in a specific frequency, 672Hz for example, I’m also very happy with my new-to-me eBay score of a 1960’s function generator — for about the same price. While the analog value can a little less precise, having that big knob to smoothly sweep through frequencies rather than a trackpad helps one to be much more successful at hunting down good resonant frequencies.


You can see Bethany’s process of creatiion in this video:

YouTube player

And here are 13 more of her mesmerizing paintings:

0 thoughts on “Sound-Generated Chladni Paintings

  1. julian correa says:

    thank you !

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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