The Late Movies: Painting Sound

Ransom Riggs

Tonight's "Late Movies" is a mix of photos and videos, all of which owe their existence, in large part, to sounds. Watch this, and then I'll explain a bit:

Canon Pixma Sound Sculptures from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

Short but very cool, no? The question is, how'd they do it? What is that? From NPR's Picture Show blog:

Drops of paint are placed on a black balloon that has been stretched over a speaker. A blast of sound causes the surface of the balloon to snap, the paint to jump — and the super-brief moment in time is captured with a high-speed camera, shooting 5,000 frames per second. The footage is slowed down, and the result is a spectacular scene of organic formations.

Lucky for us, they made a behind-the-scenes video that gives away some of their secrets. Once you get past the Canon rep's (brief) spiel, it's really interesting:

Canon Pixma: Bringing colour to life from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

The commercial agency who created the spot was inspired by a photographer named Linden Gledhill, who's "Water Figures" set on Flickr uses much the same technique. His formations are actually only about an inch high, and their shape is determined by the "pitch of the note, the complexity and volume."

I thought I'd share some of his -- and other Flickr users' -- photos of "water figures" below.

They look almost like alien tentacles, don't they? I only wish I knew what song they were dancing to!

Gledhill credits a Flickr user called fotoopa for inventing the technique, and if anything, I think his shots are even more interesting:

Of this, he writes:

Lower part is the membrane on top of a speaker. Before the special waveform is applied a soapbubble is placed above a few colored waterdrops. At this point you have the membrane, color liquids and the soapbubble. The "ball" is a marble that fall and pass through a laserbeam. A photodiode give a signal to the controller to start all the timings needed. The waveform signal is applied after a time and that forms the waterfigures. But at the same time the marble falls into the soapbubble. At this moment its time to fire all the flashes. Of course the camera need to be active at the right time to to have the correct picture. All this correct settings timings and delays give nice figures.

That's definitely above my paygrade -- but I enjoy the results.