What does sound look like? The weird world of cymatics

psychedelic painting

It was promise of a free screening of celebrated trip-out movie Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas that took us there.

Otherwise, we’d still be in the dark about cymatics or, in plain language, the study of visible sound.

That’s right.

Visible. Sound.

Here’s what happened. A new monthly magazine called Monolith was hosting a screening at The Vibe Bar in East London of Terry Gilliam’s movie of the Hunter S Thompson classic.

Ahead of the film, a fella in a Gram Parsons shirt by the name of Dr David Luke from the University of Greenwich was giving a talk on the science and art of psychedelic vision.

Or, to give the lecture its full title.

Multi-dimensional clairvoyant entoptic cymatic synaesthesia: the science and art of psychedelic vision.

Long title and a fairly long talk, as it turned out.

One of the topics the good doctor touched upon was the geometric aspect common to many of the psychedelic visions experienced by people in different cultures.

So, whether you’re a South American shaman, a Timothy Leary devotee or recreational acid head, it’s likely the visual element to all your trips will be very similar — complex, interlocking shapes in bright, almost ‘alien’ colours.

So, what’s going on here?

One theory — and it is accepted we are in the realm of the theoretical here — is that everyone experiences these geometric patterns because that’s what sound ‘looks’ like.

Which is where cymatics comes in.

The video below shows what happens when a table covered in sand is rigged up to a speaker emitting a single electronic note. As you’ll see, a geometric shape soon forms.

And when the pitch of the note changes, so too does the shape.

Returning to our psychedelic adventurers, the theory runs that the things they’re all ‘seeing’ is the ‘shape’ of the sounds they’re hearing.

Trippy, huh?

As a footnote, it’s worth mentioning that we didn’t stay for the film. We left and went to the finest boozer in Brick Lane, which is the Pride Of Spitalfields if you’re ever in the area.

What does sound look like? The weird world of cymatics

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