The Magical & Musical Analysis of Hans Jenny, Creator of Cymatics

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Some months prior to now I shared a video on-line of Japanese artist Kenichi Kanazawa engaged in an unusual musical effectivity. Over the next few weeks, this transient film clip acquired higher than 12 million impressions on Twitter (since eradicated, embedded from YouTube beneath).

The transient video is totally riveting—no matter its stark, unadorned and under-produced prime quality. It reveals Kanazawa in an empty room, spreading white sand on a steel tabletop with the utilization of a sieve, in a random pattern—the type of mess a child may make toppling the sugar bowl. Then he begins rubbing the sting of the tabletop with a small rubber mallet, producing a repeated extreme tone at a cost of roughly 120 beats per minute. The friction created by the mallet rubbing in opposition to the steel, causes the tabletop to vibrate, and subsequently, the sand to bop all through the ground. Progressively the powder varieties into a flowery star-shaped pattern, beautiful and symmetrical—practically as if fastidiously constructed by an artist over the course of hours. Nevertheless this all happens in just a few seconds.

Kanazawa then repeats the tactic with a much bigger mallet, producing a lower bell-like tone at a sooner tempo. And now the pattern shifts eerily proper right into a spherical kind, ornamented with ten symmetrical protruding knobs. As quickly as as soon as extra, it might take a gifted artisan many hours to create an beautiful sand sculpture of such complexity, nonetheless it happens proper right here practically instantaneously in response to these resonant tones.

As this video went viral on the web, I obtained an entire lot of responses from people—many who thought it was a type of sorcery or magic trick. They felt instinctively that music was one factor intangible, practically metaphysical—and simply can’t possess the flexibility to rearrange the bodily universe in the easiest way demonstrated on the film.

There must be a gimmick proper right here, no?

Nevertheless, in precise truth, the science behind this effectivity has been acknowledged not lower than given that late seventeenth century, when Robert Hooke created patterns out of flour with sounds produced by a violin bow. 100 years later, physicist and musician Ernst Chladni undertook further experimentation on this affect—and whilst we communicate many title the following patterns constructed from sound by his determine, Chladni figures.  

These pioneers deserve credit score rating. Nevertheless most of our data regarding the scientific scope and aesthetic dimensions of this excellent course of is due to one explicit individual, Dr. Hans Jenny (1904-1972), a Swiss polymath who devoted loads of his life to that magical strategy of transformation by which sound not solely turns into seen, nonetheless imposes an architectonic order of magnificence and precision on the bodily universe. 

Sooner than Jenny, this was a stunt or amusing demonstration, nonetheless he considered it a specific space of scientific inquiry, and gave it a popularity: Cymatics, from the normal Greek chima, meaning wave. And for Jenny, this scientific self-discipline would possibly doubtlessly include excess of merely shifting particles on a flooring, nonetheless embody the entire differ of periodic methods we see in all places in nature, from local weather patterns to the functioning of pure life. 

If we’ll unlock the thriller of waves and vibrations, Jenny believed, we not solely open our eyes to the sublimity of the universe, nonetheless may even set off revolutions in each factor from treatment to the humanities.  

Hans Jenny (shared with permission of MACROmedia Publishing)

In actuality, Jenny had been educated as a medical doctor, and dealt with victims at his Basel clinic—nonetheless his devotion to care moreover led him to make house calls on poor farmers, and even take care of their animals. Nevertheless his talents lined many alternative disciplines. He might very nicely be heard having fun with organ at church or improvising jazz. He taught science at a Waldorf  school in Zurich. He was a scholar of philosophy, and his evaluation exhibits a marked phenomenological orientation that deserves shut consideration by itself deserves. Totally different pursuits, from paintings to zoology, drove Jenny on in his quest to understand the organizing periodic concepts of every nature and society. 

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Nevertheless his most dramatic evaluation focused on making sound seen to the human eye. He invented a model new piece of scientific gear, which he known as a tonoscope, that allowed him to pursue these enigmatic transformations with a depth and precision no earlier scientist had dropped on the sector. Beneath his guiding hand, not solely sand and particles, nonetheless even fluids might very nicely be confirmed responding to music. In his laboratory, Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony revealed its functionality to reshape liquid right into a fragile lace pattern, worthy of an artisan’s workshop. Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” demonstrated its power to create a uncommon mosaic of byzantine intricacy. 

No person had carried out this with music sooner than. It was practically as if an entire new dimension of composition had been being revealed, really sooner than our eyes. 

Hans Jenny's photographs capture the extraordinary impact of sound on fluids and films
Hans Jenny’s photos seize the extraordinary impression of sound on fluids and films ({photograph} share with permission of MACROmedia Publishing) 

However Jenny was merely serving to us grasp the oldest lore of creation myths—the place matter is formed by deities and demiurges through of their world-making songs. We encounter this story in all places on the earth—Hindu accounts telling of Shiva’s world-making drum, or Australian Aboriginal narratives describing the musical origins of the panorama (whilst we communicate the pathways in that space of the world are known as songlines), or Biblical passages proclaiming the formative Logos. Throughout the early days of Western philosophy, Pythagoras was acknowledged to pick up a stone and inform his followers: “That’s frozen music.” 

Jenny didn’t invent any of these notion methods, nonetheless he gave them a scientific bearing and an empirical actuality they’d on no account possessed sooner than. It was practically as if the entire grand claims of world-making music, current in nearly every historic scriptural customized, had now been translated into the language and scientific observe of science. 

And Jenny documented his work on film. The surviving photos and clips are so awe-inspiring that you could be practically neglect that’s laboratory evaluation, and think about you possibly can have entered the realm of abstract paintings of the very best purity and depth. And, in a fashion, you possibly can have. Jenny created a bridge between the two cultures, scientific and humanistic, or a pathway from the left thoughts to the very best thoughts. Describe it nonetheless you’ll, he strong connections between worldviews that typically exist isolated one from the alternative. 

Hans Jenny Photograph showing the impact of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on a fluid
The impression of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on a fluid (shared with permission of MACROmedia Publishing)

The photographs are so inspiring, it could possibly be easy to neglect the conceptual underpinnings of all this. Nevertheless we shouldn’t. Not approach again, a model new idea of consciousness was superior by Tam Hunt and Jonathan Schooler, a hypothesis that envisions rhythm as a result of the missing hyperlink between ideas and matter. These researchers remind us that, in a universe whereby each factor is vibrating and oscillating—every in our our our bodies and the outside ambiance—our very sense of identification and firm is also a quasi-rhythmic, musical phenomenon. Hunt and Schooler title this their “resonance theory of consciousness.” Nevertheless the establishing blocks of this worldview will probably be found, in embryonic kind, in Jenny’s Cymatics

How rather a lot power does sound possess? I’ll share one last story. 

A evaluation workers at UCLA not too way back launched their success in reviving a 25-year-old man in a coma merely by the making use of of pulsating ultrasound. This spectacular finish outcome emboldened them to take a look at the method with additional severely stricken victims, they normally demonstrated further successes with a 56-year-old man who had been minimally conscious for higher than 14 months, and commenced to revive after merely two therapies, along with a 50-year-old woman who been in a great deeper coma for higher than two-and-a-half years following cardiac arrest. After the ultrasound remedy, she would possibly acknowledge objects and reply to spoken directions for the first time in years.

Hans Jenny Photograph Showing the Impact of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony on a fluid
Impression of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony on a fluid (shared with permission of MACROmedia Publishing)

And all this was carried out with a non-invasive course of relying solely on sound. On this event, the ultrasound was created by a small machine the size of a espresso cup. They don’t title it a musical instrument, nonetheless it’s onerous to understand why not. That’s the extreme tech therapeutic music of the twenty first century, and its potentialities are solely beginning to be tapped. 

Hans Jenny would hardly have been surprised by these developments. To some degree he envisioned them long ago. 

It’s a tragedy that so little has been done to advance Jenny’s work in the half-century since his death. His name is still barely recognized, both in the world of science and music. Yet more than any other figure of his time, he showed how these two spheres can come together. We should enjoy his legacy. But we also need to build on it.

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The above was adapted from Ted Gioia’s foreword to the forthcoming new edition of Cymatics by Hans Jenny, which is being republished in November 2022 with a model new translation and quite a lot of different new commentaries.


Ted Gioia is a primary music writer, and author of 11 books along with The History of Jazz and Music: A Subversive History. This textual content initially appeared on his Substack column and publication The Honest Broker.



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