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

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Some months in the past I shared a video clip on-line of Japanese artist Kenichi Kanazawa engaged in an unconventional musical overall performance. Around the subsequent several weeks, this limited film clip obtained much more than 12 million impressions on Twitter (due to the fact eliminated, embedded from YouTube underneath).

The small movie is unquestionably riveting—despite its stark, unadorned and under-made good quality. It reveals Kanazawa in an empty home, spreading white sand on a steel tabletop with the use of a sieve, in a random pattern—the type of mess a child may make toppling the sugar bowl. Then he starts rubbing the edge of the tabletop with a little rubber mallet, developing a recurring large tone at a amount of approximately 120 beats for each minute. The friction developed by the mallet rubbing versus the metal, brings about the tabletop to vibrate, and subsequently, the sand to dance throughout the floor. Slowly the powder varieties into a complicated star-formed pattern, stunning and symmetrical—almost as if diligently created by an artist in excess of the class of several hours. But this all comes about in just a couple of seconds.

Kanazawa then repeats the method with a bigger mallet, creating a lower bell-like tone at a more rapidly tempo. And now the pattern shifts eerily into a circular form, ornamented with ten symmetrical protruding knobs. At the time again, it would take a competent artisan numerous hours to generate a beautiful sand sculpture of these kinds of complexity, but it comes about right here nearly instantaneously in response to these resonant tones.

As this movie went viral on the world-wide-web, I obtained hundreds of responses from people—many who imagined it was a variety of sorcery or magic trick. They felt instinctively that music was anything intangible, pretty much metaphysical—and simply simply cannot have the electric power to rearrange the physical universe in the way demonstrated on the movie.

There has to be a gimmick here, no?

But, in fact, the science driving this functionality has been identified at least given that the late 17th century, when Robert Hooke established styles out of flour with sounds developed by a violin bow. A hundred decades later, physicist and musician Ernst Chladni undertook further more experimentation on this effect—and even right now several get in touch with the ensuing styles produced from sound by his name, Chladni figures.  

These pioneers should have credit rating. But most of our awareness about the scientific scope and aesthetic dimensions of this impressive method is because of to one individual, Dr. Hans Jenny (1904-1972), a Swiss polymath who devoted substantially of his daily life to that magical approach of transformation by which sound not only turns into visible, but imposes an architectonic order of attractiveness and precision on the bodily universe. 

In advance of Jenny, this was a stunt or amusing demonstration, but he regarded it a specific field of scientific inquiry, and gave it a name: Cymatics, from the ancient Greek chima, indicating wave. And for Jenny, this scientific discipline could perhaps require a great deal a lot more than just transferring particles on a area, but encompass the entire array of periodic methods we see almost everywhere in character, from weather styles to the functioning of natural and organic life. 

If we can unlock the thriller of waves and vibrations, Jenny believed, we not only open our eyes to the sublimity of the universe, but may possibly even set off revolutions in every little thing from medication to the arts.  

Hans Jenny (shared with authorization of MACROmedia Publishing)

In point, Jenny had been educated as a health-related physician, and handled individuals at his Basel clinic—but his devotion to treatment also led him to make property calls on lousy farmers, or even treat their animals. But his skills coated numerous other disciplines. He could be read taking part in organ at church or improvising jazz. He taught science at a Waldorf  faculty in Zurich. He was a student of philosophy, and his study displays a marked phenomenological orientation that deserves near interest on its own deserves. Other passions, from art to zoology, drove Jenny on in his quest to have an understanding of the arranging periodic ideas of equally nature and modern society. 

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But his most dramatic exploration targeted on earning seem obvious to the human eye. He invented a new piece of scientific tools, which he called a tonoscope, that allowed him to go after these enigmatic transformations with a depth and precision no earlier scientist had introduced to the subject. Underneath his guiding hand, not only sand and particles, but even fluids could be demonstrated responding to tunes. In his laboratory, Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony revealed its ability to reshape liquid into a fragile lace pattern, worthy of an artisan’s workshop. Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” shown its ability to build an amazing mosaic of byzantine intricacy. 

No one had done this with songs before. It was practically as if a complete new dimension of composition ended up staying uncovered, practically prior to our eyes. 

Hans Jenny's photographs capture the extraordinary impact of sound on fluids and films
Hans Jenny’s pictures seize the amazing effect of seem on fluids and movies (image share with authorization of MACROmedia Publishing) 

Yet Jenny was only assisting us grasp the oldest lore of development myths—where make any difference is formed by deities and demiurges by suggests of of their earth-creating tunes. We experience this tale just about everywhere in the world—Hindu accounts telling of Shiva’s earth-earning drum, or Australian Aboriginal narratives describing the musical origins of the landscape (even these days the pathways in that area of the entire world are called songlines), or Biblical passages proclaiming the formative Logos. In the early times of Western philosophy, Pythagoras was regarded to pick up a stone and notify his followers: “This is frozen audio.” 

Jenny did not invent any of these belief methods, but he gave them a scientific bearing and an empirical fact they had never ever possessed ahead of. It was practically as if all the grand promises of planet-creating songs, identified in almost just about every ancient scriptural custom, had now been translated into the language and scientific apply of science. 

And Jenny documented his operate on film. The surviving pictures and clips are so awe-inspiring that you can virtually neglect this is laboratory investigate, and believe that you have entered the realm of summary art of the maximum purity and intensity. And, in a way, you have. Jenny made a bridge amongst the two cultures, scientific and humanistic, or a pathway from the still left brain to the appropriate mind. Explain it on the other hand you will, he solid connections in between worldviews that commonly exist isolated one from the other. 

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

The photos are so inspiring, it would be easy to overlook the conceptual underpinnings of all this. But we shouldn’t. Not extensive in the past, a new theory of consciousness was sophisticated by Tam Hunt and Jonathan Schooler, a speculation that envisions rhythm as the lacking link in between intellect and make any difference. These scientists remind us that, in a universe in which everything is vibrating and oscillating—both in our bodies and the external environment—our quite perception of identity and agency may be a quasi-rhythmic, musical phenomenon. Hunt and Schooler get in touch with this their “resonance theory of consciousness.” But the constructing blocks of this worldview can be observed, in embryonic sort, in Jenny’s Cymatics

https://www.youtube.com/enjoy?v=Lb2gzAWDYww

How a lot ability does audio possess? I’ll share a person past story. 

A research workforce at UCLA a short while ago announced their success in reviving a 25-calendar year-old gentleman in a coma just by the software of pulsating ultrasound. This outstanding end result emboldened them to consider out the procedure with extra severely stricken sufferers, and they demonstrated further successes with a 56-year-outdated male who had been minimally mindful for a lot more than 14 months, and began to revive right after just two therapies, as effectively as a 50-calendar year-outdated lady who been in an even deeper coma for far more than two-and-a-half years next cardiac arrest. Following the ultrasound procedure, she could acknowledge objects and react to spoken instructions for the initially time in many years.

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

And all this was carried out with a non-invasive technique relying solely on seem. In this instance, the ultrasound was established by a modest device the dimension of a espresso cup. They really don’t get in touch with it a musical instrument, but it’s hard to have an understanding of why not. This is the higher tech healing music of the 21st century, and its prospects are only commencing to be tapped. 

Hans Jenny would hardly have been shocked by these developments. To some diploma he envisioned them lengthy back. 

It is a tragedy that so tiny has been completed to progress Jenny’s do the job in the half-century given that his death. His name is nonetheless scarcely identified, both in the globe of science and songs. But more than any other figure of his time, he confirmed how these two spheres can appear collectively. We must love his legacy. But we also will need to construct on it.

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The earlier mentioned was tailored from Ted Gioia’s foreword to the forthcoming new edition of Cymatics by Hans Jenny, which is getting republished in November 2022 with a new translation and a number of new commentaries.


Ted Gioia is a foremost new music author, and author of eleven books including The Background of Jazz and New music: A Subversive Background. This short article at first appeared on his Substack column and newsletter The Genuine Broker.

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