Evan Balster here. I’m SoundSelf’s back-end engineer and co-designer. Helping Robin to understand new mathematical concepts that play into the design and development of the program is a big part of my job, and today I’ll be doing some of that explanation for you. Consider this the first installment of…

# THE SCIENCE OF SOUNDSELF

What you see below is the beginning of a new visual generative system for SoundSelf. Click it to visit our interactive ShaderToy page.

*This is the default formulation of the shader, which can be manipulated with the mouse.*

It’s loosely based on a concept called Cymatics, and computed as a sum of sines much like our existing harmonograph system. Instead of geometry, however, the sum computes an intensity value per pixel which is represented as color.

*Move the ring of control nodes near the center for more regular, intense shapes.*

The sine waves being summed in this demonstration are functions of distance from a point. Like ripples in a pond, they spread out and weaken. As more are added in regular or irregular arrangements we can get complex shapes as seen above. The default arrangement is a ring of control points arranged using the golden ratio.

We’re also experimenting with other wave functions which may offer more possibilities, as seen here:

*This uses a combination of three circular ripples, a horizontal “bar” ripple and a vertical “bar” ripple. Symmetric patterns can often resemble faces.*

The shader above was produced in a short time yesterday after a long discussion about what **emergent system** of visuals we should explore after the harmonograph. **Emergence** is a concept that is fundamental to the creation of SoundSelf; it is the phenomenon of complex behaviors or manifestations arising from simple rules that interact. The simpler the rules, and the more complex the manifestations, the deeper the emergence runs.

Because the harmonograph is deeply emergent, we very frequently see things in SoundSelf that we’ve never seen before. Interesting, sometimes beautiful forms that were not intentfully designed into the system are a common occurrence. Every oscillation has the power to transform the entire harmonograph, and with many tens of these at play the range of possibilities is immense.

Cymatics is one of the systems we discussed. In essence, if sand or dust is placed on a plate and that plate is subjected to harmonic vibrations, the plate will form standing waves as a function of the vibration and ts overlapping reflections. The sand will pile into intriguing patterns of points and lines which represent areas of stability, which differ based on the plate’s shape and size and the vibration’s source and frequency.

For a very simple home demonstration, fill a wine glass with water, near to the brim, dip your finger in the water and slide it across the lip to make the glass “sing”. A nearly full glass produces a deep sound and standing waves can be seen in the water, rotating in time with the vibration source (your finger).

*This model, unlike the others, simulates the reflection patterns seen in square-plate cymatics. However, it’s expensive.*

My initial evaluation of this system was discouraging — the actual forces and behaviors at work are prohibitively complex. However, the underlying concepts of waves and reflections, cancellation and stability are somewhat simpler. Distilling this process to a more representational method without concern for physical realism gives rise to a number of possibilities for simple, emergent systems. It would be accurate to say these are “inspired by cymatics” more than anything.

The experiments above are just scratching the surface of what can be done here. We’ll see what else we can find in this peculiar world of ripples. And of course, we’ll make sure there’s far, far more to be found in *SoundSelf* through the power of emergence.