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[Premiere] A New Instrument Plays Waves of Sound, Light, and Water

Electronic artist and instrument-maker Marielle V. Jakobsons debuts her new music video for a track off her upcoming album ‘Star Core’.

by DJ Pangburn
Aug 2 2016, 1:50pm

Images courtesy the artist

Light can be both wave and particle, depending on the perspective and decisions of the viewer. We also know that waves—albeit different types—are at the core of gravity, sound, light and the motion of fluids. Though Oakland-based electronic artist Marielle V. Jakobsons’ audiovisual creation, the Macro-Cymatic Instrument, isn’t exactly inspired by these various manifestations of waves, that reality seems ingrained in her new music video for the track “White Sparks,” premiering today on The Creators Project (below), in which sound, light, and fluid waves synchronize to dazzling effect.

As Jakobsons tells The Creators Project, the macro-cymatic instrument takes sound and turns it into fluid motion, which is captured at the macro-photographic scale. The sound vibrations directly move a small layer of water, with wave variations appearing in reflected light on and through the water. It is, as Jakobsons explains, inspired by cymatics, the art of making patterns appear on fluids with sound vibrations.

“An exciting new development in this instrument has been using programmable LED’s instead of static lighting,” Jakobsons says. “I program the lights with Arduino to match with elements of different songs in mood and rhythms. Sections of a song, or groups of instruments, might each have their own program that I will create, or I might just focus on the song as a whole. The programs allow me to vary an angle of the light, how many of the lights are reflecting on the water, their intensity, color, hue shifting, timing, and rhythms... It’s really been fun to explore.”

Jakobsons has been inspired by cymatics and transducing sound waves into different mediums for many years now, mainly in the form of installations. In String TV, for example, she transduced sound directly into analog video, and then employed cymatic projections in the works Self-Oscillating Violin and Two Violins and a Theater.

These pieces were inspired by many other artists, like James Turrell and Alvin Lucier, who have worked with sound, light, and space as material. While many of these artists like to play with vast size and scale, Jakobsons was far more interested in the macroscopic side of things. So she bought a camera and some bellows, and started building prototypes of instruments that could create cymatic motion at the macroscopic scale.

For the production of the “White Sparks” music video, Jakobsons considered many different ideas when it came to cinematography, from bioluminescent algae to playing with oils and dyes—all of it undertaken for the first time.  

“One of my favorite shots came from playing with oils and dyes to create a sun-like planet,” she says. “As the piece evolved, I would set up and take multiple shots and takes with minute adjustments in position, lighting, sound, or color, in order to get very particular results illuminating and creating the natural layers of the liquid motion.”

Jakobson shot a good chunk of the video in one take. All of the macro-cymatics shots seen in the video were recorded and edited to maintain precise synchronization to the audio. Jakobson emphasizes that there was no modification of their timing in post-production, as she wanted to stay true to the immersive aspect of the instrument such that viewers are literally seeing the sound in a new material form as they listen to it.

“In post-production there is layering, editing between takes, and a bit of color correction,” Jakobson explains. “When I added in the eyes, mouth, and face, there was a lot of complex layering and playing around with different methods of blending layers.  I wanted the figure to feel embedded in the cymatics, coming from within that world, and shaping it.”

After composing a series of videos for Star Core, Jakobsons will take the album on tour as an audiovisual experience. She is also looking into incorporating interactive elements into the video performance.

Click here to check out more of Marielle V. Jakobson’s work.

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