Mantra investigated the physical and spatial properties of sound and sought to expose ways of visualising sound fields as standing wave interference patterns. The project involved the construction of an apparatus in the studio which manipulated a shallow pool of water via a series of speakers which were placed underneath. As tones were played through the system the relationship between the frequency of the sonic vibration to the shape and depth of the water pool manifest different standing wave patterns. Changes in the sound intensity and the addition of other frequencies caused corresponding alterations in the patterns on the water’s surface.
Through a series of refinements a rig was set up that utilised an elliptically shaped, vacuum formed polystyrene dish that was partially filled with water. This dish was mounted on two eight watt speakers, positioned at each foci of the elliptical shape which were connected as two channels to a simple amplifier. This rig interfaced with Cool Edit Pro mixing soft ware and a tone generator which allowed for the manipulation of different frequencies and amplitudes to be produced in the separate channels of the apparatus. The rig made it possible to generate a vast array of ‘frozen geometries’ in the pool’s surface by manipulating frequencies from almost subsonic rumbles to high-pitched ear piercing whistles. Over time the rig’s use was fine tuned to produce a compelling and varied set of standing wave patt erns that corresponded to specific frequencies.
In generating these standing wave geometries, it became obvious that the quality and angle of the light striking the water’s surface and the colour of the water in the dish were vital in presenting the effects with a clear visual acuity. An equally compelling effect to that of the patterned ripples on the water’s surface could be achieved through the reflection of light from the surface onto an adjacent wall. A light source (with a very tight beam angle) was set up so that it would reflect off the elliptical body of water and produce a circular image of the water’s effects onto the wall.
With this arrangement of apparatus it was possible to reflect a perfectly symmetrical and frozen pattern of light on the wall. Interestingly the frozen patterns of light were best achieved when the amplitude of the sound was low and that there seemed to be no standing waves visible on the water’s surface, while when the frequencies and amplitude were set to create clearly visible standing waves on the water’s surface the reflected light would display moving vortices of flows and circulations.
The project was finally conceived as an installation which exposed sound fields as standing wave interference patterns and imbued this phenomenon with a poetic dimension and sculptural presence. The soundscape was composed by the careful orchestration of a looped sequence of extended musical notes of a seemingly human voice that subtly and rhythmically faded in and out and overlapped each other. This created an array of geometries in the water filled elliptical dish, which sat within an inverted cone shaped altar-like form. A red coloured beam of light reflected off the water’s surface to create an ethereal and meditative spatial affect of frozen mandala-like symmetries and swirling vortices which were magically manifest within the darkened space.
The work’s title, Mantra, alludes to the inherent connection between sound and geometric form documented in ancient Vedic verses. In the Vedic conception of the world sound and form were considered to be inseparable as all the properties of form are considered to be in sound and conversely all form is considered vibrating energy, a movement which produces sound. In this system every object in creation is seen to have its subtle constituent sound, and it is through the knowledge of these sounds, the science of mantra, that the world can be understood and organised.