Light painting of a sound wave

Visualizing the sound around you

Sounds and music have always intrigued me. Just walking down the street there are so many things to hear. Cars driving by, people having conversations, footsteps on the sidewalk. Unless you’re in outer space or something you are always surrounded by all kinds of sounds. Have you ever thought about what those sounds look like though? That’s where the waveform comes into play.

The audio waveform was actually the first method of sound recording ever invented by a man named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. I could write a long post about the history of the waveform and sound recording or even link to Wikipedia and make you read through it. But instead I found an awesome podcast speaking of the history of the waveform and it’s exactly what I wanted to say.

I’ve always been intrigued by waveforms. They really do tell you so much about a sound. In music, looking at a waveform can help you find the beat in a song, sync 2 audio clips, and even detect possible issues such as phase cancellation and overdriven or distorted signals. In a way you really can “read” a sound and that’s pretty cool.

The other day I had an awesome idea for a photo using the lightbar. I recorded audio while I was walking down the street in the city using my TASCAM DR-40. I normalized and compressed the audio and then used a software called Praat to generate a vector image of the audio waveform. Then i imported the waveform into Illustrator, made a few adjustments and then overlayed a gradient onto it in Photoshop. Whew! After all that I was able to use the lightbar to to paint the sounds back onto the city streets.

These turned out so much cooler than I thought!

Seeing Sounds

I played around with spinning the lightbar and got some awesome results.

Seeing Sounds
Seeing Sounds