First, let us look at some of the things cymatics is NOT:
1. Masaru Emoto’s work with water crystals.
Masaru Emoto’s work is based on photographing the crystals that can be seen in water, under a microscope. While these images are fascinating, and often look similar to a cymatic design, they are not cymatics. Some cymatic images are created in water by applying sound to the water, and then photographing the movement of the water in response to the sound, however, these are usually life-size and not enlarged, as Emoto’s images are. Also, Emoto’s images can be made without any wound being applied to the water at all; this is not the case with cymatics.
2. Lissajous Figures.
Lissajous figures are named after Jules Antoine Lissajous, a French mathematician. He created a device that bounces beams of light from mirrors attached to two tuning forks at different angles. The light beams then are shown on a wall or other flat surface, creating a Lissjous figure. While sound waves are involved in creating these designs, and this might be considered a “type” of cymatics, Lissajous figures are something very specific to themselves with a specific formula and apparatus needed to create them. Cymatics can be created with a variety of materials and in many forms, aside from a Lissajous figure.
3. Computer generated sound images.
Computer generated sound images, while they may, like Emoto’s water crystals, resemble cymatic designs, are not actual cymatic images. They may be images responding to sound waves, but the way they are created is different than how cymatics images are generated. Computer generated images are a computer translating information about sound into information that creates images on a computer screen, while cymatic images are – well, when you read the next part you will see.
So what IS cymatics exactly?
The word cymatics was coined by Hans Jenny in the 1960’s prior to publishing his book on the subject, “Cymatics” (first pub. 1967; current publisher Jeff Volk of Macromedia Publishing). “Cymatics” originates from the Greek “Kyma,” meaning “having to do with waves.” Jenny was studying the visual forms of sound waves using several methods, including crystal oscillators and vibrating membranes. Jenny would attach a crystal (or piezoelectric) oscillator to a plate of metal with a liquid or solid on the surface, and photograph the patterns made by the vibrations.
He also used a tonascope to translate sound into visual patterns, by stretching a membrane across an opening (usually round) and speaking or singing into the opening, while the powder or liquid formed patterns on the surface, responding to the direct sound waves vibrating the surface from below. In the 1700’s Ernst Chladni discovered a similar effect by playing a metal or glass plate with a violin bow.