Musician Bobby Bray is known for guitar shredding with bands like The Locust and Innerds, but like many oddball geniuses, he also dabbles in other things. In his case, it's experimental sound art.
Parts of Bray's sound-art performances incorporate cymatics, the visualization of sound waves. Using metal surfaces known as Chladni plates—named after the "Father of Acoustics," German physicist Ernst Chladni—Bray creates intricate patterns from a pile of salt by playing different sounds on one of his meticulously crafted, circuit-bent instruments.
By removing the cone from a speaker and replacing it with a plate, sound vibrations are absorbed onto the plate rather than sent out to fill a room.
"A speaker is a transducer, which basically means it converts energy into sound by pushing out air molecules," explains Bray, who came out of UCSD's renowned experimental-music program and teaches experimental sound design at The Art Institute of California. "The molecules move back and forth and refract. But if you can take the speaker cone out, you take the property of transduction that's occurring and put all that energy into the metal plate."
Since the plate is fixed and stationary, a fascinating phenomenon occurs.
"What ends up happening is certain parts vibrate and other parts don't. If you pour salt on it, the salt will collect on the parts that are not vibrating," Bray says.
The result is swirling patterns that bring a visual element to sound. At his January show at Space 4 Art, Bray experimented live with Chladni plates—CityBeat music editor Peter Holslin says it blew his mind.
"It gives you a visual to sound," Bray says "It's kind of a weird thing. A lot of people have run a little wild with it, saying, Oh, this is what crop circles are.' I mean, who knows? But it is a true phenomenon, and it looks cool."