First up was the Chladni Plate
This is a speaker with a metal plate attached. You pour sand on the plate, and play various tones though the speaker.
The vibrations of the plate move the sand into different patterns depending on the pitch of the sounds.
We purchased one from a website for school science teachers, and operating it was fairly easy once we figured out that it should be perfectly balanced
and covered with a minimum amount of sand.
After finding out what frequencies resonated the plate the best, I selected four shapes that looked good,
giving me four notes to use for the musical instrument that would accompany it.
Because the sand took a few milliseconds to move into the next shape, I couldn't change notes very fast, and so wrote something that stayed on each note long enough for the shape to form.
Originally I wanted to use the actual audio that generated the shapes, but it was very high pitched, and kind of un-musical -
so I ended up just using the notes I wanted, and mixing a recorded element of the sound of the actual plate with a simple synthesizer sound.
We scheduled the shoot for December 2013 - just in time for New York and the polar vortex to provide a blizzard for us, and although some roads were closed all the crew managed to arrive.
We had a limited amount of time, just two days.
Most of the first day involved setting up, with Cinematographer Timur Civan
and crew rigging an enormous square soft-box light above the set,
and we were ready to start shooting in the late afternoon.
On set, the experiments were all controlled from my laptop. Most of them involved playing odd sounding tones to generate the required patterns,
and often at high speed so that we could shoot slow motion. The crew no doubt wondered what the hell kind of music it was.
To control the Chladni Plate, I played back the notes as audio through an amp connected to the speaker.
Before we completed the shot, the fuse blew on the speaker, killing the experiment. This had happened many times in testing but I had not brought any spare fuses with me.
It was 4pm on Saturday - would a store be open that would sell the specific fuse we needed? It was New York City - of course there would!
After an unscheduled pizza break we got the shot and moved on.