Visualising Audio With SoundMuse Artist Nick Chamberlain

Writer Emily Doyle / Photographer Jessica Whitty 

“It’s a weird thing, isn’t it,” says Chamberlain when I ask him how he arrived here from his classical guitar background. “If you’re an artist using charcoal or gouache or oil paints… musicians rarely think about the material that they work with. I just started getting interested that way.”

If you head down to the gallery space at The Hive JQ this month, you might not be sure if you’ve wandered into an art show or a science exhibit. Musician, composer and teacher Nick Chamberlain is debuting his ‘SoundMuse’ project, seeking out connections between sound, visual art, and science.

Cymatics, the study of visualising sound waves, is a running thread throughout the space, with harmonographs and chladni plates breaking up walls and walls of complex curves and shapes. At the centre of the gallery is a rolling video installation, projecting a series of pieces by Chamberlain all of which respond to the sounds of the natural world. ‘Flowerbee’ is a standout, a piece of music for piano and cello is visualised by a pair of Eidophones – drum-like membranes covered in lycopodium powder which shifts into geometric forms as the music plays.

The exhibition feels as if you’re walking through someone’s learning process, picking over sketches and experiments. Large posters explain the inspiration behind the pieces in a way that really invites the audience into what could be an intimidating subject matter.

“It was always trying to bring people in,” explains Chamberlain when we meet him for a coffee. “Like, isn’t this incredible? I don’t think people are amazed enough. That we’re travelling round the sun at 67000 mph and that two different vibrations can create these incredible, complex patterns.”

Chamberlain is also keen to cite his sources for the SoundMuse project. “It was Chladni who was the original guy who went to the Royal Institute to demonstrate this phenomenon, then it was Margaret Watts Hughes, then Hans Jenny then  Lauterwasser and then – I mean, Björk’s done a thing with it, did you see that? She did a big performance – and of course she’s got the money to do huge things – but some of it was just little dishes of water, she just projected it on a big screen.”

“There’s nothing [in the show] that’s particularly new – although I haven’t seen the bubbles, perhaps they have been done.” he wonders. One wall of the exhibition is covered with a series of “Bubble-sound Images”, photographs taken of soap bubbles vibrating at different frequencies where geometric shapes seem to emerge.

“I really enjoyed that aspect of it. It’s quite interesting to see the forms – there are a few facts I need to check up on – but I’m pretty sure it’s oscillating forms rather than shapes.”

And there is a deeper thing, it’s getting a handle on the way the world works, the way – I don’t wanna sound like a new age hippy, though there’s nothing wrong with that – to really try and get an understanding in the language and format that I can understand the world.”

Chamberlain’s passion for learning is clear. Above all else, ‘SoundMuse’ feels committed to leading audiences by the hand through the world of cymatics in a way that’s thought-provoking and accessible.

Check out the SoundMuse project here:

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