Songs in Soap

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There are many beautiful ways to visualize sound and music – Chris Stanford’s fantastic “Cymatics” music video comes to mind – but this is one I haven’t seen. This visualization uses a soap film on the end of an open tube with music playing from the other end. You can see the set-up here. The result is a fascinating interplay of acoustics, fluid dynamics, and optics. As sound travels through the tube, certain frequencies resonant, vibrating the soap film with a standing wave pattern (3:20). At the same time, interference between light waves reflecting off the front and back of the soap film create vibrant colors that show the film’s thickness and flow.

When the frequency and amplitude are just right, the sound excites counter-rotating vortex pairs in the film (0:05), mixing areas of different thicknesses. With just a single note, the vortex pairs appear and disappear, but with the music, their disappearance comes from the changing tones. Watching the patterns shift as the film drains and the black areas grow is pretty fascinating, but one of the coolest behaviors is how the acoustic interactions are actually able to replenish the draining film (2:15). Because the tube was dipped in soap solution, some fluid is still inside the tube, lining the walls. With the right acoustic forcing, that fresh fluid actually gets driven into the soap film, thickening it.

There are several more videos with different songs here – “Carmen Bizet” is particularly neat – as well as a short article summarizing the relevant physics for those who are interested. (Video and research credit: C. Gaulon et al.; more videos here)

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