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How To Make A Tangible 3D Waveform [Instructables How-To]

How To Make A Tangible 3D Waveform [Instructables How-To]

Waveforms, the visual manifestation of sound, have become a standard part of working with sound or music in any capacity. For example Soundcloud, a standard for posting music, relies on waveforms for its aesthetic, and the physical dimensions of a song give you a whole new perspective. Once upon a time, you had to wait to hear when the loud part of a song was coming. Now you can anticipate it, able to see it coming down to the split second. Never again will we be fooled by the unpredictability of a piece of music. Take that, John Cage!

Functional as they are, waveforms also look really cool. I mean, we can see sound, and we didn’t even have to take any psychotropic drugs to do so! The next step is to make these visualizations 3D.

Paper Note is a process that allows you to do just that. For this project you’ll need the Paper Note software, a laser printer capable of cutting, etching, and engraving (mind you, not a laser printer), some heavy stock paper or cardboard, and some string. Remember the string. It would be awful if you got all the really expensive stuff together, got to the end of the project, and realized you had no string.

First, create the sound you want to visualize. For example you could speak a message into the software like, “I can’t believe I spent all my money on this laser printing device and now don’t have enough for string.” Or, “Man I’m hungry, I sure as hell wish I could print up a turkey sandwich with this thing.”


The software will convert individual slivers of the audio into circles based on their volume. The louder the sound, the larger the circle. It will look something like what you see below. Resist the urge to fill in any bubbles with a number two pencil. This is not a test.


Now, to print up these circles. The printer will do all the work here, you just need to sit back, relax, and think about lasers—how they originated, what their uses will be in the future, when you’ll have a personal one that you can shoot bugs with, and other normal laser-oriented stuff.


Now, you just have to peel back the paper from the corner, and the disks that remain constitute your 3D waveform. Collect these and make sure they are in order. If you mess up, your finished product won’t be true to its source material, which will not only drive you crazy, but make you look crazy as well. No one trusts a person with a poorly formed tangible waveform sculpture.


Tie a knot at one end of the string. Insert the open string through the center of each disc and align the disks in order, using the knotted end as the stopper. Once they’re all on there, hold the string from one end and let your finished product hang down. It will look like a 3D version of the waveform you started with. Incredible!


And there you have it. A genuine sound sculpture, courtesy of Paper Note and your own time, effort, and voice. Try making different types of prolonged sounds with your voice to change up your next design. For example, if you start at a high volume yell, get soft for most of the middle and then yell once again, you’ll end up with something kind of shaped like a dumbbell. Like most art projects, the more your experiment, the more interesting the finished product will be. And unlike most art projects, these experiments involve (you guessed it) lasers! Peow peow.


Visit the Instructables How-To for further instruction, more detailed photographs and tips on where to buy materials.