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How To Make Your Own Sound Paintings [How-To]

How To Make Your Own Sound Paintings [How-To]

A couple of weeks back, we told you about Martin Kilmas‘s sound paintings—captured images of specific moments when paint is propelled into the air by sonic vibrations. While Kilmas spent six painstaking months seeking the perfect series of images, you can set up a similar project and try out his technique right at home. Here’s how…

For this project, you’ll need a camera with a flash, a loudspeaker unit, plastic sheeting, electrical tape, paint (ideally poster paint), and a laser trigger (if you’ve got one).

First, lay the speaker unit on its back with the cone of the speaker facing up. If the cone of the speaker has a cover over it, remove it. Using electrical tape, fasten a cut-to-fit piece of plastic sheeting over the cone of the speaker. Make sure that it’s taut and flat, because if it sags, you won’t get the same jumping action when you put sound through the speaker, and there’s no point in photographing paint dribbling onto your carpet.


Next, set your camera up to shoot perpendicular to the surface. Keep in mind that you’ll want to capture the upward vertical motion of the paint reverberating off the speaker. You also might want to set up a dark backdrop to allow the colors to pop a bit more. Even if you don’t have an amazing camera, you can make this work. According to the sound painting professionals at Arizona State University Polytechnic, “The key is not a fast shutter speed, but a fast and precise flash.” They had access to a laser trigger that set off the flash when the paint splashed upward, but if you don’t have a laser trigger laying around, you may have to take lots of shots and hone your precision with the flash and snap in order to get some good images. (Note: In real life, laser triggers are not as cool or as weapon-y as they sound.)


Now place paint onto the plastic sheeting surface. Depending on what kind of paint you use, you might want to mix it with a little water so it’s not too viscous to splash. The key is not to gob a bunch of paint onto the surface, but to dribble droplets of various size. Try varying the colors as well, using different combinations to achieve different aesthetic results. And why stop at paint? Throw some of that awful tomato soup your having onto the speaker and see what happens. Avoid using chunky soups or other non-liquid components of your lunch.


Pump some music through the speakers. You’ll want something that has a decent amount of bass to get the paint jumping, but aside from that, just pick something that you’d like to interpret through this medium. That’s what Martin Kilmas did. If you’re not getting enough paint action, try adjusting the EQ of your sound input, increasing the low end, or use something with a little more punch. Have awful taste in music? Get recommendations from a friend. Have no friends? Stop doing this project and go make some.


Photograph that sucker. This is that part that takes the most skill, but with some practice with the timing and a little bit of luck, you’ll end up with totally unique sound paintings. And hey, you never know, you might be so good at it that you’ll be the next Martin Kilmas. Just don’t tell that to Martin Kilmas.


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