Early in 2018, Pitchfork approached us with an idea for Jack Daniels that centered around music and the materiality of the whiskey-making process. At the outset, they knew they wanted to involve Cymatics - a term commonly used to refer to the practice of visualizing sound.
Cymatics, strictly speaking, is a semi-spiritual pseudoscientific idea formalized in the early 20th century but with roots in early science going back hundreds of years.
From the start, the design of the project was for a handful of cymatic ‘instruments’ - sort of visual synthesizers - to be played by an artist as part of an original composition, and then to live on as freestanding interactive installations at a future event.
Ever since our RBMA days, we’d been looking for a way to collaborate with FaltyDL, one of our favorite musical artists, and when we got the brief on Distillation in Waves, the pieces finally seemed like a great fit.
In preproduction, we dug deep into the rich history of cymatic effects, looking for reference and documentation to inform design scale, interaction, repeatability, and practicality. Because Drew / FaltyDL had to compose an original tune in part on these ‘instruments’, our task was to design them to be played in as close to a consonant scale as possible.
On the build, we teamed up with our friends Dave and Gabe and spent a fun few months playing with materials, drivers, sounds, and setups, looking for ways to re-contextualize the classic cymatics gags as musical instruments built from the base materials of Jack Daniel’s production process - things like charcoal, cork, oak, sawdust, copper, smoke, and fire, and attempting to tune them, not just in the frequency of the audio that drove them, but in their appearance in-camera, as the camera’s shutter created the periodic exposure that would be provided by an industrial strobe light in the installation context.
In the end, we built as much of the effects themselves out of, and supported by, some beautiful used Jack Daniel’s barrels, which kept the look themed and smelled great as well.
As a takeaway, this project only heightened our fascination with - and understanding of - the wagon-wheel effect, putting new tools in our toolbox to deceive the eye and reveal periodic motion in new ways. Stay tuned for more projects in this vein coming shortly.
Clients: Pitchfork and Jack Daniel’s
Cymatics Design and Build: Hard Work Party
Design and Build Partners: Dave and Gabe
Fabrication Help: Gamma NYC
Control Systems Programming: Noah Norman / Hard Work Party
Original Music By: FaltyDL
Documentation: Sanborn Agency
Producers: Seth Dodson and Robert Gearity for Pitchfork
Special Thanks to: Robert Hooke, Ernst Chladni, August Kundst, Harold Eugene Edgerton