Sculpting With Sound





Introduction: Sculpting With Sound

Photography is the next big thing.  It’s no longer obscure, and it’s certainly not just for the pros. With instragram, iPhones and other technological advances, photography is becoming more accessible to everyone.  Camera’s are becoming cheaper with better quality. 
Now, the downfall here, is the fact that everyone can do photography.  So you have to find a way to stand out.  A way to say: "Yeah, but I’m a real photography guru, or stud, or mastermind." This instructable is here to give you that street cred you need to stand apart from the masses.

Typical paths to this sort of credibility as a photographer include: putting yourself dangerously close to a wild animal to get that clutch shot, leaning precariously out of the window while driving to take a picture of that guy on a tractor working into the sunset, traveling to far away places to find the best of the best to photograph, spending hours on photoshop altering one image to make it look surreal, happening to be in the right moment at the right time.... not quite so  easy right?

But what if I told you... I have something that takes a little more innovation, but less traveling and danger. It involves dancing around and jamming in the dark to your favorite tune, blasting it as loud as possible in the name of science, and a cool photo.  That sounds feasible right?

The end result: 1 really wicked photo you can put on your wall that you can say: “Yeah I’m a photographer, and dabble in the sciences.”

It’s modern, it’s edgy, it’s chic, it involves recycling/reusing an old product so it’s green, it’s about breaking the rules by breaking things, it’s the perfect wall picture that is so good it’s almost unbelievable (science does that...) it’s about experimentation and having fun, it's....


Step 1: Materials

Before I begin here are the materials you need:

                       1. Large speaker cone
                       2. Black latex balloon 
                       3. Camera (preferably DSLR)
                       4. Dark room
                       5. Patience (Folks.... this is really key so practice counting to 10 now :) )
                       6. Syringes (not necessary but makes life about 10x easier, and who doesn't want that?)
                       7. Acrylic Paint (this is the cheapest stuff but any type of paint can work)
                       8. Cloth to soak up the paint (We're aiming for fun....not hours of cleanup)
                       9. Background of a solid color (Be that a poster board or wall or fabric)
                      10. Remote switch for camera (optional)
                      11. Tripod (or anything that will hold the camera steady)
                      12. Macro lens (optional)

Okay, some of this stuff sounds pretty "high techy" BUT don't fear please!  This instructable is meant to be accessible to anyone (from the basic casual person with a few hours and a camera, to an avid photographer!)  You really don't need anything more than a regular camera with a flash.  But the "flashier" (get it?) gear you have, the less patience you need. In other words, if you have a tripod, a remote switch, a macro lens, etc. you won't need to take as many pictures or do as many trials to hit the jackpot.  More money = less patience needed. The additional equipment buys you less time spent experimenting, or pulling your hair out, and gives you a better quality picture in less time.  If you are tech savvy or a future avid photographer then the next step applies to you!

Step 2: For the Tech Savvy (Or Those Just Curious...)

The reality of this project is that there are SO many variables that you can change, manipulate and experiment with many things to adjust the outcome.  One of those things is additional external flashes.

If you have the luxury of having external flashes, I am assuming you have a DSLR.  With this said, you will want to put you camera into the bulb mode.  Since the camera has a bit of a lag, you will be using the flashes to tell the camera to take the picture.  Set the flashes up around the speaker, again experiment see which locations give you the best shots.  Below, I list a few recommendations, but still experiment see what turns out best for you.  Turn on the music.  Now to take the picture, close the shutter (push down the button), trigger the flashes, and open the shutter (push the button).   Basically, what having the external flashes allows you to do is quicken the reaction speed of the flashes to light up the paint.  In other words, the shutter will only capture the paint the split second that the flash has the paint lit up, thus we are essentially using the flash to freeze the paint for a millisecond for the camera.

Don't set up your flashes at full power, it will take too long. i.e. the less power you give the flashes, the shorter the flash duration, the crisper the shot. 

If you wanted to get even more precise and fancy you could get a flash trigger ( a system that has a microphone and turns the flashes on as soon as the sound starts)

Again, for even more precision, you can mess with your ISO and aperture, to improve the light and crispness of the photos (just another piece you can experiment with)

Generally, it is best to start shooting with a black background, and after you have mastered the black background you could begin experimenting with a white background (requires special placement of the flashes)

Step 3: Take Apart a Speaker

Who doesn't like a good excuse to deconstruct something?  With the iPhone era, old speakers are retiring.  So while perusing your favorite second hand store, find an old speaker you can give a second life to!  

Once you find an old speaker carefully take it apart until you find the speaker cone.  Reference the picture to know what this part looks like.  

Once you have isolated the cone, cover it with a black latex balloon.  (Unless you have an allergy... then please use a different balloon!)  This balloon is essentially the trampoline for the paint.  So make sure that it is taut.

Now, put the speaker into a mason jar, and then put the mason jar into a bucket to catch the splattered paint. (See picture)

By taking the steps now to ensure cleanliness, you can have a really fun jam session, and minimal cleaning up!

Step 4: Preparing for the Epic Camera Shot

Set up the speaker jar system so that it is in a good place with the proper background.  The background is meant to ensure that all the color and vivacity of the photo comes from the paint, and not the cool comforter you have on your bed, or a vase in the background.  This is where you set up the poster board or sheets or fabric to make the paint the star of the show.

Place your camera on a tripod, or a table, or books.  Ensure that the balloons are in focus.

If you are using a DSLR camera, put it in manual focus.  Once it is in manual focus, use a pencil to find your focus point and then position your mason jar contraption at that point.

Step 5: Preparing the Paint

This can be done with any type of paint.  The only catch is that you have to make it into a liquid.  A good rule of thumb is ensuring that the paint is the consistency of milk.  

However, seeing as this project is about innovation and experimentation, try different consistencies!  Test each one out and determine which type of paint gives you the proper shot.  Anyway.... who wouldn't want more excuses to play your favorite song really loud in the name of photography?

I recommend putting the liquid paint into test tubes.  Not only does this make the project look more official, it is a good mechanism to keep track of the paint, and pour a proper amount on the speaker.  Test tubes immediately increase the legitimacy of your science experiment.... so I jump at every opportunity I have to break those out!

Step 6: Just Before the Photo

Pour the paint onto the balloon in the middle of the speaker.  Here you can experiment with the amount and location of the paint.  You can test out different color combinations, amounts, consistencies.... endless opportunities for fun!

Then choose some music that you absolutely love.  Find a song that makes you want to dance! Chances are... that kind of song will make the paint want to dance as well :) And that is the ultimate goal here anyway.

Set up a remote switch if you have one.  And please, test to ensure it is working!

Step 7: Photo Op!

Lights, Camera, ACTION!

Turn off the lights, turn up the music, start taking photos!  (And dance and sing if you so desire!)


If you don't get good photos at first... KEEP ON TRYING.  It may take a couple of hours, it may take thousands of pictures for only a few good shots.  But just be patient, and think about how neat the end result will be, and how accomplished you will feel.

Also, the best picture is the one that happens only milliseconds after the music starts.  Otherwise the paint will mix (unless you are only using one color of paint).  This is why the flash system I was talking about is helpful, because it is able to capture that moment.  If you don't have this, then use a buddy system! That way someone can be at the camera and push the button right before the music (remember lag time) then someone else to start the music.

After all your patience you will have this really neat photo!  It will look great on any wall and be the perfect conversation starter.

If you have any questions, please ask! I'll do my best to respond as quickly as possible.  

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    24 Discussions

    Overall good instructable but one suggestion I can give is instead of using paint, use cornstarch mixed with water and add food coloring into it. There are videos around that show the effects of these placed on top of speakers. :)

    4 replies

    Yep, saw that on Big Bang Theory, was thinking the same and then saw your post. Might be a little easier on the clean-up, too.

    Yeah, there have been a few comments suggesting the use of cornstarch and water. Although it would certainly make less of a mess, I don't think you would get as cool of shots. The starch and water mixtures tends to stick together, so you wouldn't get any of the splatter (away from the central splatter) which I think adds a lot to the photos. Nonetheless, I think that either material will lend itself to some unique photos.

    Nice ideas on colored mediums. Congrats to the author.  :)

    Perhaps corn starch, lots of extra water, and soap to lessen the viscosity?
    Corn starch mixes would not be wasted in cleanup at our home, we'd put the goo in the compost pile and help the microbes along!

    Couldn't you take motion pictures and then edit those to get the best pics? Or is that too, um, hairy?

    Excellent! Be sure to offer their kids and readers to make a similar setup.

    Congratulations on being a finalist in the DIY Audio Contest!! Good luck to you!

    Something else you can try it worked for me in getting shots of Lightning Bolts that is if you have a Movie setting that way you miss nothing and taking the movie and running it frame by frame you can pick out what you want. May be worth a try. How about Black lite Paints under a black lite? Talk about going Goth!!! Digital has it all we can experiment an it don't cost us an arm and a leg. I took classes in collage this was a bit on the expensive side besides having to have the black room equipment .

    To get even cooler, use your camera in continuous shooting mode and synch it to a home-made strobe made with either a L555 timer or an Arduino (or other microprocessor). Set the strobe rate to eqaul the frames/sec, click and shoot!

    1 reply

    Yeah, that's what I was talking to furthuron about continuous shooting below. Continuous shooting could be a great way of doing this and especially because so many cameras are enabled with it (not just DSLR's). If using a 555 timer and a microprocessor to activate the camera and flash worked, you probably could get a lot more quality photos with less experimentation.

    use a sound generator for constant generic sounds, square wave sine waves sawtooth waves Jimmie hendrix wave of amber grain.....

    @Geni-us; Hi! Nice! I've sent this to a frirnd who records sounds from around the world for soundscapes in virtual worlds; also tweeted. Might you also video the paint in motion in one of your next sound sculptures - would be fun to see the motion live. Cheers! Site : )

    This is great... just the kind of thing to do with kids on a cold and miserable day.

    love the ible, looks like a lot of fun. it reminds me of the blue man group, haha. i have taken some photo classes, 1 in HS and one in college as elective credits. i love it but still dont know a great deal. have been really wanting to get back into it. would this work with the sequence shot on cameras better? i have a 35 mm or is it 50??? hmm. i know, i said i dont know a whole lot. i normally just use digi cam or camera phone, but want to bust out the old camera, it is actually really nice, and try to start using it. so bakc to the shot after shot in a row thing. how do you think that would work? start it just before you press music button so there wouldnt be lag just maybe a shot or two before music started playing?

    1 reply

    Thank you! Yeah, photography is a really fun hobby to get into, especially the more equipment you get. You will definitly get better shots you nice older camera, rather then just your point and shoot or phone camera (both of which would still work). As for shot after shot in a row, I think the technical term is continuous shooting, would work great. I hadn't actually thought of using that mode on my camera, but considering it is a mode that not only DSLR's have but also point and shoots, it could make the process much easier. Let me know if you end up experimenting with continuous shooting, I'm curious how well it works.

    Thanks! It doesn't get very messy if you use just a few drops of paint, the paint mainly stays on the balloon. However, if you use a lot of paint (like in the photo on the last step), it can get really messy but still paint doesn't jump farther than a foot around the speaker.

    Wonderful! And much easer than shooting drops impacting on a pool of milk and such (and then syncing the camera to the moment of impact :-s). Fav'd and voted!