Paper Note ~ a Tangible Paper Waveform




Introduction: Paper Note ~ a Tangible Paper Waveform

Paper Note turns sound into a 3D tangible paper waveform sculpture.

The user records a message or sound which is then analyzed by the program and mapped into a waveform of 450 sample points. Each sample point is transformed into a paper disk with the size of the disk representing the volume of the recording at a specific point - the louder the volume, the bigger the disk. Our algorithm scales the physical waveform to a sculpture size of approximately 14cm.

The program was written using Processing and additional materials needed include paper (we used a 300g stock), string and access to a laser cutter. 

Project team: Andrew Nip & Andrew Spitz



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    23 Discussions

    I saw the video for preparing the tangible. It is very nice.

    I will try and let you know

    Im going to say this is the most weird name i have ever heard

    Just wondering if I could possible convert this to a normal printer so that I could just cut it out by hand. A hole punch and some scissors are good enough for me... but where do I find the software for the rings? I had a look at Audacity, and while it does fine with conversion of the audio to an image, it lacks the 3 dimensional aspect of this project.

    Thanks for any advice!

    1 reply

    We ended up using Processing ( to program the software sketch. It records the sound file from the user and then samples 450 points in the waveform, converting the sample points into circles. The sketch outputs the circles into a PDF that can be printed (or in our case, laser cut).

    Unfortunately we haven't had time to revisit the programming to clean it up a bit more.

    have you seen the new video for Benga?

    End result is very good must appreciate ....... but without laser cutting its jst impossible ........ :)

    4 replies

    Yes, that was the operative key for me in the equipment list. Nice to have a laser cutter and fun to play with.

    What might be a good follow-on would be to get a CNC lathe and turn a set of table legs. You could use the waveform from the builder saying "table leg". An artsy twist would be to have different waveform legs, possibly the names of family members being spoken by themselves; e.g, "Jack, Sally, Susie and Joe". That sort of thing would be a family heirloom. Other possibilities exist--the vertical supports of a stair railing with the lyrics of "stairway to heaven".

    Make beads from a sheet of silver or gold (of a spoken name) disks and string them as a necklace. Tiny ones for earrings.

    Good grief, the list goes on...

    Encoding stairway to heaven in your balusters? That is sick genius! Wow.

    Another idea: Engrave the waveform of a secret message along the top of the actual handrail, to be played back with a special glove by simply walking up the stairs.

    The list is endless...

    A wind chime where the chimes are a 3-D rotation (like the balusters) of the note that they ring.

    The notion of "encoding" information into furniture and everyday items, like stair rails, is an interesting one. Your entire living space could be encoded in one way or another such that the personalization would not only be artistic, but immortalizing in a weak sense.

    it is possible but will take more time and be less accurate ...

    this is only after all a series of discs:
    you only need cardboard and a compass cutter

    Nice, Now it would be even better to render the object back into sound :)
    That would be greate!

    2 replies

    I don't think the 450 samples would be enough to re-create the original sound, but I quite agree!

    I'm thinking that with the right number of samples, you could pull the circles through a hole in a box (like a guitar resonance chamber) at the right rate, with a tight enough clearance for the hole, that would do it.

    The problem would be producing a waveform fine enough to mechanically reproduce an audio sample yet big enough to be seen with the naked eye from several feet away like this instructable. Impractical I think.

    Impractical but not impossible. If you gave up on the visual aspect you might invent the phonograph. And if you gave up on the 3D aspect of this instructable and made it 2D it would be practical. It's been done on paper tape (like a fax for sound) and some types of films (movie reels) had the sound encoded visually along the edge of the film, and you could hold them up to the light and see the waveform. I suppose if you carefully cut such a film along the waveform line (with a laser cutter?!) and then yanked the film across a reed it would work.

    I don't see why you wouldn't be able to use a cricut tool to make this, it would take some programming to adjust for circle size, but they're alot less expensive than an awesome laser cutter...

    I love this project/idea. It would be a really cool art/science project for kids if there was a way to manually take the shape of the sound and have them measure the "height" of the volume to create and cut out the circles. I think the hardest part in doing something by hand is deciding how small the increments would have to be to get enought circle to create the shape with out having the project take too long.

    I do wish this was more insctrution, but it is a cool "Look what we did!"


    Yeah, I have to agree that this isn't very instructy. I also disagree that this couldn't be done without a laser cutter. I've seen some incredible hand cut paper things which put this to shame. All you need to do this is a compass, an xacto, and a lot of patience. Frankly it might take less time by hand.

    I think you should find a knitting needle so that you can pick up the circles one by one and just slide them onto the needle in order, so you don't lose track of how it's supposed to go. It may even make pickup phase quicker/easier.

    All that said though, this sure is a cool thing and I like looking at it. Good idea, just refine the 'ible to be more stepwise and informative.

    I love the idea, but monopolizing a laser cutter while you get out the 450 circles (and keep them in order) seems unworkable. The one laser cutter I could use this way I'd have to use late at night or something.

    If you reduce the diameters you could make a necklace.

    @Warholm: the code was put together quickly and we're in the process of trying to clean it up so that it's easier to work with. hopefully the team will find time in our school schedule to clean it up and if all goes well, we can share the code with people.

    thanks everyone for the feedback!