Archives for the Month of June, 2007

Oscilloscope Art – Part two

Altercations - Ray Sweeten
Double Well Trap – Rabinal

A continuation from the previous post:

Ramsay Stirling left a comment in the original post with a link to the work of Ray Sweeten who uses oscilloscopes in a real-time performance setting to maximum effect. Pulsating figure-of-eight glyphs freak-out to the harsh drone of a scuzzy saw tooth wave in the intense ‘Altercations’. There is a bunch of other Oscillator waveform works on his site to be explored.

Rabinal has a Flickr set called ‘Chaos’ which aside from the garishly coloured fractals contains some interesting waveform analysis pictures and oscillator graphs. Some nice descriptions too that sound tres sci-fi to the uninitiated, take for example ‘Double-well trap (phase plane)’ – its description contains the poetic annotation ‘A chaotic transient and trap orbit in the double-well electronic oscillator.’

Finally, a couple of virtual oscilloscopes if you want to play, Xoscope for Linux & Zelscope for windows

Oscillons & the art of Oscillography.

ALH84001 - Oscillator artworks
AN07 – Eric Archer

Eric Archer’s (ALH84001) Oscillator artworks operate on a number levels – on one hand they are calligraphic gestures of a robot mind that never gets bored with repeating her own autograph. On another, they come across as pure Op-art surface, black and white patterns that are a time-space mapping of a deterministic harmonic process. They also have a decorative aspect and would make excellent wallpaper, although each of the motifs in these generator tessellations are slightly different. The symmetry in some of the outputs is very reminiscent of Rorschach’s inkblots too, and so tease the viewer into a kind of scrying or pattern recognition. One of my favourites is ‘Enclosed by Golden Rectangles’ which could be one of John Cage’s experimental musical notation systems but is in fact ‘Fifteen analog lissajous figures modulated by 8-bit ASCII character diads, spelling the title of the piece’! Many of the pictures have intriguing descriptions and well as technical specifics, here’s a capture:

‘The process is like this: compose image on the oscilloscope, then slow the oscillator down about 1000x, and record it on paper with a modified analog plotter.

Analog plotters were once common in research and engineering laboratories. It’s basically a voltage-controlled Etch-a-Sketch, for capturing experimental data on graph paper. Paper is held down electrostatically on a flat bed, and analog servos position the pen in real time.’

Inspired by Eric’s Oscillography set I dug up a few pointers to Scope Art, of the past, notably the work of Ben Laposky who specialised in this kind of work from the early 50’s right through to the late 60’s. He came up with the word ‘Oscillon’ to describe his work as documented in ‘Oscillons: Electronic Abstractions’ an article featured in the book ‘Artist and Computer’ published in 1976. An aside – this book cover is quite rightly described as ‘scary’ by Joost Rekveld in his blog entry ‘Artist, computer and radiant roots of ray tracing’.

From the chapter:

‘I got into oscillographic art through a long-time interest in art or design derived from mathematics and physics. I had worked with geometric design, analytic and other algebraic curves, ‘magic line’ patterns from magic number arrangements, harmonograph machine tracings, pendulum patterns, and so on. The oscilloscope seemed to me to be a way of getting a wider variety of similar kinds of design and with controlled effects to produce even newer forms not feasible with previous techniques.


‘Oscillographic art might be considered as a kind of visual music, as the basic waveforms resemble sound waves. I used sine waves, saw tooths, square waves, triangular waves, and others in various combinations, modulations, envelops, sweeps, etc. Oscillons usually are not accidental or naturally occurring forms, but are composed by the selection and control of the oscilloscope settings and of varied input circuitry. I used especially modified oscilloscopes for this work, as well as some of my own specifically designed electronic instruments.’

The method for capturing the oscillations were quite different to way Eric obtains his, Laposky manipulated electronic beams across the face of an oscilloscope’s cathode-ray tube and then recorded the abstract waveforms using high-speed film.

Another well know computer artist pioneer who used oscilloscopes to produce art is Herbert W Franke, who made monochromatic Oscillogramms and Lightforms during the mid 50’s. Yet another is Mary Ellen Bute, of whom Inbetweennoise has uncovered some interesting notes regarding her Abstronics:

‘for years i have tried to find a method for controlling a source of light to produce images in rhythm. i wanted to manipulate light to produce visual compositions in time continuity much as a musician manipulates sound to produce music… on january 31, 1932, we (Bute and Leon Theremin!) gave our first demonstration of “the perimeters of light and sound and their possible synchronization”. this was an early use of electronics for drawings…dr. potter (of bell labs) designed an electronic circuit for such an application of the oscilloscope… by turning knobs and switches on a control board i can “draw” with a beam of light with as much freedom as with a brush.’

Of course we can go back further than the oscilloscope for examples of this kind of harmonic line art, think Harmonograph for example. A related post of interest is also Drawings of Harmonic Motion.