Oscilloscope Music - Visual Signals & Songs

One thing a lot of studio engineers and musicians don't realize is that all of shit "mixing gear" isn't just that.

The signal processing trade serves a lot of various industries, from music, radars, the medical field, and even nuclear physics.  Just like mixers, other engineers need to clean up their electric signals to separate the signal from the noise.

what is an osciloscope

The main tool to visualize your results (usually hardware but there are a lot of software options now) is the oscilloscope.

What Does An Oscilloscope Do?

This wonderful piece of gear is kind of like a graphing calculator.  It maps the amplitude and frequency of a waveform.  But unlike a calculator, an oscilloscope brings in a 3rd dimension of time so you can see how your waveform is changing as the signal itself changes.

Usually when you're using one of these devices you're trying to look at the output to determine what changes need to be made to achieve a specific goal.

oscilloscope music

But a clever group of musician scientists out there realized you could manipulate the input to a high degree to really control the output visualizations.

A new art form emerged.

It's like watching the graphic visualizer on iTunes or whatever, but controlling what appears in the psychedelic colors and shapes.

Oscilloscope Music

The "problem" was that the more artful the visualizations become, the more horrid the music becomes.  But like any art, this one began to mature with new tricks and techniques, and with the mixture of sequencing inspired by the electronic genres like dubstep, we now have a solid result on our hands.

Check out this video:

That's pretty nifty.

How It Works

You have to map the sounds out of your left and right channels of your audio interface (here's our recommedations for the best interfaces if you want to get into this) and into the X and Y inputs for the graph in Lissajous Mode to control the horizontal and vertical deflections of the cathode ray.

Make sure your interface can output a sample rate of up to 192 kHz if you want high-definiton details in your visuals.

You'll want to have a handle on algebra, geometry, and trigonometry if you want to really master this.  For instance, here is how you'd draw a butterfly:


And then you have to control the time variable to rotate it.

oscilloscope butterfly

To make it flap its wings would be infinitely more complex!

Useful Resources

Of all of the people out there toying with these concepts, Jerobeam Fenderson is leading the way with the commercialization of it.  On his site here he not only offers a video album of music he's created for the oscilloscope, but shirts, vinyl records, and even some software, OsciStudio, so you can more easily create the waveforms to feed to your hardware.

What he doesn't do is sell oscilloscopes.  Amazon to the rescue!

If you want to follow the convention of green waveforms on a black screen, you'll want to score an older oscilloscope.  The new ones tend to have multi-colored and partitioned screens as they've become specialized for specific industries.  You want something like this:

tektronix oscilloscope for music

That's a Tektronix and seems to be what everyone is going for.  But heads up, there are tons of models as you can see on Amazon.  You can find an old used option there, which will get you closest to replicating what everyone else is doing online.

If you cook up some crazy oscilloscope music visuals, send it in so we can share it!