A two ton pool of water is set into motion using sound, beams of light are projected onto the surface of the water and reflect onto a projection screen. The pool becomes a liquid mirror that is slowly sculpted into perfect three-dimensional expressions of a musical composition.
It doesn't look especially chaotic or complex, but rather clear, simple and transparent. It is a strong image, and the sound fuses with it in a natural way. Its name is Ondulation, which literally means wavelike movement. An ondulator, by the way, is a converter or transformer, and that word, too, is perfectly appropriate. Thomas McIntosh -- architect, artist and the creator of Ondulation -- describes it as a composition for water, sound and light. It consists of a basin filled with 2,000 liters of water, which is gently made to move by sound coming from speakers installed underneath. A pattern of waves arises on the surface of the water. Beams of light trained on it reflect this pattern onto a projection screen on the wall. The water, according to McIntosh, becomes a liquid mirror: it forms a direct, three-dimensional rendering of the musical composition issuing from the speakers under the basin. The sound, the wave movements in the water, and the images on the screen reflected by the light all correspond.
Ondulation is, first of all, an impressive example of a work in which image and sound go together perfectly. It is a work in which conversion comes about not by means of computer algorithms that guide image and sound or convert computer-generated beats into abstract visual patterns, but by water, or more precisely, by the complex way in which waves form, move through the water, collide with each other, and form new patterns, which in turn move through the water (and through time). In this respect, Ondulation affords a direct view of what we could call natural beauty -- the laws that govern the behavior of nature, in this case water. These laws are difficult to capture in mathematical analogies. The displacement of air, in the form of sound waves, is converted into waves in a liquid. Invisible yet audible waves are rendered visual in a liquid medium.
This description gives an idea of what Ondulation does, and of the sensory and aesthetic experience it calls forth. Ondulation makes a process visible and thereby offers insight into the interaction that takes place between waves in a liquid medium. We can observe a similar process when we look at the ocean, throw a stone into a pond, or allow ourselves to be enchanted by sunlight reflected on the ripples in a canal, although those systems are more open than Ondulation's. In Ondulation, the sound waves in the water basin form a more or less closed system -- one which, for example, is disturbed only by people stomping past or visitors who cannot resist tapping on the glass of the basin to create new waves. The piece was not designed for such user interaction. Ondulation shows us an interactive process, one which begins simply, with a single note that produces the first wave, and gradually becomes more and more complex, in accordance with the progression of the sound composition and the interaction between the waves colliding in the water.
Ondulation by Thomas McIntosh (DEAF07) from V2_ on Vimeo.