The vibration microscope is an electromagnetically-driven adaptation by Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894) of the earlier optical comparator by Jules Antoine Lissajous (1822-1880). The device allows one to determine the frequency of a tuning fork or other vibrating object with respect to a fork of known frequency, by way of Lissajous figure analysis.
Invented by John Shore in 1711, the tuning fork was initially used by musicians. After Chladni’s studies of its vibrations, however, it was also extensively employed by acousticians, who praised the purity of its sound. Hermann von Helmholtz, especially, based his experiments with beats, combination tones, and simple tones on tuning forks attached to resonators that enhanced their suitability for experimentation.
This set of 3 tuning forks, each mounted on its’ own resonator box, was made in Paris between about 1870 and 1900. The tuning forks were each milled from a single blank of fine steel and were then precisely tuned to produce a single, specific, tone. The resonator boxes that they are bolted to are wood, made from the same spruce often used in stringed musical instruments. Spruce wood is naturally responsive to sound vibrations and is the ideal material for this application.
This photograph shows a three-dimensional representation of sound using paper. The spectrum (frequencies from low to high) is represented by an arrangement of single strips of paper, with lower frequencies in the foreground. The changes in the spectrum over time are visible as variations in the profile of the paper strips, if read from left to right. Such paper models were used at the Technische Universität Berlin in the 1960s to represent the sounds of speech (phonetics) and music (acoustics).
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