The Aphex Face

A long time ago — in the summer of 2001 if I recall correctly — I ran into an intriguing page at http://chaos.yerbox.org/face/ (Chaosmachine’s more recent page can be found at blamcast.net). The original page, which sadly resides only in the web archives nowadays, was all about this hidden “demon face” in one of Aphex Twin‘s tracks, #2 (the long formula) on “Windowlicker”.

This face was supposed to be viewable with a spectrograph program, so I decided to try it myself. A spectrograph basically visualizes the sound spectrum.

First I needed to extract the track from the Windowlicker CD, which was easy with CDex. The extraction of the whole track was not really necessary because the “face” is situated at the very end of the track, starting from the 5:27 mark and lasting for about 10 seconds. There are other “audio images” on this particular track as well (and one at the end of the first track), but the face is certainly the most exciting of them all.

After I had the wav-file, I used a program called Spectrogram to visualize the file. To my amazement, it worked, and I was soon staring at the “demon” face:

A distorted monstrosity

The alleged demon face

I was, however, not content with this. Why would the good ol’ Twin have added a “demon” face into one of his tracks? I mean, the man does have a weird sense of humor, but I always thought demons were more up BoC‘s alley…

While examining the image, I came to the conclusion that something was not right. So I started messing around with the settings of the spectrograph program, and after a bit of knob twiddling the mystery revealed itself: the face was supposed to be watched with a logarithmic frequency scale, not with a linear scale.

A linear scale provided the “demon face”, but with a logarithmic scale the end results were quite different:

It was RDJ all along

The plot thickens

Why, it was none other than the Twin himself all the time, complete with his patented grin!

The settings which I used to get the above image were roughly the same as in the picture below (they aren’t the exact same settings since I’ve lost them somewhere, but if you try them yourself you’ll find that they are more than close enough):

Knob twiddlers

Spectrogram settings for reproducing the face

After this “amazing” discovery, I contacted the guy at chaos.yerbox.org and informed him of the results. He seemed interested to add this new-found info to his pages, but I suppose he never got around to actually do it — which is the primary reason for the existence of this particular page.

Next, I decided to inform the good folks on the IDM mailinglist about The Face. It turned out that this “picture to audio” -thing was really not hard to do at all and there was a Windows program called Coagula that could transform any picture into soundwaves with minimum effort. Aphex Twin himself had used a Mac program called Metasynth to do his images.

I tested Coagula and found it easy enough to use. Now this new discovery raised a new question: Were there more examples of this audio imaging available?

Luckily the soundscapes that Coagula spits out are quite easy to notice in their aural form, so I didn’t have to look for long before I found another example: On Plaid‘s “Rest Proof Clockwork”, the track “3recurring” contains a continuous stream of “threes” (as seen on the cover art of their previous album, “Not For Threes”).

Besides the Plaid discovery I couldn’t find any more examples of audio imaging on any of the CD’s I own, but I didn’t bother to look that hard either. However it is clear that this audio/image stuff was “hip” at 1999, since both of the aforementioned records were released around that time.

After going public with my pages, I’ve had several people contact me to offer more information on the subject or wanting to get an interview. The most prominent one was the story run on Wired Magazine (a well-researched story, but they got my age wrong by 6 years).

As a nice finish, here are is a small gallery of some audio images from Aphex Twin and other artists:

A wave mural

Wave mural at the end of track #1 on Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker"

Plaid - 3recurring

Extract of Plaid's "3recurring" from "Rest Proof Clockwork"

Venetian Snares - Look

extract of Venetian Snares' "Look" from "Songs about my Cats"

18 Responses to The Aphex Face

  1. Kevindd says:

    haha good thing to know, im going to try this with my own tracks.

  2. quite insteresting, thanks for sharing.

  3. GAL says:

    Very interesting indeed, I was totally unaware of all of this. Dig aphex twin though.

  4. Tweak says:

    LOL you had me going until the last picture with the kitty cat in the top right corner…

    • Ginny says:

      Had you going? This isn’t a joke. We learned about these possibilities when I was in grade school, at least as far back as the late 90′s. Less sophisticated versions were made long before. Its as simple as having a visual representation for each sound. Put these in a pattern and you have a recognizable image that can be as sophisticated or as simple as the creator’s abilities and resources will allow. The cat picture is almost certainly real.

  5. shadw says:

    This is quite extraordinarily awesome. Sectrograph, the equivalent to Spectrogram, only for mac os x, did not work. Is there any other visualizing software for mac i can use?

  6. defiantredpill says:

    http://www.sonicvisualiser.org/download.html
    Linux, Windows and Mac.
    FOSS

  7. racecar says:

    Very VERY cool! I was gonna download all the programs, but what do you know! Blocked by OpenDNS. I hate my collages network sometimes. :(

  8. V says:

    Using Coagula and still can’t get my images to show. Making a noise album with a lot of pictures and songs. Should be interesting, but I need to get this to work first haha :P Any tips?

  9. Francisco Burrola says:

    don’t forget about the “hand” found on “my violent heart” from Nine Inch Nails album Year Zero http://www.ninwiki.com/File:MVH_lin.gif

  10. kaoD says:

    This made me think… you could put the different color (or HSV) image channels in the stereo channels of the song to get a colored image hidden in the song. Any ideas on where to put the third image channel? Stereo is two-channel, and images are either RGB or HSV (three channels.)

  11. Richard says:

    What effect does creating the image have on the music?

  12. LyLa says:

    the spectrogram is the representation of all the frequencies in time of the sound . The more pale the color is, the more intensity these frequencies have.

    Usually, it look more like line and waves, but the tricks they used there to make drawing with the spectrum affect the sound for sure . Imagine a vertical line of the light blue is a part of the sound that would have almost all the frequencies in it, like white noise …

    for example, the cat drawing sound pretty experimental/ not melodic …. you can listen to it and realise it by yourself !

    Ly

  13. Lara says:

    And demonface STILL gives me nightmares.

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