‘Cymatics’ dir. Shahir Daud

In a world with ingenious special effects Shahir Daud directs a music promo where all the experiments are real.

Director: Shahir Daud
DOP: Timur Civan

C8: How did the collaboration with musician Nigel Stanford come about?

SD: I’ve known Nigel for many years, and had worked with him back in New Zealand. We both happened to be living in New York at the same time, so I asked him if he could help out as a sound designer for my short film ‘La Loteria’. After that collaboration, he approached me with a concept he had for a “science driven music video”. Needless to say, I was pretty intrigued by the idea.

C8: After Nigel sent you the song did he leave you to your own devices or did he have input on the creative for the visual?

SD: Here’s the interesting thing, there was no song when we started the production! Nigel and I worked together on the experiments for a few months, figuring out which notes produced the most unique and repeatable patterns in all of our cymatic instruments. Nigel then took that information away and wrote the song, while I storyboarded and figured out how the experiments would fit together.

C8: What was the main inspiration behind ‘Cymatics’?

SD: Nigel has seen a documentary on synesthesia, a disorder where a person’s neurons fire incorrectly causing them to see sounds or smell colors. The documentary got him thinking about the idea of visualizing sound, which lead him to the study of cymatics.

C8: How long did you spend researching and what was the most challenging part of the research process?

SD: We spent about three months researching and building the experiments. Nigel would take the lead on measuring the results and coming up with methodologies for finding the best audio frequencies resulting in clear repeatable cymatic patterns. Some of the experiments required some corresponding visual tricks in order for them to work correctly, like finding the correct frame rate or shutter speed. I would take the lead on researching that side of the camera or edit.

To be honest, the primary challenge with these kinds of experiments is that they require physical space. We’d often be working at Nigel’s apartment and actually built one experiment in his shower (not the smartest place to have a powered speaker). We also needed to run a full spectrum of audio frequencies through most experiments, which is pretty painful to listen to for anyone nearby.

C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

SD: We shot on the RED and the Phantom camera because we really wanted to capture these experiments in the highest possible resolution so everyone could see all the nuances of the way sound affects different matter. We also finished the video in 4k so people can download it and watch it on their fancy new 4K TV’s.

C8: What was the most difficult experiment to capture on film and why?

SD: Definitely the Tesla coil because we didn’t have a chance to test it out. We contacted Tesla engineer Jay Howson, but because of scheduling we received the coil on the first day of the shoot, which meant we had no time to experiment with it.

Each experiment had some degree of difficulty though; we blew fuses on the caladni plate, miscalculated a frequency on the speaker dish, spilled ferro fluid everywhere and blew a hole in our plasma ball.

C8: If you had the opportunity to what would you do differently second time around?

SD: There’s not a lot I’d do differently except for spend more time planning. Though, having a deadline is probably one of the strongest motivators you can have to getting something finished.

C8: What part of the video are you most proud of?

SD: I’m most proud of the fact that the experiments are real and Nigel composed the music based on the experiments.

It’s such an amazing track, and to think it was written specifically for those scientific experiments blows my mind.

C8: You’re able to create a narrative arc out of scientific experiments. Do you think narratives are integral to all filmmaking particularly music videos?

SD: I think some form of storytelling is important to music videos. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a full arc or detailed story, but every music video should have a sense of escalation and move from one point to another.

C8: The film required a lot of technical expertise on your part. Do you think that emerging directors need to have a good grasp of the technical aspects of filmmaking?

SD: It’s important for me to know how every part of the filmmaking process works, but that can sometimes be a hindrance, because I start thinking about the limitations of every element, whereas someone who doesn’t know how a camera or editing works might only be thinking about the possibilities.

C8: What advice would you give to emerging music video directors?

SD: I think I’m still in that category, so my advice to myself would be… Stop pretending that browsing reddit is “research” you lazy twat.