A chain hanging by two ends under its own weight will form a curved shape called the catenary or “chain curve”. Galileo had believed this shape should be a parabola but in 1690 Leibniz, Huygens, and Bernoulli described this curve not as a parabolic polynomial, but as y = a cosh(x/a). Since this shape is not described by a polynomial it is termed a “transcendental function”, meaning it is non-algebraic, dimensionless.
Artist David Lettelier has captured the transcendental beauty of the catenary function in a sonic sculpture constructed from hundreds of thin wires. Called Caten this piece is housed at the Chapelle du vieux St-Sauveur in Caen.
The sculpture is suspended at four points, each point by a rotating motor that also generates a tone with each full revolution. Together the motors play the first four notes of Ut Queant Laxis, the Hymn to St. John the Baptist.
The deep, harmonic drone of the hymn combined with the hushed metallic rustling of the shifting wires as they readjust to sustain the chain-curve create a truly beautiful, hypnotic experience for both eyes and ears. Please enjoy…