32 metronomes attaining spontaneous synchrony


68 Responses to “32 metronomes attaining spontaneous synchrony”

  1.  As a musician, I can tell you I’ll have nightmares with this. Forever.

  2. Dlo Burns says:

    At 0:36 it sounds a bit like an industrial beat.

    Also they’re all set at the same speed right?

    • SamSam says:

      I was wondering what would happen if one was a little off. My guess is that the strong motion of the table would be enough to force it to stay in time. After all, even if they were all perfectly set to the same beat, each one had to move out of beat in order to synch up like that.

      Presumably anything set to 1/2 speed, or a 1/4 or 2x or whatever, would manage to keep its own speed (although it would still synch up with the rest, just at 1/2 speed).

      • Boundegar says:

        The cool part is, if just one of them was set to a non-harmonic frequency, it might inject enough chaos into the system to prevent the others from synchronizing.  But chaos is funny – a slightly different frequency could have the opposite effect.

        • Kimmo says:

          Heh – if you could predict it, it wouldn’t be chaos ; )

          • DJ Cat Gif says:

            chaotic systems are perfectly predictable. it’s other criteria that classify them as ‘chaotic.’

          • SamSam says:

            Nope, chaotic systems are not predictable, by definition.

            Chaotic systems may be deterministic, but this is not the same thing. With a deterministic chaotic system you can always work out what will happen at the very next time point, but you cannot predict what will happen at the hundredth time point, without working out all the time points in between.

            It’s a subtle, but important, distinction.

  3. Nylund says:

    It looks and sounds disturbingly like troops marching by the end.

    • Theranthrope says:

      You’re more right than you know.

      The original purpose of marching was to get ground troops from one place to another efficiently in a coherent group, however it was discovered by military commanders that marching has an additional benefit in that it is: “thought stopping” (where individual soldiers are too busy focusing on maintaining correct time that there is literally no time to think: “why am I here?” “why am I fighting?” “is my enemy really my enemy” or “I want to go home to my family”) which preempt thoughts of sedition or desertion. 

      There is a direct correlation between the amount of “thought stopping” and the complexity and difficulty of an army’s drill; q.v. “goose stepping” of the historical armies of the German Third Reich or the modern armed forces of North Korea:


  4. Luther Blissett says:

    Anyone who can tell if they gave some impulse to the wobbly surface (outside camera lens angle)? Really would like to try that in my local music store. Hey, it’s not “Stairways”!

    …but then, this reminds me of Hammerzeit… >.<

  5. Aren’t they just set in slightly different tempos (in groups), and occasionally drift into beat?

    • SamSam says:

      No, the synchronous behavior at the end is sustained for nearly a full two minutes before the camera shuts off. Cory says “four minutes” above but they are actually nearly all in synch much earlier than that, with just one metronome 180º out of cycle for a time.

      If it was just an example of beats they would be out of synch again almost instantly.

    • pjcamp says:

       Nope. Physics problem solved by Christiaan Huygens while lying in bed with the flu and having nothing to do all day but watch two pendulum clocks on a shelf.

  6. Rob Gehrke says:

    Actually, it’s not all that surprising – the table isn’t fixed, rigid, and influences the motion of each metronome once it starts moving itself. Seems to me it’s only a matter of time before there is statistically more density of periodic motion at one point in time, which slowly begins to set the surface in motion, and eventually each metronome falls in line with the motion of the table. In this sense, it’s not really the metronomes influencing each other so much as it is the table dictating the movements of the metronomes.

    I agree it is a bit depressing, though…

  7. pduggie says:

    The japanese don’t find it disturbing, obviously.

  8. Simon Mullen says:

    Does this make anyone think about Intelligent Design?

    Order arising naturally over time with out the need for intervention . . .

    • vonbobo says:


      Everything adds to the balance. Extremes will sway like a pendulum… or a metronome I suppose!

      If I could only apply this to my washing machine, I wouldn’t have to go rearrange the clothes every time I do laundry. 

    • Steven English says:

       actually, it would describe evolution better. gradual change in response to external stimuli.

    • The existence of the underlying rules of nature does not imply that those rules were “created” by an intelligent entity.

    • austinhamman says:

       i too thought of intelligent designs fictitious claim that order cannot arise out of disorder.
      its a rather nice model for evolution actually, those which become synced become more fit, as the synchronized ones exert more influence on the table, thus those which swing against this influence lose energy while those who swing with it or slightly behind it gain energy, then just following the simple laws of physics from a random set of swinging pendulums you get an ordered set of pendulums all swinging in unison. they arent trying to, they arent saying “hey swing my way” its just as two happen to get in sync they influence the selective pressure of those around them to also get in sync.

  9. Ashen Victor says:


  10. “a little sad for those of us with a nonconformist bent!” – Look at it this way, CD: many may work to a common beat, but the harmony of each is unique. Think of the difference between what Chopin would make of that rhythm, and Stravinsky. 

  11. dr_awkward says:

    The trick, for us nonconformists, is to recognize the motion of the table, and avoid its synchronistic, gravitational pull.

    There is no spoon.

  12. nehpetsE says:

    I feel an “Odd Sympathy” with those metronomes.

    (No… really.. that’s the scientific name for the phenomena )

  13. Snig says:

    The only thing I don’t like about it is it reminds me of the experiment where two asynchonous heart cells, placed adjacent to each other, become synchronous.  And I thought it was cause the heart was special, but this just makes it seem like a clockwork trick. 

  14. John Loftus says:

    There’s an excellent book called Sync by Steven Strogatz that explains the phenomenon. Like fractals, sync arrives as a consequence of feedback. Interesting stuff, I had two homemade synthesizers that would sync if you left them running on arbitrary settings, as they were feedback based. 

  15. nehpetsE says:

    and here: fascist sympathies 

    Deep…. huh?

  16. Mike Fischer says:

    On the non-conformist side, this brings to mind Tesla’s earthquake machine. 

  17. Jeff says:

    I was rooting for the little non-conformist (right column, second up from the bottom). He’d managed to confound the crowd by synchronizing with them in opposite phase. But then, sadly, at 2:37 even he falls in line with the crowd.

    Truly, a sign of the times.


  18. nehpetsE says:

    see also http://idolsofthecave.com/2-odd-sympathy/

  19. Frank Xavior says:

    first row from the right, 2nd from the front.

    get him

    • Cactaur says:

      He too was unable to withstand the soul crushing conformity.

    • xzzy says:

      Third one back in the left blue row never perfectly syncs up.. he’s a fraction of a beat behind everyone else. 

      I’ll call it the chubby kid in gym class effect.. he wants to be part of the crowd, but just can’t keep up. 

  20. Paul Renault says:

    So the moral is: if you’re on solid ground, you can be a non-conformist, you can be an independent thinker/actor/agent..  On shaky ground, eventually, everyone thinks the same.

  21. Suzanne Wong says:

    tangentially relevant, but this is the theory behind resonance in mechanical watches/clocks (Breguet, FP Journe, Antide Janvier), those which utilise two oscillators set to the same frequency, which is supposed to aid — not precision, but rate stability.

  22. amordecosmos says:

    Old Japanese saying: The nail that sticks up gets pounded down.  

  23. Eric Toberer says:

    Anyone know a cheap source for these?  Seems like amazon and similar is ~30$ per…

  24. Andrew Pautz says:

    I see the origins of an Apple commercial… or a commercial attacking Apple.

  25. Eric Stethoscope says:

    I crossed my eyes slightly while looking at this and then refocused. It was weirder at the beginning than at the end. and a little 3d!

  26. James Leese says:

    You can still be a non-conformist! you just need something solid to stand on.

  27. Theranthrope says:

    …and in other news: 

    “4 minutes later, they attain synchrony. It’s quite remarkable (and a little sad for those of us with a nonconformist bent!)”

    Cory has never been in a band …and probably sucks at dancing.

    • Donald Petersen says:

      I’m a drummer with a strong love for rhythm, and this video still filled me with crawling horror.

      It was like being on Camazotz, and I wanna get the hell outta there.

  28. mzed says:

    It seems to be the opposite of my band.

  29. oasisob1 says:

    I love the colorful Japanese metronomes. They are simply wonderful to look at.

  30. Petzl says:

    Wow.  I was thinking that these must be sophisticated metronomes that have some sort of cellular automata coding to allow them speed up or slow down according to what their neighbor was doing.  And the actual solution was the lowest of low tech: placing them all on a slightly wobbly surface.

  31. Linley Lee says:

    I actually found it beautiful.

  32. Delaney Davis says:

    160 BPM, for any others who are a little obsessive :)

    (My superpower is identifying 80BPM, so I guessed 160, but verified it anyway!)

  33. shrocket says:

    Fantastic and slightly creepy. I was reminded of both Terry Riley’s “In C” and Steve’ Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” (neither of which is particularly creepy). Here’s some “In C”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qy42bYyQNAg&feature=related

  34. snagglepuss says:

    Resistance is futile.

  35. Brent Kirkham says:

    Surely this is Entrainment.  A very common (thankfully) occurrence in musical settings, also known as being in the groove.

  36. t all works because the total sum of the motions are added up and transmitted to each of the metronomes. The “out of phase” motions are suppressed while “in phase” ones are reenforced.  It’s also how sound is produced out of noisy excitation in acoustic instruments (e.g. wind, stringed instruments).  Indeed, if there were metronomes running at integral multiples of the most prevalent original speed, they too would synch up at their own rates. Anyone want to try that? 

  37. I am a little fed up with all of the anthropomorphization throughout this comment thread. They are metronomes doing what physics dictates they do given the circumstances. They are not soldiers or any other variety of people. Nor do they prove or disprove the existence of a human deity.

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