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A wavelet is a wave-like oscillation with an amplitude that starts out at zero, increases, and then decreases back to zero. It can typically be visualized as a "brief oscillation" like one might see recorded by a seismograph or heart monitor. Generally, wavelets are purposefully crafted to have specific properties that make them useful for signal processing. Wavelets can be combined, using a "shift, multiply and sum" technique called convolution, with portions of an unknown signal to extract information from the unknown signal.

For example, a wavelet could be created to have a frequency of Middle C and a short duration of roughly a 32nd note. If this wavelet were to be convolved at periodic intervals with a signal created from the recording of a song, then the results of these convolutions would be useful for determining when the Middle C note was being played in the song. Mathematically, the wavelet will resonate if the unknown signal contains information of similar frequency - just as a tuning fork physically resonates with sound waves of its specific tuning frequency. This concept of resonance is at the core of many practical applications of wavelet theory.

As wavelets are a mathematical tool they can be used to extract information from many different kinds of data, including - but certainly not limited to - audio signals and images. Sets of wavelets are generally needed to analyze data fully. A set of "complementary" wavelets will deconstruct data without gaps or overlap so that the deconstruction process is mathematically reversible. Thus, sets of complementary wavelets are useful in wavelet based compression/decompression algorithms where it is desirable to recover the original information with minimal loss.

In formal terms, this representation is a wavelet series representation of a square-integrable function with respect to either a complete, orthonormal set of basis functions, or an overcomplete set or Frame of a vector space, for the Hilbert space of square integrable functions.


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