California State University Chico  
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Project. Hearing Type

Purpose. The objectives of this project are to discover new relationships between typographic form, space, and structure; and to understand how dense textures of information can be clarified to create more coherent communication spaces.

Assignment. This project will introduce conceptual analogies between acoustic and visual space. Since typography is a visual representation of our spoken language, you'll explore the visualization of sound and music by creating a typographic map of acoustic space, based on the translation of a short segment from a piece of music. The most important fundamental concepts to understand are harmony (unity and variety), hierarchy (contrast and structure), and rhythm (time and motion).

Using SoundEdit, extract and analyze a short segment (about 12 words) from a selected piece of music. The actual duration that you extract depends on the tempo of the music. The segment must include at least one voice (text) and one (additional) instrument.

Using Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, or Quark XPress, create a typographic translation of the selected segment, based on a visual grid that represents pitch on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis.

As a road map is a diagram of geographic space, your translation will be a typographic map of the sounds within an acoustic space. First, consider how you might represent each of the properties of sound (amplitude, duration, pitch, and timbre) with typographic elements in a visual space. Throughout the process, think about the interaction of sounds, the hierarchy of instruments that produce tonal clusters, harmony through variations in density or texture, the hierarchical structure of space, the dynamics of rhythm and motion, and the concept of scale (distinct yet related intervals of pitch and time).

Format. 15 X 5 inches (38 X 13 centimeters)

Time. 4 weeks (16 hours)

Related Items. Hearing Type (PDF, 42 KB)

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Frank Armstrong is a lecturer in Communication Design at California State University, Chico, teaching typographic information design, kinetic typography and digital prepublishing. Previously, he taught graphic design and typography at Yale University, Boston University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Connecticut. His professional work has been published in numerous journals and books, including Rob Carter's American Typography Today. Frank has an MFA degree in graphic design from Yale University and is a member of AIGA, ATypI, and IIID.

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