Week 12: visible speech

chants and voices small

These spectrograms are of a chorus of sixteen voices from Gyorgy Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna with text taken from the Requiem Mass.[1] Each of these voices is made visible in the dotted lines singing the words of the Requiem Mass which is about death permeated by eternal light.

What excited me in this image was the possibility of using word spectrograms to express an idea through visual sound. The term ‘visible speech’ is also used to describe Eurythmy,  a form of movement and speech developed by Rudolf Steiner and taught in many Waldorf/Steiner schools worldwide. In Eurythmy, vowels and consonants have a corresponding movement to bring the impulse of the sound through the body.

Poetry is imbued with the idea that words can create pictures. But if the written word is fixed within language and culture, then other forms of word translation could be applied.

For one of my early experiments I wrote out words I associated with my banana paper and stitched them onto A5 paper. The words interfered with my sonic reading of the handmade paper so I removed the words but kept the stitching.

I thought of the images from the Lux Aeterna and how the dotted lines looked like stitching. What if I made a spectrogram of the word lustrous, and then turned that into a stitched drawing. Hmm…here is a linear spectrogram of the word lustrous, still  to be drawn. New inspiration!

lustrous spectrogram


[1] Robert Cogan, New Images of Musical Sound. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984) 39.


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