School of Visual Communication Design (VCD) assistant professor Jessica Barness originally created "Letters to X," an interface that allows users to create correspondences using handwritten words, but the project transformed into a vinyl record entitled "hEar Pixels" with the help of VCD academic advisor and producer Vince Giles.
“It’s a combination of music and spoken word,” Barness said. “On one of the tracks, I’m reading an adaptation of a paper I wrote on Letters to X. It’s about correspondence, people, and interactions, mixed together with Vince’s work. The project has evolved in an interesting way.”
hEar Pixels includes two tracks. The first is a mixture of voice samples from Barness that Giles mixed with originally composed music. The second track is Barness reading her short essay.
“I wanted it to be about fabricated conversations,” Barness said. “Conversations as objects. How could this be a back and forth between collaborators on a record? Much of our working process was asynchronous. We ended up running on that theme in different ways. We didn’t sing anything! But at times we’re sort of uttering about the music, and I ended up folding bits of that into the second track. So the whole thing is layer upon layer. I think we achieved what we set out to do.”
Barness, a designer, said it was “challenging” to work in a new medium, but she has wanted to work in audio for some time. She said it was enjoyable to collaborate with Giles, who works with audio creatively, creating music in his free time.
“I wanted to work with Jessica because she’s talented and awesome, first and foremost,” Giles said. “The subject of the project – an audio collage that explores the intersection of sound and meaning – is fascinating and aligns with my interests in music and spoken word. And most of all, it was fun.”
“He’s a hip-hop artist,” Barness said. “To work with him and collaborate with someone who doesn’t work visually was really exciting for me. We found that our approaches were different but harmonious. I arranged the audio tracks visually, in sort of a cut-and-paste way. Vince is a live performer and he brought that energy to the project.”
Barness said this project was a form of academic research, which will be included in a themed portfolio for the Southern Graphics Council International conference in Portland in the spring of 2016. She received funding from Kent State University to create the record, and she plans to develop an artist’s book about it, translating the sound into graphics and type.
“I see myself doing these types of things because there’s always a way to bring design into projects in ways that may not be obvious or expected or even considered ‘design’,” Barness said. “In this case, I strategized and designed audio.”
Barness wants to encourage others in the academic community to pursue research opportunities outside their specialization.
“Go outside your discipline,” Barness said. “There’s a lot more you can find when you try to sit on the edges of it. Look at what you might be doing, then relate it back to your core. This is research in graphic design and interaction design, but it doesn’t necessarily take on those forms.”
To listen to hEar Pixels, visit https://hearpixels.bandcamp.com.