Finding Edges: An Investigation into the Diagrammatic Qualities of Speech

Finding Edges is a design project that explores the invisible parts of spoken word - the in-between moments of speech that inform our verbal sentence structure and the way we communicate. These are actions that we tend to unconsciously enact in how we communicate, and that add a specific edge to our sentences.

Edges, refer to all the hidden aspects of speech, it is the nuances of sound that can change the meaning of a sentence. Such as when we draw out a word or how we emphasise specific points in speech. It builds off of our usual punctuation, giving us prompts that then allow us to add an emotional charge or shift in meaning when needed.

Working with a 30 second clip of audio, narrated by Stephen Fry for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (mainly chosen out of pure enjoyment), I have developed a series of 3 different explorations that aim to visualise the hidden edges of speech. 

1. Verbal Punctuation

This visualisation abstracts each individual word in order to convey it’s spatial quality. By representing each word as a square symbol, this video explores the movement of edges in contrast to the existing punctuation from the text. As the words of the Hitchhiker’s Galaxy are read by Fry, the verbal punctuation displays the rhythm of his speech through movement of the symbols, i.e when a word is accentuated or when there has been a point of inhale/exhale.

The gradient system at the bottom acts as another indication as to how it is read, and acts as both an indication of our location in the longer speed as well as a gauge the rhythm of speech within the whole. It visualises emphasis in speech. For example, for a specific edge in Fry’s speech - the whiter parts highlight where Fry has added more emphasis to one part of the word.

2. Data Terrain

For Data Terrain a 30 second audio file was converted into raw data and then opened in an image-editing program to translate it into visual data. Through this translation the visual representation of the sound data resembled a spatial terrain. This visualisation moves us through this terrain where we can see the different segments of data, for example where there is silence of speech. Our movements through the terrain are linked to the edges in Fry’s narration.

There is a break as we traverse through this space as the excess of silence fills the screen overtaking it as ‘white noise’ to contrast the journey whilst highlighting the visual data of silence which is overshadowed by the data of speech.

3. Sound of Silence

From analysing the data terrain created through the translation of audio to visual, the points of silence that were visualised through this process became an interesting edge to explore.  Each sentence was split up into particular sections, and the camera is used to travel through the data. When points of silence are played out in the audio, the perspective of the exploration changes – so that we fly along the surface of this segment, it becomes apparent that there is data even though nothing can be heard. This highlights the material processes mentioned in Brian House’s, ‘Machine Reading’.

Cargo Collective
Frogtown, Los Angeles