The Shape of Sounds

Do you ever thought if sounds would have a shape and if we could create a language that we could touch? That was one of my enquires when I first started to imagine to touch sound, to display words while they were being said in a visual shape. My topic for this research was a collection of questions:

  • Is there a phonetic connection between languages?
  • Does that phonetic connection also shapes each language individually?

So I proposed to study the shape of sounds, the connections, and differences in languages. I focused my study in the English and Portuguese (since despite British I am also Portuguese) and phonetic sounds, mapped the graphic shape and created a new font or language based on sounds.

And Do I got there? Well… My approach was to analyse the sound waves of English and Portuguese alphabet. I started this project by investigating the English phonetics and used references like the “International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) | English Pronunciation,” Crown Academy of English, and “Shapes for Sounds: (cowhouse),” Timothy Donaldson, Mark Batty Publisher, New York, 2008.

Working with GarageBand software, I pronounced the main English phonetic sounds and recorded them as sound waves. I saved the sound file as .aif and then imported it to a data analyse software, Praat. This software is similar to Matlab (widely used by researchers to visualize data). Praat; however, is free.

“Praat (the Dutch word for “talk ” or “speak “) is a free scientific computer software package for the analysis of speech in phonetics. It was designed and continues to be developed, by Paul Boersma and David Weenink of the University of Amsterdam.” Wikipedia – https://

I then exported the sound waves and saved them as a .eps file which allowed me to keep the data intact, without corrupting it. I was also able to import this .eps file to Adobe Illustrator. Finally I created my own creative process of analysing shapes, connections, and differences in between the English and Portuguese phonetics.

So the first phase comprehended:

a) Recording the phonetic English and Portuguese sounds using GarageBand software.

b) Extraction of the sound waves of the English and Portuguese phonetic sounds with the data analyse software, Praat.

Organizing the vector sound waves in groups of sounds and colours.

In a second phase I decided to follow a creative process based on the following rules:

  • Scaling original sound waves to 400% Horizontal / 100% Vertical, with the objective of improving visibility.
  • Used the Blend Tool and originated a font from a 5 and 6 step transformation (accordingly to the best shape of the letter) of a Latin letter to the correspondent’s letter phonetic sound.
  • I Used Helvetica Neue as the matrix.

In a third phase I created a generic sound font based on the International Phonetic Alphabet – IPA – for English and a chromatic font based on the vowels of the English and Portuguese Phonetic Sounds.

After that I used the laser cut machine of the Anglia Ruskin University to cut the sound font of the English and Portuguese vowel phonetic sounds in 3 mm thick Fluorescent Acrylic Sheet of Perspex. Also a beautiful poster was born, where you can see the connections and differences in between the English and Portuguese vowel phonetic sounds. Finally, I took photography of the perspex letters and animated them to create an effect that when each sound image is touched releases the correspondent collection of phonetic sounds. I will post images of this research during the following week so you can see the process.

This research was important to me because during this process I was undergoing healing from the consequences of domestic violence and as a strong Survivor this research spoke 1000 words… Creating a new form of font based purely in the phonetic sounds was therefore a very personal thing. Making a language much more intuitive and truthful to the way the words are pronounced was also important. Help people think about language in a new way and question its origins was my challenge.

I keep using and improving my Sound Font. I created a T-shirt you can use proudly with this digital experience. It is printed in London using environmental responsible methods. If interested contact me on the email address

Sound Font Top
Sound Font Top
A good looking Fashion Top that transmits energy.

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