Hearing Color

Undergraduate Thesis
School: Ohio University
Year: 2016

Hearing Color is an interactive installation about humanity’s perception of color and its effect on the tone quality produced by the voice in choral music. I produced this piece for my senior graphic design thesis show, which ran from March 29 to April 2, 2016 in the Ohio University Art Gallery.

Color has inherent meaning. Mark Rothko and Wassily Kandinsky made this connection in their work. They saw color as a spiritual experience for humanity and believed that color alone could reach an audience both physically and emotionally.

After these discoveries, it is curious as to why color is often an afterthought or the last step in the design process. Color can be a tool for understanding, but I see it being taken for granted. This is why I felt the need to create an experience that will allow the viewer to attain a deeper understanding of color and to realize his or her humanity in the process.

The inspiration for this piece comes from a personal experience I had while in a choral music clinic with Dr. Henry Leck during Ohio Women’s Ensemble’s 2015 spring tour. To change our sound, Dr. Leck told us to sing in “deep-burgundy.” Simply by thinking of a color, 62 women sang with taller vowels and darker tone quality. I expected that we would sing differently, but I never would have guessed that we would all change in the same way, like some common code existed in our brains. Astonished, I needed to share this experience.

Once participants were inside the exhibit, they were surrounded by the words of an Emily Dickinson poem, “The Waters Wrecked the Sky,” which tells the story of a violent thunderstorm. During the experience, they listened for the differences in the women’s voices as they were bathed in color and light. While they thought about the relationship between what they heard and saw, most participants were able to hear the differences in color. A select few participants identified with one color over the other.

My parents, older sister, and I at the show opening.

My parents, older sister, and I at the show opening.