NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 40

Design Today -2

Appleton's vorTEX: The language of visual, aural, and textual communication

Majid Abbasi

"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones."
- John Cage

In the past fifteen years, as in all previous decades, the most important developments in design have changed the paradigm or pattern of the past so significantly as to create a rift, or break with tradition. The majority of these events have not created this break of course. Instead, they have built towards it by further refining existing concepts in the traditions of modernism and/or postmodernism.

Robert Appleton is known for his strenuous efforts in conducting research on visual music. He started his professional career as a musician and drummer with Lester Penman in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, Scotland at the age of eleven. Afterwards, he completed his studies as artist-designer-musician, and of course, researcher. From 1975, he continued his world-class studies and experience with the prominent music improvisation artists such as Tony Oxley, John Cage, Ornette Coleman, and Jin Hi Ki. His studies on a lost basic multimedia language were triggered by multimodal music based on improvisation. Appleton's professional character changed from designer as art director at Saatchi & Saatchi, London and part-time musician to designer, artist, composer, and scientific researcher — which was of course not an easy transformation. With this decision, he preferred research and learning opportunities over financial success and higher income. His research strategy has no end — just like René Descartes — and constantly moves forward. Appleton focused his academic research on vorTEX, a multimedia language. He describes vorTEX as, “immersive and generative multimedia software and hardware instruments, developed as a new language of visual aural and textual communication. He adds, "A generative multimedia language which can increase knowledge, understanding, creativity, sustainability, freedom, peace and future human success is something I’d like to be part of. Perhaps the greatest implication is that by learning this language together we can do away with the word “foreign” in relation to language. And we can speak with one voice." To find out more about this language, we will review two of vorTEX projects:

Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, 2014
The idea of the Shakespearean drama as a model for a new language of multimedia was inspiring to Appleton. Deeply moved by Kate Fleetwood's interpretation of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, he carried out a multimedia improvisation with the use of vorTEX multimedia software as an experiment. A recent performance of Appleton’s work allowed a deaf audience to hear music through physical vibrations from their chair. "In conversation with my friend David Woodside," Appleton says, "I sensed the opportunity to speak with Kate Fleetwood about this. So, I recreated my visual music and added the voice of Lady Macbeth. I uploaded the file to Vimeo privately and contacted Kate Fleetwood via Twitter just before Christmas. Not expecting any response at all, I was astonished when in early January she had an opportunity to watch the video and immediately approved my request." Therefore, the experiment was published. The original had been improvised and performed before a live audience at Array Space in Toronto in 2014 with a recording of the composition “Untitled” by Canadian composer, Jason Doell.
    Appleton’s unified communication language both demonstrated the power of his multimedia instrument and added to the excitement of Fleetwood's text; a visual, aural and textual expression brought to life by the ancient and magical art of acting. The images here are from an A/B comparison in his proof of concept for a grant (not the performance). The horizontal multimedia frame of Lady Macbeth is divided into two equal parts: one is the text which is read in an extremely dramatic way; the other is a cube floating in the space which interacts with the visual, aural, and textual languages. This play is a meaningful interpretation of sounds, language, thoughts, and feelings —where the sense of understanding increases through the produced multimedia language and the work is perceived better than before. "Prosodic changes (the patterns of rhythm and sound in poetry) have also been well documented across emotional states," he says.

AGI Foundation website, 2013–2015
The AGI Foundation existed from 2010 and 2017, aiming to develop a basis for scientific research in the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) – a club composed of the world's most prominent graphic designers. AGIF was first headquartered in Amsterdam and then relocated to The Vignelli Center for Design Studies at RIT in the US. The design challenge was to create a proof of concept – that great design can solve scientific, social and industrial problems while retaining the aesthetic and conceptual beauty of graphic art and design.

With this objective, the works of a number of graphic designers whose broad scope of work was significant from the design research perspective were displayed. The internet itself is a natural multimedia environment – including image, text, sound, and motion, through which we see, hear, and read with the help of touching and pointing (gestures). "The most interesting challenge (for me) was to create a new form in a mainstream environment – in order to clarify and re-describe an art (design) using multiple media – whose purpose was to enhance understanding," Appleton explains the role of vorTEX in this project. "vorTEX is an evolving language and using it here was principally done by trial and error through experimental, iterative research. Do something: if it works keep it, if it doesn’t change it or do it again!"

Appleton is a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), is the the Canadian president of the Alliance, and he was also president of the AGI Foundation. As an instructor, lecturer, and researcher, he has collaborated with various universities, schools, and educational institutes through the world, including the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York, Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul, The Ontario College of Art and Design University and Ryerson University in Toronto, The China Central Academy of Fine Art and The Glasgow School of Art in Beijing, The Ammerman Centre at Connecticut College, Parsons School of Design and The Cooper Union in NYC. Moreover, his research on multimodal communication through music and text design is being undertaken with the support of De Montfort University, Leicester. Through vorTEX he seeks new prospects and original ideas. At the age of seventy, Appleton strives to learn like a child at play. He remains fascinated by the relationship between sound, image and text and in creating further works of poetry and research through classical and contemporary drama as visual music theatre.

vimeopro.com/robertappleton/vortex

Majid Abbasi

is design director of Studio Abbasi active in the international community, based in Tehran and Toronto. He leads a variety of design projects for start-ups, non-profits and educational organizations worldwide. Majid actively contributes to the international design scene as an instructor, jury member, curator and writer. He has been editor-in-chief of Neshan, the leading Iranian graphic design magazine since 2010. Majid has been members of Iranian Graphic Designers Society (IGDS) since 1998 and Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 2009. majidabbasi1@gmail.com

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