WORDS / JULIA M. TRUPP
PHOTO / KAT WILSON
After a long day of work at her full-time graphic design job, Macy Burr comes home to her dog, Olive, and wife and fellow designer, Anna Jacobs. She pours herself a glass of red wine before sitting down at her piano to begin her next custom order for her own business, Soundscape Studio.
Music and design have always been major parts of Burr’s life. She grew up with a musical father who introduced her to the piano, and a supportive mother who encouraged her to pursue graphic design in college. The initial idea for Soundscape Studio came out of an intense study of music theory after getting engaged to her wife. With Valentine’s Day approaching, Burr wanted to gift her partner with something creative and musical, something to share with Jacobs what intrigued her so much about the piano.
“I always nerd out over music theory, and [Jacobs] never knows what I’m talking about, so one day I thought, ‘Let me show you,’” Burr explained. “I went to Dallas to see a show—it was a DJ who perfectly timed beats to the light show—and it clicked. I had a five-hour trip back to Fayetteville, so I had plenty of time to put it together in my head.”
After getting back from her trip, she sat down and created her first Soundscape musical art piece drawn from, “All of Me” by John Legend. After Jacobs posted the print on Instagram Burr was inspired to turn her idea into a new artistic venture.
Each print, depending on the length of the song and sheet music available, takes Burr between 5 and 10 hours to complete. She creates each piece using Adobe Illustrator, “tapping out the rhythm, running to the piano, drinking a ton of coffee,” she says. She even turned each color-coordinated note into a font, so she can type out the rhythm using her keyboard.
While the songs can be custom selections, the colors, which appear in different shades depending on the octave, are assigned specifically to coordinate with the seven notes in the musical scale. The rhythm is represented by the length of each block. The top line is the melody while the bottom line resembles the accompanying harmony. The rhythm, black and white, is placed as the base and layered by each colorful chord. With this system, Burr can represent any song.
At this point, Burr has made prints from almost a hundred songs and samples of different genres, from the colorful pop, jazz and rock she started with to the black-and-white rhythms of the rap she has recently added to her portfolio.
Although the songs are visually appealing and easier to look at for those unfamiliar with music theory, the creation process doesn’t always glide from Burr’s fingers. “I have to look at what’s happening audibly, not visually,” she says. “Sometimes it’s not just one note in the sheet music [that causes the roadblock]. That’s why this can’t be automated. You’re spending time with it. It’s generative art in the sense you’re relying on the system to create it, but I’m monitoring with my interpretation of the song.”
Attention to detail doesn’t stop at the music. Even the sizes of each print connect design and music: an abridged version of a song is square, resembling a single or CD, while larger prints of longer pieces resemble vinyl records.
As for what’s next, Burr says she plans to apply for the Little Craft Show and is considering a craft show based in Austin, Texas as well. It’s possible her library of prints could turn into a coffee table book, complete with writing on music theory.
“A woman said to me, ‘My daughter is dyslexic. She can’t read music.’ Since then I’ve been thinking about what to do with [my work],” she says. “I think I can develop a whole system [. . .]… to help a basic understanding [of music].”
Prints are available for purchase on Soundscape Studio’s website, with smaller prints starting at $45, and larger ones at $60. A custom commission ranges from $150 to $180. Follow along on the Soundscape journey on Instagram @soundscape_art.