Adrien Contesse, Ésad, Amiens, France


Vocal Grammatics:
A digital design project that has produced a comprehensive writing system for beatbox along with a functioning app that enables the techniques and sounds of beatbox to be written, learned, shared, and created. This project is founded on a convergence of research in language, typography, phonetics, music, and digital design. The team consists of a collaboration of professional type designers, linguistic researchers, sound engineers, musicians, professional beatboxers, digital designers, and computer programmers.

Beatbox has roots in the late 1970s Hip Hop culture. In the beginning beatboxmainly copied instrumental sounds. Over time, beatbox evolved into a singular art using a wide and rich spectrum of sounds. The sounds produced in beatboxing rely on the skillful coordination of the vocal chords, breathing, and various combinations of mouthparts that cannot be seen when watching a beatboxer.

The method for understanding and writing out these sounds, which has been developed by Vocal Grammatics, is based on a phonetic approach that analyzes the production of sounds with two basic parameters : the place where it is located in the mouth, and the way the air is moved to make the sound. In the Vocal Grammatics system, this basic information is represented by two different types of glyphs. When combined together, the glyphs create a compound sign. This award winning project has established a definitive glyphic system, which is able to write out all the thousands of sounds made by beatboxers using less than 30 glyphs.

The Vocal Grammatics beatbox project opens the conversation about how design and type design offer new solutions to many language issues. Perhaps more importantly, the principles behind this system can be carried over into linguistic research and used to help researchers work with many different aspects of sound production, including research involved with speech disorders.


Adrien Contesse is the founder of “Vocal Grammatics,” and is a French award-winning designer that specializes in graphic design and type design. He graduated from Ésad Amiens, France, where Vocal Grammatics was began as his master’s project. Since then his work has been published in several art and design magazines.

Besides his work for corporate clients and cultural and institutions, Adrien Contesse is involved in several language/type research projects. He is part of the “Gestual Script” team and works on “Typannot”, a glyphic system that transcribes sign languages.