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Deep Cuts / Hidden Tracks names a year-long investigation, within a series of public seminars and graduate design studios, into expanded forms and counter-strategies for contemporary design practice, which takes its cue from genres and formats of recorded pop music.

In rock and pop music, deep cuts refer to those tracks on an album which don’t fit the constraints for a commercial single. A deep cut doesn’t enter mainstream radio rotation, but is rather an “album-oriented” form in there is greater latitude for experiment and duration.

From Sergeant Pepper’s “Inner Groove” to Nevermind’s “Endless Nameless”, a hidden track is a song which doesn’t appear in the record’s liner notes or track listing, but is hidden somewhere inside the record. There are many techniques for hiding a track, from back-masking it to placing it inside the pregap or after silence at the end of the recording. Artists hide tracks to evade censorship but also develop the technique as an aesthetic exploration of digital and analog recording formats.

In making this reference, our interest is to expand the set of models for a critical design practice. What is the range of possible meanings for these twin forms in contemporary design practice? How can designers hide messages within the form in which they produce things in the world? What are possible contexts for a designer’s deep cut—for something which doesn’t fit the compressed shapes of a commission-based practice? What are strategies for autonomy within a highly constrained practice?

In part, this investigation is an exercise in analogical thinking across separate media and spheres of practice. It also sometimes looks backward, as a media-archaeology of vinyl and compact disc recordings. Are these “untimely” reflections in the sense that they reject the encoded formats of the present?

This project is initiated by the School of Design, University of Illinois at Chicago.