Courtesy Francis Ramel.

Name: Carolinéale
Designer: Francis Ramel
Foundry: Pending
Release Date: Unscheduled

Back Story: Starting in the eighth century, neumes (early musical notations) ended the secular tradition of learning melodies based on word-of-mouth, and evolved over the centuries to become our modern system of musical notation. Carolinéale is the result of a research project at the National Institute for Typographical Research (ANRT) in Nancy, France. It’s based on two landmark manuscripts of early notation systems (Messine writing and the writing of St. Gall) and is also sustained by the community of the Gregorio Project, an open-source software whose objective is to enable publications using Carolingian notation systems.

Why’s it called Carolinéale? At the end of Ramel’s final ANRT presentation in 2015, distinguished Dutch graphic- and type designer Gerard Unger (who was serving as jury president) handed him some notes jotted down during the presentation. “Mr. Unger told me, smiling, ‘As it is a Linéale, as well as a Carolingian minuscule, you should call it Carolinéale!’ I still keep this little piece of paper next to my desk!” says Ramel.

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Think back through the history of typography: the Carolingean miniscule was an effort launched by the emperor Charlemagne to unify the different styles of handwritten scripts used among the literate classes of Europe, with an eye towards cultural standardization across his vast empire. Carolinéale maintains the stability and legibility of the Carolingian minuscule letterform while retaining a contemporary feel, and its musical signs lean towards an informal drawing style reminiscent of handwriting. Ramel plans to add the Messine writing to the family, along with an appropriate italic, plus a few extra weights.

What should I use it for? The first stage of Carolinéale was meant for one specific purpose: providing a smart, readable typographical tool for people studying or practicing Gregorian chant. “I believe Carolinéale’s shapes are contemporary and refreshing enough to be used in contexts unrelated to the Middle Ages, although that would certainly be an obvious choice to go with at first,” says Ramel.

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? “My first goal was to allow the composition of a document with one consistent typeface handling all of the content from the musical melody to the Gregorian text,” Ramel says. “For a good fit, I would look first at some of the lovely typefaces produced over the last few years by my ANRT friends and colleagues. We learned from the same teachers, we are from the same generation, we are going to the same conferences, and we are living in the same everyday environment. I like to think that those kinds of details are subtly emerging through the way we design typefaces.”