And then she tried …

Joan: So we’re back where we started with the generative engine. Do you know Daniela Cascella’s book, F.M.R.L.: Footnotes, Mirages, Refrains and Leftovers of Writing Sound?

Seth: I’m very familiar with Cascella’s book and have heard her perform readings of her work a number of times.

Joan: Her re-mixing invitations reminded me of The LiteraryMix. When I spoke with Cascella for Earlid, she suggested her text is a proposition: a way of thinking and writing through listening and reading. I see her notions reflecting the writer becoming a channel with the book as transmission. She begs us to listen, to caress the texture of the page, to arrive at something new. And I find you’re doing similar things in different ways, but you both invite the reader to step in and try something quite different.

Seth: I can certainly relate to her proposition (in some respects) and invitations to remix her work, and too her notions of the writer becoming a channel. In the course of developing my project, I also came across another artist Mark Amerika (his hypertext GRAMMATRON) who also did a project called Remix The Book, which poses similar questions and asked for participation.

I think most people working with sound at some stage or another will inevitably work with somebody else’s material, be that mastering, sampling, or remixing. The obvious difference is that Cascella and Amerika are on the whole writing original prose, whereas I’ve appropriated my texts so that my work is already a remix (I confirm this in its title after all), not that it any way means it can’t be transformed further but I think it makes its invitation through a gestured example, less explicitly, and hopefully more openly rather than a proposition, which I find to be more coercive somehow.

Joan – I’m reminded of an interactive sound work by Timo Kahlen that lived online, inviting the viewer-listener to hover over letters that spell out, via sound only, the experience of migration. Its very title jumbled those letters (Rflcteing Migrtaion), but the sounds were visceral at certain points when you rolled over them, like a grinding, crushing pummeling. Words spelled out the experience; but sounds, perhaps of glass shattering and the static of old radio channels being changed abruptly told this story depending on where you moved your cursor. The work is now obsolete in the ghost-artistry of Flash technology. But one can still imagine its essence from my description.

I was similarly going for open-endedness with Plausible Narration, by not imposing an order of the audible ‘pages’; letting a machine shuffle the order seemed the easiest way back in the late 1990s when I created the project for a gallery space. In fact, I think if I had made that big steel-paged book, the order would have been too fixed, maybe coercive like you’re saying. Instead, I incorporated borrowed text from two authors, specifically the poet/novelist-theorist, Nicole Brossard, and the theorist Gilles Deleuze—from texts they each produced in the early 1970s (A Book by Brossard and Negotiations by Deleuze).

Four of 12 pages of Plausible Narration, Joan Schuman, 1999.

My intent at hybridizing (or maybe cross-pollinating) their words was, in effect, an attempt at de-familiarizing language and sound. Hypertexts were prevalent online in the late 1990s and so I was trying to bring that randomness, that ‘gesture’ you mention, into a real space of ‘reading’ and listening. The work reflects the saturation of narratives, which shape and control us, whether online or in real time. Back then, I didn’t call it a re-mix. Instead, I gave it a new moniker—a meta-hypertextual sound piece—because of the lack of control of the text’s unfolding (no interactive links to choose an autonomous path of reading).

By taking Brossard’s and Deleuze’s words and adding other sonorous elements, today I’d call it a generative engine since when played, I have ceded over control to the machine’s shuffle mode and thus how a listener takes in the sounds and the words. And yet, like you, I have provided (by the well-engaged act of appropriation) all the text that anyone will hear in the piece, no matter which ‘sound page’ they launch or end with.

So, I knew that I didn’t want a physical book in the gallery, though I considered it. In the end, I had to conceive of the better way for listeners to grapple with the material.

And she lived happily ever after.

[… the end of the conversation between Seth Guy & Joan Schuman