In a very, very far away … there lived a little …

Joan: I’ve just gotten the newest ‘book’ by Anne Carson, appropriately called Float. Actually it’s a collection of 23 chapbooks whose order is unfixed. The back ‘cover’ of this acetate container suggests ‘reading can be free-fall.’

Similarly, in my sound installation, Plausible Narration, and I think you’re getting to this with the text-based examples you mention, I set out to shuffle the sonorous material so that listeners might hear Page 4 after Page 1 and so on. But it wouldn’t necessarily matter.

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

I’m wondering if with these kinds of aleatory experiences of consuming material, are we testing the reader or, in my case, the listener?

Seth: I think that anyone interested in Art, (and in fiction, theory, philosophy etc) is to varying degrees interested in being challenged, tested if you will. And that artists themselves in asking questions seek to challenge themselves and others. Using chance, disrupting linearity and drawing attention to the somewhat arbitrary nature of choice asks questions of us, it seems to me as both readers and listeners, as to how and why we read and listen to what we do. What is it that makes us select that book instead of this, enjoy one and loathe another, listen and enjoy one thing which may repel someone else? One might equally extend this question to ask why is it that artists are exploring sound in text? why does this either confound some yet resonate so strongly in others? How might we discuss this experience? How else might we read, immerse and decipher texts that describe sounds? What other challenges might there be?

Joan: These are useful questions and they remind me of something I’ve recently learned about. Ottoman calligraphers apparently considered text as needing deciphering, as proving a reader’s worthiness. Their artistry consisted of mazes of embellishments. Is there a particular sound that feels like the equivalent of such visual or textual (or textural) experience that you’ve discovered in all the editing and organizing?

Seth: What you said about the Ottoman calligraphers reminded me of something that Sarah Maitland mentions in her Book of Silence, about how prior to the 4th century everyone who read, read aloud.


[And the script they read in the West was written without word breaks – in a single stream of phonemes, or letters, perfectly replicating speech. It is called script continua. It had no punctuation.]


This to some extent requires a degree of deciphering too. However, I don’t wish to exclude any readers with what I’ve done, quite the opposite in fact. One of the most important things I learnt from making OS is that readers like reading small fragments from a particular author; that it gives them a sample of what that author or novel is like, particularly those texts which are a little more unusual. It’s proved immensely popular for this reason, and it was something I was keen to replicate in The LiteraryMix.

To the question of deciphering though, it certainly requires a degree of patience, as it does need to be read and engaged with to make sense. I know that in being absent of audible sound, or any kind of dynamic media The LiteraryMix might be thought of boring but it’s precisely this absence which I think reinforces many of its ideas and through a degree of ambiguity this puts the emphasis on the reader finding their own way and creating their own interpretation.

Joan: Right, like the labyrinth again. I’m curious if there was ever a thought of making this a physical book rather than this hypertext online?

Seth: I was very conscious of having taken excerpts from physical books, then editing and juxtaposing these excerpts, altering the original fonts and layout to some degree, and then publishing online was all part of a process of change and transformation away from what the texts once were toward what they could be. I’m keen to stress that I don’t claim to have written these texts, and that had I made a physical book, it would to some extent suggest that I’m taking ownership of them. My intention is really to encourage others to participate and play with these texts, and ask questions of themselves about sound in text and the role that technology plays in how we listen.

For example, I might own a physical LP of sound, but if I play it aloud, broadcast it, is the sound still mine when it’s now there for anyone to hear record transform? And then if I mix it with something else, what then? And if then someone else were to write about it, describe in detail what they heard and listened to, who’s is it, what is it now? Is it still the same? And could this be seen as a collaborative process? Making things with the knowledge that someone else will transform it somehow?

I guess it’s an alternative way of addressing questions of authorship, but I’m more interested in what is made rather than who makes it. Collaboration and participation continue to be very important to my work and these questions that The LiteraryMix raises reflects that I think.

Please understand that I’m not dead against the idea of a physical multiple, nor showing the work in some way in art galleries, but I think there would have to be an additional reason or set of reasons for choosing to transform the work in that way. Of the feedback I’ve received no one has yet suggested a physical entity (save for you), and most appear to like the ease of accessing and navigating the work via their mobile, tablet or desktop, that I’ve not had comments of what it could be instead. Actually, very little feedback about any of my work do people suggest it being something else? Do they with your work?

And she was so …

[… follow the trail of conversation between Seth Guy & Joan Schuman]