sound of tension

at heart i'm a musician (though often referred to as a sound artist, it's a fine line), and most of my projects stem from a sound or listening related

at heart i'm a musician (though often referred to as a sound artist, it's a fine line), and most of my projects stem from a sound or listening related issue, and when they don't I use music/sound as the primary form of communication. Yet here I am working on a book project, a silent one, and there's tension here . . .

in one of our early development sessions I made a fervent commitment to working with just text as the core medium of this project, more than anything just to give us some creative constrictions, with the future of the book you could go anywhere (as aptly demonstrated by many of the other brilliant projects in this sandbox) but I wanted a restriction to work with.

("The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution." - Igor Stravinsky) 

but now i'm wondering if i was right to be restrict ourselves in this way and steer away from my (possible) strength

Talking about this project with Ant Hampton recently he questioned why there weren't a plethora of books+audio, we've had the technology and there have been successful and unsuccessful attempts to do it for quite a while.
(some more recent attempts also appeared, Tom will happily lambast them for you if you ask him)
I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it's something to do with the sound world that text can create, many writers beautifully conjure worlds that we can immerse ourselves in, and we hear the sounds in our head, but for me it's the impossible sound worlds that really intrigue me.
As an avid reader of music press in the 80s and 90s I always loved the 'sonic cathedrals' school of music journalism, so often I bought albums based on the promise of what the text conjured in my mind, and so often I was let down. Then there is music in fiction, for years I've been trying to make the music described in 'sing the body electric' by Adam Lively (yes, not the Bradbury one) , and few capture impossible music better than Jeff Noon in Needle in the Groove. (the audio CD version of 'needle in the groove' was one of my biggest disappointments .. sorry David and Jeff, a worthy experiment indeed, but how could a real music recording ever compete with the liquid remixes Noon conjured in the text )

so where does this leave 'these pages fall like ash'

well, we're already constantly worried about 'breaking' our fiction. We're placing fictional texts in real world environments, the reader is not encased in the 'bubble' they might be when curled up on the sofa with a book. In all our writing experiments we've had to ask ourselves, can our mind be simultaneously in the the world of the words in front of you and the world that's going on around you?

in the printed text of the project we've already conjured some sound worlds, and i would never attempt to make an actual recording that represents these, I think it would kill them.
Emilie and I have already discussed how we might use 'listening' instructions embedded in the fictional texts we're distributing about the city, but now i'm wondering about leaving 'actual' sounds on the dead drop hard drives. What could these be without breaking the world we're creating.
- a recorded voice instantly becomes associated with a character, and runs the same risk as when a book is turned into a film, that voice is not the one you imagined when you read it.
- a piece of music sets a tone and potentially soundtracks the world, but is it digetic or not? we've built our form and content in parallel so far, where would a soundtrack fit into this
- a fictional sound environment? like a voice, what if it's not how our fictional world sounded in your head?

the dilemma for me remains, words can conjure sounds we can never actually hear, and sound can create feelings we would struggle to put into words. These are both magical abilities, but combining them successfully might requires a whole new trick .

I recently read some of Tarkovsky's writings about 'electronic' music (taking into account it was written in the eighties). He talked about how using traditional instrumentation in a film soundtrack immediately separates itself from the image, and becomes a secondary conceptual layer in what you're watching, whereas he espouses how electronic instrumentation can be more discreet, it doesn't have the same mental associations with 'music' and 'musicians', it has the ability to sit between 'sound' and 'music', merging with and being absorbed by the sound world in the film.

"Instrumental music is artistically so autonomous that it is far harder for it to dissolve into the film to the point where it becomes an organic part of it. Therefore its use will always involve some measure of compromise, because it is always illustrative. Furthermore, electronic music has exactly that capacity for being absorbed into the sound. It can be hidden behind other noises and remain indistinct. (p. 162-163, Tarkovsky, A. (1989). Sculpting in Time.) 

 

so how could we create sound that is absorbed by the words on our pages and screens?

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