Sound design for the contemporary novel
: applying the poetics of John Cage to the act of reading

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis investigates the relationship between sound and written text. The subject is explored through practice, theory, and reflection. These research areas are preceded by an introduction to the phenomenon of the ‘book with a soundtrack’ as it has been set up within the field of literature – including an overview of pertinent discussions on the future of the novel in the digital age. The research practice is a physical/digital hybrid work entitled 64’53”; or, World of Storms that uses open source technology to assemble and combine a collection of writings and field recordings, making available the possibility for a chance poetics between sound and words to be discovered by the reader. The work follows a methodology of an experiment that has been developed from the interdisciplinary and collaborative work of John Cage and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company during their activities of counter-cultural artistic experimentation in 1950s, 60s, and 70s America. The thesis demonstrates that the adopted methodology represents new opportunities for the contemporary creative writer. Chapter One draws upon theory from Multimodal Social Semiotics, Frame Analysis, Reader-Response Theory, and Attentional Phenomenology in order to validate and extend Cage’s claim that ‘there is no such thing as silence’ during the act of reading. The thesis proceeds to define ambient sound as a present and dynamic aspect of any reading event, and one that can perform in dialogue with the graphical text at the point of reader response. Chapter Two reflects upon the formal presentation of the work, the inclusion of field recordings as part of the novel, and the spatial arrangement of the writings, which are discussed in relation to works by John Cage, Marc Saporta, Robert Grenier, and others. The conclusion drawn from the research emphasises the use of field recording as a contemporary writerly technique within creative writing practices, the act of reading as one process within the wider dynamic of attention, and the new perceptual models between graphical text and its ambient or environmental soundtrack that can be discovered through instances of frame awareness.
    Date of Award30 Apr 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SponsorsTECHNE AHRC Doctoral Training Programme
    SupervisorPeter Jaeger (Supervisor) & Graham White (Supervisor)


    • John Cage
    • Experimental writing
    • Sound
    • Field recording
    • Poetics

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