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Experiment: Slicing words & burning music

The idea of slicing up the letters came to me as a way of pseudo-digitising the text and adding a new layer of meaning. I have never wanted the letters to be readable, maybe individual words, icons and images, but never complete sentences. Reading the original text has seemed too literal, too personal and lacking any sense of meaningful interpretation.

The first stage was to shred a print of a letter on beige paper vertically into 1cm strips so some words could be discerned but no detail. The paper appears to have been shredded but then retrieved and reassembled. The the reassembly is disjointed, out of order and all meaning has been lost. I like how new words have been generated by the random regrouping but I felt this idea could be pushed further.

I then tried to offset the strips to see if a shape could be constructed that added an overarching meaning to the idea. As soon as I offset the strips the idea of a graphic equaliser came to mind, with inaudible sounds silently screaming out of the paper at different pitches. I then created variants of a heart shape, which were adding a human emotive quality but I still felt that the idea could be pushed further.

I then considered the potential of interrupting the reassembled words with another stream of data. The emotive quality of music came to mind and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons had personal relevance, Nigel Kennedy’s interpretation in particular.

So I printed the sheet music on a grey paper and interspersed it with the strips of letter, as we can see below. I immediately questioned whether the music had become words or the words had become music. Personally I think the music is dominant as the vertical strips equate to equally spaced bars of music. I like how the words seem to merge with the notes and we can imagine the words being sung to us. But it this a ballad or a heavy rock tune? Whatever the impression, the integration of music has a real resonance as it seems to soften the words as nothing else could.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

Bob Marley

Below the regular alignment of strips I experimented with offsetting them to see if more value would be added. On reflection I don’t think offsetting adds any meaning and actually deflects from the simplicity of the arrangement. There is enough to see and interpret without extra confusing shapes to interpret.

What I did consider was whether another ‘layer’ was feasible above what I had already created. Destruction of the constructed ballad was irresistible so I glued the pieces onto canvas and set them on fire. I lit two ends of the canvas to give the impression of two warring parties. I captured a video and photographs of the process.

I have to admit that this experience was quite emotive. How the strands of paper twist in agony is quite poetic, as if every last drop of meaning is being wrung out of the words and music before they turn into ash. A relationship is being extinguished.

Aesthetically the residue of the burning blends well with the colours of paper as if they are one, spontaneous combustion maybe, generated by the power of the word and music. Or maybe I go too far.

As a comparison, I added Vivaldi’s Winter from the Four Seasons to the video below. How do I feel about this? On reflection I think this pushes the experience more towards the music than the words. I find myself thinking less about the words being destroyed and more about the escalating tension of the violins. Personally, I think music spoon feeds the viewer with too much context when less would give them a higher level of enquiry.

Finally, I experimented with pushing my face through the burnt holes from behind the canvas (obviously the flames had subsided). By chance, two holes had been burnt for eyes and a single hole for a mouth. There is no humour here as the later photographs below look quite surreal and terrifying.

I can’t help feeling that this represents a rising from the ashes. Maybe a face on one side of the canvas indicates some sort of victory (emotional or otherwise) over the other side. Or a gasp for air amid heated confusion. Overall I felt I’d pushed this experiment to a successful end point.

Next steps

Multi-layering has really worked in this experiment. Extrapolating from the original data source multiple times adds significant quality to the outcome. The integration of music, with all its emotive qualities, has interrupted the original data and rendered it as only a starting point. Music has added an audible poetry and fire has added physical emotion.

The words being almost (or even totally) invisible seems to be the way forwards but further experiments on different interpretations of the letters will be useful to see if I can create even more of an impact.

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