A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

The {Silence} Project: Some Adventures in Remediation

Steel Wagstaff, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Enculturation: http://enculturation.net/essays-into-silence-noise-and-john-cage
(Published: September 27, 2012)

I present here the results of "The {Silence} Project," a multi-part creative research project that engages with ideas of chance, silence, and noise through the work of John Cage, the American avant-garde composer. The project began with an experimental prose essay that borrowed the formal structure of Cage's famous 'silent' composition 4’33” to examine the importance of silence and noise in Cage’s thought and speculate about the poetic implications of Cage’s use of constraints and chance operations in his composition practice. As part of a graduate seminar taught by Jon McKenzie, over the next four months I submitted this essay to two substantial remediations which drastically altered the form, content, and argumentative thrust of the original essay. I converted the prose piece first into “{Sile / nce},” a graphic essay produced with Adobe InDesign that attempted to imitate the look and feel of a large, visually rich, and typographically varied glossy magazine. Next, I remediated the piece a further time, creating “The Silence Film: Essays into Noise, Silence, and John Cage,” a short film loosely structured around the conventions of Pecha Kucha, a fixed-duration presentation format that features twenty images shown for 20 seconds each.

In each case, the project underwent significant revisions, changing shape and adopting radically different content in order to explore the properties of the media in which it was composed and the software tools I was just beginning to use (primarily Adobe InDesign, Audacity, and iMovie). In each specific case of remediation, the structural properties and representative capabilities of the selected forms and formats offered both interesting opportunities and significant challenges, especially when it came to depicting the implications of Cage’s subversion of common conceptions of silence and noise. I found, for example, that certain strategies and arguments that had seemed important in the prose essay felt superfluous when I began to add a strong visual track to the essay, and furthermore that the increased emphasis on visuality altered my sense of the kind of work that my prose needed to perform. During production of the film version of the essay with multi-track audio, I became even more attuned to the demonstrative and argumentative capabilities of specific formal elements, especially in relation to my essay's concerns with the ideas of silence and noise. In the components of "The {Silence} Project" featured here, you can clearly see both an array of media strategies employed in the service of specific conceptual aims as well as the ways that my increasing familiarization with the expressive capabilities of these formats contributed to a steady refinement and sharpening of what had been (in the initial prose essay) fairly dense and occasionally opaque ideas.

{Sile / nce}, a Graphic Essay


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