Thaw e-book available from ECA Library

The book is still an object that people like to have in their hands,… people are paying him a lot of money to use old bindings and put them on their e-readers and make it like something that’s an object, like a book, make it feel like an old Victorian bound edition, there’s a lot of money in that.

                                                       (Excerpt from Pod Specialised Bindings, Thaw)

Thaw is now available, as an e-book, from the library at the ECA (Edinburgh College of Art)

Thaw is an electronic literature project. Most e-lit is either published online or as a download for access through an e-reader (a Kindle or such-like). The comment above got me thinking about presenting Thaw as a physical object, as a remediated book form. As such, this work should establish some sort of connection with the traditional book form. So Thaw is an e-book with a difference: a cloth covered paper-bound text. The electronic text is held in a USB, the casing of which is made from recycled paper – they have to do something with all those old pot-boilers! The cover design is by Jules Smith (no relation).

This e-book is one of a limited edition of 50 copies, issued to coincide with the sound installations. All of the Thaw sound pieces are on this USB. 30 copies, all individually numbered, will soon be for sale to the public.

Further information will be posted here. Meanwhile, if you are interested in buying a copy of Thaw, you can contact me at:


Note: The Thaw contents page will operate on Windows 7 and onwards. With Macs and earlier versions of Windows, the sound-pieces can be accessed through the sound file.



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Main Point Books: Notes on the Sound-Pieces

Sound-Pieces: It’s A Small Bookshop, Morphic Resonance 1, Serendipity, Book Collector, Morphic Resonance 2, BrowsersBook Collector 2 , Morphic Resonance 3, Just So Everyday and  I Sat In Corners.

These pieces feature Jennie Renton of Main Point Books. One of them – It’s A Small Bookshop – also includes fragments of a German student who worked as an intern for a short period. The rest are simply of Jennie herself. As a result there is a coherence of voice, a continuity running throughout these pieces. Most of them are narrative lines; these can be divided into those dealing with the shop, and those concerning Scottish Book Collector – the literary magazine that she ran until she founded the online Textualities magazine.

In addition there are 3 short “Morphic Resonances” and I Sat in Corners – a short minimalist-like portrait.

It’s A Small Bookshop is simply two intercut narrative lines. Serendipity is about the bookshop’s “ungovernable stock” and its geographical laterality. Browsers looks at customers and the bookshop’s “ecology of ideas”. Just So Everyday comments on the individuality and the mindset of second-hand booksellers.

The first of the “Book Collector” pieces charts the history of the magazine. The second looks at its content, alongside some reflections on bookshops. The isolated fragment at the end (“Well, people tend not to interview booksellers…”) was  inserted as an oblique reference to the interviewing process in Thaw.

The “Morphic Resonance” pieces (no longer than 15 seconds in length) are compressions of Serendipity, Browsers and Just So Everyday. Each track was divided into smaller tracks, which were then overdubbed. The title comes from Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance, mentioned in Browsers: Sheldrake argues that there is a feedback mechanism between field and units, and that new forms will gravitate towards other forms with which they share a family resemblance. These pieces were a reference to the cluttered feel in the shop (it felt as if, if new floorspace were suddenly to appear it would have been immediately filled). Shortly after I completed the editing of the sound pieces, Main Point Books relocated to more spacious premises nearby. I like to think that these pieces function as a record of the old shop… 

Finally: I Sat in Corners. During the field work/observation period in the bookshops, I noticed that Jennie’s business partner was playing some Steve Reich (Music for 18 Musicians, if I remember correctly). I remembered this when I was working with the “my nose was always in a book” fragment, so I decided to have a go with some Reichian style shifting/ phasing – as in his “Come Out” (1966).

I basically set up an eight-track system. The first track had one comment split into two fragments, i.e. “I sat in corners reading books, I was always told / my nose was always in a book”. These two fragments were then repeated, but with a longer time interval between them. This track was then replicated and the time intervals increased. A third fragment was added (once again the same text, once again with a longer time interval). This second track of six fragments formed the body of the following six tracks which differed from one-another only in duration: each interval increasing as they went along the line and up in number: therefore the shortest was track 1 and the longest was track 8).

These eight tracks were then converted into four stereo tracks, which were converted into two stereo tracks (with a notable deterioration in sound quality as they were combined). As a result, the emphasis is on the repetition of “I sat in corners” at the beginning, and “my nose was always in a book” at the end. 

Fade-out was applied to the final stereo track before the full text fragment was added to the start of the track (split over both channels). At the end of the piece, a shortened version of the first fragment (i.e. I sat in corners reading books) was added to the right-hand channel.

I tried to compensate for the deterioration in sound quality by amplifying it until I got something that I was happy with (although this resulted in a bit more hiss than I would have liked).

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Edinburgh Books: Notes on the Sound-Pieces

Sound -piecs: A Collector Not,  Bert in the Background,  Not Commonplaces, The Harvesting,  The Transactional,   Thrill ,  Vinyl, A Good Way With Words,   A Siren Librarian,  Pod, Pod Specialised Bindings and  The Artist as Ethnographer 2 

Most of the works in Edinburgh Books are narratives tracks, either single voiced (e.g. Not Commonplaces) or multi-voiced (Bert in the Background). Here, there was considerable space for manoeuvre, as a single voiced track could combine two narrative lines (e.g. vinyl), or a narrative line could be built up from different sources and then played off another line (e.g. The Harvesting).

Other sound-pieces focus on small fragments of sound, be it non-worded verbalisations (A Siren Librarian) or ambient sounds (Pod). These pieces appear more treated than the narrative texts (i.e. the form of the treatment is more apparent). However,  a sound piece like A Good Way With Words demonstrates that a straightforward narrative line can be subjected to as much manipulation as non-narrative lines.

The sound–pieces from Edinburgh Books differ from the others in that one of the main participants is not a bookseller as such, but someone who has had a close association with the shop and its predecessor (West Port Books) from its beginnings.

 Single and Multi-vocal Narrative Lines:

Not Commonplaces  and The Transactional are single voice narrations, and the first contributions from the shop’s “unofficial helper”: the former is concerned with the “intimidating environment” of second hand bookshops, the latter focuses on the transactional experience of the customer. In Vinyl, the owner of the shop discusses collecting in general, and the large collection of LP records (“not for sale”) on the premises. In Pod Specialised Bindings we get a glimpse of a sort of “Frankensteinism” in the re-use of body parts (see also Thrill)      

A Collector Not is a multi-voiced piece; one bookseller talks about collecting books, the other about not collecting books. This piece intercuts the two lines and, at moments, bleeds one into the other. This technique is also used in Thrill, a soundwork which offers some insights into book collecting. The Harvesting is a poly vocal rumination on the value of books. 

Bert Barrett, a “larger than life character”, is one of the previous owners of West Port Books. In Bert in the Background the current owner of Edinburgh Books gives his own account of starting up, whilst the unofficial helper offers his reminiscences. 

Treated Texts:

On listening to The Artist as Ethnographer 2, I find that it sounds less hesitant, less awkward than the first version (maybe I was feeling easier about doing the interviews). As well as the stumbles and stutters, I included “space filler” words and phrases (e.g. “sort of”) for these are the “worded” relations of the non worded vocalisation.

With A Siren librarian I looped a small nwv fragment. I then did another loop with a fragment of the fragment and then brought this in alongside the first (after a delay of 8 seconds or so). This really should have been the easiest track to make, but getting the timing right took a very long time indeed.

Pod is my abbreviation for Print On Demand. Whilst I was going over the recordings I was cutting and pasting as I went along, often dropping fragments of fragments on top of one-another. I was going to use this one anyway (see Pod Specialised Bindings), but here I picked up on the doubled-up fragment: the repetition, of the sound of the bus outside, brought to mind the sound of a photocopying machine. Thereafter, it was just a case of getting the rhythm right.

A Good Way With Words consists of a simple narrative line, but I’ve decided to keep it for last. Given the subject matter of “Sex magic in the Renaissance period”, it seemed obvious to reference the use of backward tapes on albums and the demonic associations this subsequently accrued. The main body of the piece is the same text – from “also there are some really nice passages” to “what that means, really” – presented as normal and backwords texts. The main section is a pure palindrome – it sounds the same when reversed. The other fragments provide a contextual frame [as it were, a prelude and coda].

 A Good Way With Words was one of the first soundpieces to be completed (the other being Whatever Way That You Want [ from Blackwell’s]). These were made very early on, a couple of months before I started to put the other tracks together. Both demonstrate that the two broad approaches, of “narrative lines” and “distortions/treated texts”, have been there from the start. If anything, they show that these “approaches” separated out as the project developed.

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Thaw – Some Changes: Edinburgh Books and Main Point Books

Friday 8th and Saturday 9th of June ought to have seen the third and forth parts of Thaw, but things did not go as planned. I was unable to install the sound projections and, for the moment, I’ve had to abandon this part of the project. However, the browser versions are now in place at Edinburgh Books and Main Point Books in the West Port area. This means that all the sound-pieces are in situ, and will remain so for the next week (the other sites being the Old Town Bookshop and Blackwell’s, South Bridge). Once again, for those using the browser version, you will need a smart phone and a QR reader. If you use headphones, you will get the most out these sound-works. The QR codes are distributed throughout the shops.

My next posts will provide notes on the Edinburgh Books and Main Point sound-pieces. I will also offer some thoughts on how the project has progressed, and I hope to announce some further developments. As for now, I have some equipment to return…

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On Editing A Sound Piece


WHEN YOU FIRST START EDITING    When you first start editing you think it is going to be straightforward, you don’t think that you are going to be faced with something that resembles early writingwh enyoufirststarteditingyouthinkitisgoingtobe straight for war dwri ting whenyoufir or waritin when yfir ststststarted it in outthink itisgontbe where people run words into each other and sentences are paused where there shouldn’t be a pause and words are plus or minus a letter or two. And this is something that you already know and so does everyone else because we listen to it all the time and it’s not as if people haven’t written it down on the page for us on many an occasion. Youth in kit is going to best ra ight for wardwitht allhewor dings fall wher ethey are posed supto bebecause you want it to be straightforward with all the words falling where they are supposed to be because it would make your life easier if they did just that …     AND THAT’S BEFORE WE GET STARTED ON THE UNWORDED VERBALISATION. 

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Notes on the Sound-Pieces in the Old Town Bookshop

The sound-pieces exhibited: A Destination for the Tourists, A Few Gems, Cardboard Tube, From the Cutting Room Floor, Make Sure That Doesn’t Land On Your Head, Obscure Requests and Victoria Terrace

These are amongst the shortest of the Thaw sound-pieces (From the Cutting Room Floor is under 20 seconds, whilst Victoria Terrace is just over that number). They are also, perhaps, the most “different” sounding: there are narrative tracks (A Few Gems and Obscure Requests), but concrete pieces are predominant. This is in part due to the interviews being conducted in the shop during opening hours, complete with the sounds of the customers and other ambient noise. The different feel that resulted from this shop-floor situation led me to play about with sounds a bit more (e.g. Make Sure That Doesn’t Land On Your Head)

From the Cutting Room Floor was included to acknowledge the presence of the observer/interviewer. With the exception of some selected sound amplification, the piece is presented “as it happened”. The title is analogous [referring to a pre-digital predecessor] and metaphorical [referring to the non act of removal: “Ah that’s what editing suites are for.”]

Cardboard Tube and Make Sure That Doesn’t Land On Your Head are different interpretations of the same incident. The sound of the falling objects which is “re-arranged” in the former, is further deconstructed in the latter: the two tracks of the stereo sound fragment being separated, cut-up and slowed down (with the exception of a small fragment which is speeded up) and once again re-arranged.

A Destination for the Tourists is a simple narrative/concrete mix. Like The Artist as Ethnographer it features the American tourists, who pretty much steal the show.


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The Artist as Ethnographer

the artist as ethnographer

My first attempt at doing an “erms, uhms and ahs” piece (actually, the first was really A Siren Librarian [Edinburgh Books]– but this was the first time I was making a point of using “unworded verbalisations”). The idea had occurred to me as I was listening to the interviews, and I considered trying out a piece or two. However, I decided against it as it might be seen as abusive of the trust given (besides, when it comes to unworded verbalisations I have no right to talk, so I couldn’t really justify doing that to others). It then occurred to me that, having felt uneasy about my exclusion from – or rather unacknowledged presence in – the texts, this gave me the opportunity to address the situation: I could make explicit my presence, and one of the roles assumed (editor), by constructing a piece from elements normally discarded in the editing process.

The inclusion of “I was walking around as I have been doing” seemed an appropriate means of anchoring that presence to a continuing process (the interview as part of ethnographic observation).

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Whatever Way That You Want

In this piece there are five framing fragments: the piece opens with “that you want/ in whatever way / use it” and closes with “use it / in whatever way / that you want” (the latter being the order that it was spoken in the interview). The other three are the individual component fragments, and they follow the order laid out in the opening fragment. These smaller fragments mark the end of the first three sections.

There are four large sections. The sequence of the final section follows the order of the source material. The other three sections are broken up into smaller sections and played out of sequence. The first section appears to be most chaotic and as the piece proceeds the fragments eventually fall into their original order.

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Faster Faster

The text on this track is as follows: “[it’s not like (named supermarket chain)… it’s not] push, push, push, get, get out, come on, faster, faster, faster, more, more, more.” I had slowed down the track to a very slow speed and repeated it a few times. I also removed the spaces between each word. Originally, I was going to use the track as a background for some text, but I decided against it. Out of curiosity I reversed the process because I wanted to hear what the track sounded like at normal speed. Having started I just continued, taking it faster and faster.

I then split the stereo track and started to realign it, used fades and added some wah wah. I produced three versions of the piece, the one I used being the shortest. It’s been described as sounding like a manic mosquito.

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Ebb and Flow

This picks up on the repetition of the statement that “[there are always] books to be doing or returns to be doing or orders to be doing”. Originally I was going to have it repeat in a simple loop’ just leaving the rhythm to build up. Instead, I ran it alongside another track with fragments from another statement, i.e. “So… yeah the books on the shelves are constantly changing ebbing and flowing”, thus playing off a physical repetition against a metaphorical repetition. I used some fade-ins and fade-outs to help it go with the flow. In later pieces I would use this effect as a simple means of controlling volume level and putting an emphasis on certain parts of the texts.

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