01 about

The idea for my final project emerged from a reading of Ken Liu's "The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species," in which he details the invented ways that different alien species use to record information. With this, there is an expansion of what a book as an object is to include different recording methods, materials, and forms. I was particularly inspired by the first species that is detailed, the Allatians:

It is said by some that writing is just visible speech. But we know such views are parochial. 


A musical people, the Allatians write by scratching their thin, hard proboscis across an impressionable surface, such as a metal tablet covered by a thin layer of wax or hardened clay. . . The writer speaks his thoughts as he writes, causing the proboscis to vibrate up and down as it etches a groove in the surface.


To read a book inscribed this way, an Allatian places his nose into the groove and drags it through. The delicate proboscis vibrates in sympathy with the waveform of the groove, and a hollow chamber in the Allatian skull magnifies the sound. In this manner, the voice of the writer is re-created.

I was also beginning to think about artists' books based on Amaranth Borsuk's description in The Book:

Such self-referential and self-aware objects have much to teach us about the changing nature of the book, in part because they highlight the ‘idea’ by paradoxically drawing attention to the ‘object’ we have come to take for granted. They disrupt our treatment of the book as a transparent container for literary and aesthetic ‘content’ and engage its material form in the work’s meaning. (112-113)

After reading these two texts, the following questions came to mind:

How can we "read" sound?

Why visualize sound?

How can I guide readership and recitation through form?

These guiding questions ultimately led me to the idea of creating an accordion book with one edge that has sound waves cut into it, rather than the standard four straight edges.

02 images

Each page measures roughly 5.5" tall by 3.5" wide. The entire book is 21" long.

03 the content

I knew that I wanted poetry to be the content of my alternative book because poetry is a genre that is designed to be read aloud. I was searching for poems that would be rhythmic to best highlight the sound waves, and the poem had to be short so that the sound waves would not be too compressed along the top edge of my book. I ended up selecting Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro," which is a two-line poem. This poem is particularly interesting because when it was first published in the April 2013 edition of Poetry magazine, it was written with gaps in between certain words in each line:

The apparition        of these faces        in the crowd    :
Petals        on a wet, black    bough    .

But today, the poem is typically written and published with the mid-line spaces truncated:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Additionally, there has not been much research on how the poem is supposed to be recited. 

For my book, I wanted to highlight the formatting of the original publication, along with the way in which I would personally recite the poem based on my own interpretation of how it should be read aloud.


The front cover of the April 1913 publication of Poetry magazine


The page of Poetry magazine that contained Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro"

04 the object (machine-made vs. handmade)

I also began thinking about the differences between machine-made and handmade books, so I decided to create two different versions of my book. One is primarily machine-made with a base created in Photoshop with the text typed out, and it was laser-cut. This version also has a digital component to reflect the fact that this book is created with more contemporary techniques. The second version of my book is primarily handmade with a suminagashi background and handwritten text, and the book is cut by hand. 

With the machine-made version, I learned about the way in which human error still makes its way into machine-made process. It is not perfect since I had to glue the front and back sides together, so the folds are a bit rough. The front cover of the book is not centered, which may have been an error in cutting the sheets of paper after the book was printed, or because the ruler of the laser cutter was not aligned perfectly.

The handmade version still involved some digital elements, namely with the conversion of audio recordings to visual representations of sound waves. The sound waves are much simpler on the handmade version because I knew I would be unable to achieve the level of precision that the laser cutter would be able to achieve. Additionally, since suminagashi works best with thinner Japanese paper, compared to the thicker paper used for the machine-made version of the book, the handmade version is more flimsy and therefore does not feel as tactile.