Before the creation of the work begins there is usually a period of pre-composition. This is the process of deciding which sonic, text and visual materials to use when producing the final work. It also involves the consideration of what platform or medium with which to present the work.

Working with sound, language, multimedia, computers, networking and digital culture has been my research for the last seven years.

Here I note my inspirations of Sonic Art, Electronic Literature and Anna Parnell (1852-1911). I also discuss my early process when creating the sonic, visual and text components during the pre-composition of Tale Of A Great Sham(e) Text.

Sonic Art

When designing a sonic art work one of my first considerations is how will a participant, audience member, user, or listener interact with the work? A feature of electroacoustic work and sonic art is the focus on the act of listening, described by Andrew Hugill as “a distinctively acousmatic experience that equates to an act of composition.” (Hugill and Amelides in Emmerson and Landy 2016, 355). I want to try and make sure I am clear how someone can communicate with the work, either in a passive or active capacity.

Another consideration is how I create a sense of continuity? Boulez’s concept of musical space as “variable spaces, spaces of mobile definition” (Boulez 1971, 84) is a great basis to feed the imagination when planning an open form work. The opportunity to create musical spaces from pre-composed sound units and other elements such as text or visuals, within a space where the composer takes the “responsibility for composing out the various possibilities within the idea” (Campbell 2013, 18), provides a perfect drawstring to bring together both content and form.

Electronic Literature

If you are asking “what is Electronic Literature?”, then check out a lecture given by Leonardo Flores. It provides a great definition for Electronic Literature as a language centered art which engages the expressive potential of electronic and digital media.

Flores breaks down the history of Electronic Literature into three generations:

1st Generation: The term Classic was drawn from N. Katharine Hayles in “Electronic Literature What is it”. (Hayles 2007). Classic Electronic Literature works utilise the pre-web, text heavy, link driven hyper texts, which use print paradigms circulating on disks. Another useful definition is: “digital born, a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer.” (Hayles 2008, 3)

2nd Generation: from 1995 onwards there is a Contemporary Electronic Literature, utilising the multimodal platforms of the web and flash. New interfaces, innovative works with custom interfaces and forms. People producing this now are in the thousands. Writers and artists are collaborating using many programmes, and artists are using coding. Distribution possibilities include the web, classes, conferences, and academia. Christopher Funkhouser in Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archeology of Forms 1959-1995  shows Electronic Literature is not just text, it is also multimodal (Funkhauser, 2007), including animation and sound.

3rd Generation (circa 2005 onwards):  witnesses the use of established platforms with massive user-bases. This includes the emergence of social media networks and also methods such the memes which millions of people share. Artists, programmers, designers, digital producers, basically anyone using Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook, now have the materials to take a picture, put text on it and share it..

Electronic Literature is the artistic engagement of language.

Anna Parnell

Returning to the work of Anna Parnell, I have previously published a post that highlights Anna as an activist and a public speaker. I really admire that she used the medium of the newpaper to call for all members of the Ladies Land League to meet. She advertises in The Nation that a protest will take place on 1st Jan 1882. The fact that all the branches (around 500) met, simultaneously is a testimony to how incredible this woman is. Using the media to contact people is something we take for granted today, with the climate, NAMA and Trump all being targets for protesters.

My plan is to use the text of Tale of A Great Sham (Parnell, 1986) as the inspiration to create short snippets, to create an interactive game-score, a twitter account, a blog, and a podcast. I will utilise the digital medium to produce a sonic/e-lit art work.


One of the first quotes to appear from Parnell’s text Tale of A Great Sham is “I should be very glad to have extract from my book in any paper.” (Parnell 1986, 184). I then organised 13 other phrases that stood out.

13 Phrases

1: “In January 1881 the Land League decided to create a female branch.” (Parnell 1986, 88)
2: “What was the Land League for?  And what were we all supposed to be doing?” (Parnell 1986, 92)
3: “My nearest approach to the perception of the truth lay in an uncomfortable feeling that the Land League did not seem to be making adequate preparations for a successful resistance to rent.” (Parnell 1986, 89)
4: “They had wanted us for a buffer between them and the country – a perpetual petticoat screen behind which they could shelter, not from the government, but from the people.”
5: “As time went on the hostility manifested towards the Ladies Land League by the authors of their being. They soon acquired a much stronger ground for their annoyance in the discovery that we were taking the Land League seriously.” (Parnell 1986, 90)
6: “The Land Leaguers worked just as hard for a sham as anybody could have done for a reality”
7: “We found that there did exist places in Ireland where the tenants were capable of real resistance.” (Parnell 1986, 92)
8: “By keeping the principle in view which must guide the government in deciding where they will allow their laws to count, and where they will entirely ignore them, one is largely helped to understand just when, where, and how, money may be profitably spent on legal proceedings or not.” (Parnell 1986, 162)
9: “Pledging a body which was to be defunct, to certain performances after its demise, is what many people would call ‘very Irish’.”
10: “The amount of force wasted in automatic squirming in Ireland was enough to free the country three times over.”
11: “Thirteen women were imprisoned, please send support.”
12:  “In answer to the arrest of 13 members of the Ladies Land League, Anna Parnell organised a meeting of all the branches on 1st January 1882 at 1:30pm. They all met, simultaneously.”
13: “The piece of resistance was a black silk skirt.” (Parnell 1986, 86)


My plan to start the presentation of the electronic text was to use Twitter, to publish the phrases, graphics and sounds as a machine stream of consciousness. I looked for Tweet Bots and methods to schedule posts.

Cheap Bots Done Quick uses Tracery to help us artists create random text generation. Tracery grammar uses a series of rules defined by the JSON (a JavaScript object notation) language to tell the computer how to put text together piece by piece. We have to thank Kate Compton for this because Cheap Bots Done Quick really helps smooth the process. I was able to start a small tweet bot experiment, using the 13 phrases quoted above, over on Twitter. My Twitter learning curve also included practices as basic as creating the name of the twitter account. I thought this process would be straight forward, but I learned an important lesson … that the machine would conflate my brackets in TaleOfAGreatSham(e)Text to a shorter version. My Twitter handle is now @TaleOfAGreatSh1 and I know not to choose a long title for the next project!

QR Codes

I also used Microsoft Excel to create QR codes from the 13 phrases. This was a process of designing coloured versions and simply exporting graphics. There are many possibilities for the use of QR codes, they can include links to websites, be used to send SMS messages, or to send emails, add events to calendars, to use geo-location. I am inspired by their capabilities to be used for communication. Currently, this work investigates the use of QR Codes to display plain text on a mobile phone.


I asked for some help from some wonderful women. Thanks to Martina Murray, Niamh Browne, Maura McHugh, Pauline Ashwood, Ashling Cahill, Jane Walsh and Lelia Doolan for taking the time to record the phrases. I spent some time chopping up the audio file and processing them in the Digital Audio Workstation, Reaper. Each edited file is then exported as individual regions. I further process these files in MetaSynth, where I also created various image/audio pieces from the words: “Resistance”, “Black Silk”, “13 Women”, “1881” “Female Branch”, and “Simultaneously”. They are banners, informed by the power of protest. I include the audio file for “1881” below.


The audio-images are then imported into the game development environment of Unity. Working in a game engine is an exciting prospect for a composer. We are presented with the opportunity to work with our audio files in 3d, in 2d and in animated motion. There is an interesting time-line feature which enables the programming of actions, sounds and visuals and the ability to export a working app as a HTML file, so that the ‘game-score’ can be played in a browser.

Digital Mediums

The work-in-progress is currently available as an electronic text online via Twitter, on SoundCloud, and with a commentary via WordPress. I will also start a podcast to discuss the pre-compositions of the next part of the work and share more of Tale 0f a Great Sham(e)Text in the near future.

Title Screen for Tale of a Great Shame(e)Text


Boulez, Pierre. Boulez on Music Today.  London: Faber and Faber, 1971.

Campbell, Edward. Music After Deleuze. London, New Delhi, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Emmerson, Simon and Landy, Leigh. Eds. Expanding the Horizon of Electroacoustic Music Analysis. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Flores, Leonardo. How To Tell The Generations Apart. [online] Available at: [Accessed on: 1st August 2019]

Funkhauser, Christopher. Prehistoric Digital PoetryAn Archaeology of Forms, 1959–1995. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007.

Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature: What is it? [online] Available at: [Accessed on: 1st August 2019]

Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Indiana:University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

Parnell, Anna. Tale of a Great Sham. Arlen House, 1986.

One thought on “Pre-Composition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s