Christopher Hearty

A compositional exploration of literature in an audio-visual work.

Beyond Words – Exploring Literature through Audio-Visual Composition

Supervisor: Maura McDonnell

Throughout history literature has been depicted in the arts. This composition thesis examines how literature has been depicted in visual and audio visual art works and aims to incorporate historical concepts and theories with contemporary methods and practice to create an audio-visual work which can portray a piece of poetry. It will also aim to formalise the compositional choices into concepts. So of the major questions this thesis aims to answer is; Can an audio-visual work depict a piece of

literature? If so how should it be approached? What aspects of the literature should be considered to aid the composition of the music and visual components? Contextual and/or theoretical? How should this been approached in order to keep the most authentic version of itself or is that even important?


In the 1920s avant-garde filmmakers Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling were at the forefront of developing a proposed universal language. A detailed systematic form of film which derived from the concepts of music, they hoped the language would transpire through cultures and international languages. Their work was the instigation for the area of visual music and from this we can attempt to understand the development of a possible form of audio visual language that can portray a piece of literature.

Literature based art, at its simplest can be divided in two subsections;Representational and Abstract. Representational art is a straight forward depiction whereas abstract art draws on the essence and characteristic of the subject. The music of poetry refers to the music qualities that a piece of poetry can possess. At its core the theoretical concepts of poetry align very closely with those of music. These include metre, rhyme, diction and thematic context. Lines Written on a Seat on The Grand Canal, Dublin by Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh was chosen as the piece of literature to depict for the composition


Literature based art works were analysed and cross compared to their written counterpoint to highlight exactly how different artist approached the representation and abstraction of literature. It was found that while both abstract and representational styles hold their advantages there is no wrong choice. However, it was decided that if the visuals could bridge the gap between the two styles the piece could speak to a wider audience.

From the poetic analysis of Lines written on Seat… it was found that the metre and rhyming scheme make for a jaded and quite unconventional tone. The thematic context is one of contemplation, memory and reconciled. The fact that Kavanagh was recovering from a serious bout of illness at the time of writing adds to the contextual aspect. The overall musical qualities of the poem imply an atypical style of composition. This lead to the development of an electroacoustic piece based on the contents and context of the poem. It is also important to note that several trips to the Grand Canal were Kavanagh wrote and based this poem made were undertook. These trips proved very fruitful as the first-hand experience of the place was important in the realisation of the project and granted the opportunity for the recording of raw material.

Deriving all the sonic material from the poem a central aim for the work and in order to do this certain steps were taken. Keeping to the formal poetics of the poem, a vocal recording was made which was then Paul Stretched to a desirable length and sound. Using the poem (now stretched) as the base for the sound design, the Pauls Stretch sound file was then analysed using Spear to determine the prominent notes and frequencies. This analysis made further synthesis of the piece possible.

From the background research and review of works different techniques, methods, concepts and practices were found. These findings helped influence the artist on compositional choices which could help accurately depict the chosen poem. A core concept found was the dividing styles in the portrayal of literature; Representation and Abstraction. While both present their own advantages and disadvantages, it was decided that if the work were able to lie in between the two styles it could be more interpretable to a larger audience.


The audio-visual composition Beyond Words was created using the concepts found from the research and analysis of works. The use of Pauls Stretch as the base of the sonic component allowed for the poem to be abstracted using the correct metre and a personalised diction. The Pauls Stretch sound file was then analysed using Spear to determine the prominent notes and frequencies. This analysis made further synthesis of the piece possible. Therefore at its core the poem itself was the basis

for the music, making sure the sound derived only from the poetic material. The visual design stemmed from abstraction of fixed media and the thematic context of the poem. Using representation and abstraction principles the piece was able to depict both the emotional and illustrative character of the poem. By applying the research to the composition, new methods to compose for literature based audio visual work have been formalised. While this research is not a definitive guide it does

make way for an new avenue of extensive research.


In order to obtain the full experience, one should read the poem Lines Written on a Seat on The Grand Canal Dublin prior to watching the video. The poem is available in the gallery section below.

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