Sonic Writing workshop at Lydgalleriet

Posted by Thor Magnusson on February 7, 2017

This three day workshop is offered to students at UiB (The Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design), BAS, (Bergen School of Architecture), and Creative writing (Skrivekunstakademiet i Hordaland). The workshop will explore our writing practices with a particular focus on sound. Ranging from abstract poetry, concrete poetry, textual musical notation, algorithmic notation, secondary musical notation, and graphic notation are all forms of writing that we will engage with during the workshop. We will make musical instruments, considering how their design is a process of writing. The workshop will be highly interdisciplinary - with participants from institutions of divergent practices - and we will apply knowledge from the diverse fields to the experimental and explorative process in thinking about sound, writing sound, about composing instruments, writing algorithms, speaking notes, drawing movement in time.

Sonic Writing Logo

In this workshop, we aim to rethink the established notions we have of instrument, notation, score, poetry, sound, word, letter, gesture, movement. With a starting point in the idea of the metaphor as a process of signification, a prescribed mental movement, we will ask probing questions such as: What is the significance of sound? What’s the role of sound in poetry? What is the role of the visual sign? How do we write sound? Notate? Can we make tangible scores? Can instruments be written? How does a poem inherit music? How can tonality, tonal and timbral variations change the semantics of a recited poem?

The workshop will start in the morning on a meeting and a discussion about the day’s topic. We will form small groups of people who collaborate over the day on a project that will be presented and perhaps performed in the afternoon. After the presentations we will discuss the projects and reflect upon our experience of the day. On Sunday the groups will present their final projects in a public event.

Example project descriptions

  • A rock, a can, a bottle, a string. What kind of instruments can be built out of the junk we find around us? How does the human body relate to the instrument?
  • Which symbols do we create for describing sound? Notation for new instruments require new thinking, new design
  • Beckett's Ping. How does this story "sound"? How is it notated? How can it be recited? What sounds would be appropriate?
  • A sheet of paper and a pen. How to notate on paper? Can the paper become an instrument? What's the sound of paper? What's the sound of the symbols written on the paper?
  • How do variations in the recital of a poem change the semantics or the impact of the receiver?
  • What is a tangible score? Can an instrument contain a musical score?


Morning sessions: 10:00-12:00 Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
Afternoon sessions: 15:00-17:00 Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
Final presentation session: 10:30 - Sunday (A Sonic Writing Brunch)

A more precise time-table with topics will be presented at the start of the workshop.


Participants don’t need to have any particular skills to join this workshop. We will make instruments out of rubbish, we will compose music with paper cuttings, we will find rhythms in poetry, and study sound in space. In order to achieve this, it is best to be in the possession of, in the spirit of Zen, an empty mind.

Sunday Presentation

Having worked on interdisciplinary investigations over the duration of the workshop, we will conclude the workshop with a public demonstration of projects, ideas, pieces, performances. These projects can be at all stages of development; indeed, we often find it more interesting to discuss work-in-progress than finished pieces. The presentation will be about ideas, about the clouds of dust generated by the workshop discussions, and not about concrete solutions. We welcome everyone to join us at this event of explorative investigations into sonic writing.

The Workshop Leaders

Bergsveinn Birgisson is writer based in Bergen. He has published three books of poetry, four novels and a doctoral thesis focused on the cognitive and aesthetic aspects of Skaldic poetry from pre-Christian times. He writes in Icelandic and Norwegian. He has studied different traditional chanting techniques in Scandinavia. In his doctoral thesis he developed a analytic-method on poetry based on cognitive linguistics and psychology. Bergsveinn is currently working on a novel where feelings are in focus.

Thor Magnusson is a lecturer in Music at the University of Sussex. His work focusses on the impact digital technologies have on musical creativity and practice, explored through software development, composition and performance. He is the co-founder of ixi audio, and has developed audio software, systems of generative music composition, written computer music tutorials and created two musical live coding environments. As part of ixi, he has taught workshops in creative music coding and sound installations, and given presentations, performances and visiting lectures at diverse art institutions, conservatories, and universities internationally. Thor is currently working on a book called Sonic Writing, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2018.

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