A QUICK SUMMARY
Window (for John Cage) is an interactive, multimedia sound essay created by composer and computer programmer Katharine Norman. Norman's multisensory project is a tribute to the American composer John Cage as she directly credits him on the essay's front page for influencing her compositions. The same year it was published, Window (for John Cage) was awarded the 2012 New Media Writing Prize. Although the sound essay is only accessible through a web-based format, when it was first released, Norman also offered iOS and OSX app versions, but as of 2019, those versions are no longer updated.
A FURTHER LOOK
The sound of the muffled television in the background while your neighbour mows their lawn on a sunny June morning are both ordinary sounds that some people learn to tune out than to appreciate. Norman celebrates the mundane sounds we hear each day in her multimedia piece as she states on the front page of her digital text, "the most ordinary things have value, and that sounds are at once useful and inherently meaningless" (Norman, 2012). For a whole year, Norman spent a few minutes each day taking photos of the view outside of her bedroom window and recording the peripheral noises her microphone picked up outside of her window, a process which she refers to as "sonic collecting" (Norman, An Undecided Sound, 2018). By collecting sounds, photographs, and writing accompanying prose and phrases, Norman creates, combines and transmediates a multisensory work of literature that emphasizes the everyday noises that humans hear.
EXPERIENCE AND STRUCTURE
Norman's sound essay uses a minimalist interface to allow readers to both visually and aurally experience her literary work. After choosing to begin the sound essay, readers have the option to pick which mode they want to experience the sound essay: dark, text, words, or day. All the modes include twelve separate slideshows depicting photos taken outside of Norman's window during their respective months from January to December. Each month has seven moveable heptagonal dots that can move vertically to adjust the volume of specific sounds or horizontally to modulate the sounds' balance. The dark mode presents readers with no visuals, just the heptagonal dots on a black screen. Dark mode allows readers to focus on the sonic collection of sounds rather than the piece's visual or textual additions. As the name suggests, the text mode presents twelve different prose paragraphs onto each slideshow that often allude to John Cage's music or philosophies. The texts that appear on the slideshows do not follow a plot but are episodic blurbs that demonstrate Norman's thoughts and feelings towards each month's sounds and visuals. The word mode's fragmented structure differs from the text mode's blurbs of prose that appear on each month's canvas. The word mode features seven more heptagonal dots, but these are larger, and the reader cannot drag them on the screen. The reader can drag their cursor onto each of the larger dots revealing a short lyrical phrase that complements the month's sounds. Lastly, day mode is similar to dark mode as no text accompanies the sound, but day mode does present the slideshow visuals in full brightness. Once the reader chooses their mode, they will have the option to switch the mode later using the slide bar in the bottom right corner of the screen, which also changes the shade of the images in the slideshow.
At first glance, one might suggest Norman uses a hypermedial structure to present her sound essay, but her multimedia essay is more intricate than a simple hypermedia piece. The adaptive features of Norman's sound essay aligns with Professor Peter Brusilovsky's definition of adaptive hypermedia as he states, "Adaptive hypermedia is an alternative to the traditional "one-size-fits-all"approach in the development of hypermedia systems. Adaptive hypermedia systems build a model of the […] preferences and knowledge of each individual user and use this model throughout the interaction with the user, in order to adapt to the needs of that user" (87). Norman's sound essay is a piece of adaptive hypermedia as it allows users to adjust how they experience the literature through the modulation of the heptagonal dots and slide bar. Each individual user can adjust the sounds they want to hear and which of their senses they want to activate. Readers can choose to read actual text or to denote their own prose onto each month's sounds and visuals. Blog writer Leonardo Flores defines Norman's work as "a profound meditation on place". Regarding Norman's work as a meditative further suggests that readers can gain a sense of respite that caters to their individual emotions and experiences through the adaptive capabilities of Norman's work. After all, in her article describing the backstory of how Window was created, Norman states, "it feels rather strange now to be writing this backstory about how Window came to be, which at the end of the day (week, month and year) it's not about my window - it's about yours" (2018). Norman shapes the experience of looking outside of her window into a universal experience that she digitally transmediates, suggesting that each individual's exploration through Window (for John Cage) will be a unique experience.
FOR LACK OF CONCLUSION
Like sound, art, and literature, there is an eternal impression presented in Norman's sound essay as there is no conclusion to the piece, or a set year assigned to the months in the adaptive hypermedia. The lack of conclusion and assigned year suggests that there is no direction that a reader follows as they navigate the sound essay. The only clear focus in Norman's multimedia piece is the intimacy between humans, their environment and the sounds humans often take for granted. By including miscellaneous months, Norman stops the reader from associating a specific time to the experience, but rather has the reader focus on the present moment. The piece's adaptive experience allows it to evolve with readers, as they can revisit the piece at a later date and readapt the experience to complement their present-day emotions. As long as Norman chooses to update her software, readers can cycle through the twelve-month multimedia text during any era of their life and experience the sounds as if they were a part of their time period.
Brusilovsky , Peter. “Adaptive Hypermedia.” User Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction , no. 11, 2001, pp. 87–110., doi:10.1007/978-94-017-0617-9.
Flores, Leonardo. “‘Window’ by Katharine Norman.” I, 29 Nov. 2012, iloveepoetry.org/?p=154.
Norman, Katharine. Window (for John Cage). 2012, www.novamara.com/window/desktop.html.
Norman, Katharine. “Window-An Undecided Sound Essay.” Journal of Sonic Studies, no. 4, 2018, https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/266147/266148/0/6.