“Window” by Katharine Norman

Open: “Window” by Katharine Norman

This multimedia poem is a profound meditation on place. Based on photographs and sound recordings taken from the same window over the course of a year, this work seeks to capture a sense of space for readers to enter. Norman directly credits John Cage as an inspiration for this piece— a musician interested in listening to ambient sounds and directing audiences to the same, as he did with his (in)famous 4’33”.

Katharine Norman creates minimalist interfaces for readers to explore this space visually and aurally over time. Each of the twelve thumbnail photographs in the bottom of the page bring up a full sized photo on the page canvas labelled with a month of the year and a slider button allows viewers to control the tint and shade of the image. Depending on where one places the slider, a “text” (see image above) or “words” (see image below) become visible to readers. Also seven dots appear on the lower end of the image, which by moving to different parts of the canvas the reader is able to control volume (vertical) and balance (horizontally). These tools allow readers to focus their attention on different sounds, but also to remix them to create custom soundscapes.


The poetry in this piece takes two textual shapes: a sequence of prose poems (“texts”) that capture some of the thought process that arises from such focused attention directed at this space, and the more fragmented lines of perception (“words”). Some of these “texts” tell relevant stories of John Cage— making bread, listening to sounds, performing— folding in the conceptual and experiential much like one folds dough when kneading it. The “words” read like single lines out of an Imagist poem: a snippet of perception that is verbally analogous to the sound clips (with a similar interface). The “texts” extend the work conceptually while the “words” do so experientially— allowing us to perceive things beyond the limits of the photographic frame.

The code for this poem is worth looking at— right click and select “view source”— and it doesn’t take a programmer to appreciate how its design elegance extends to its source code. There is also great insight on the piece to be found between lines 170 and 195, which I will not discuss in this screen text because I don’t wish to “spoil” any part of the experience of the poem.

So go read, listen to, and experience this work. I recommend using headphones or speakers and finding a time when you can focus your attention on this profoundly meditative work, which deservedly won the 2012 New Media Writing Award.

And if you’re curious about my reading of the source code for the poem, read the source code for this posting (right-click + view source), preferably after experiencing the work. It will appear as documentation starting on line 478 (make sure you’re in the URL for the posting— click here if uncertain, then look at source code).

November 30, 2012 update: I have added an excerpt from an e-mail correspondence with Katharine. It is available in the source code for this posting, after the Critical Code Reading.

Featured in New Media Writing Prize 2012