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Playing with Words

Published date
29 May 2019
Image courtesy of UAL

Artistic practices with the spoken words

Principal Investigator: Dr Cathy Lane
College: London College of Communication

This project investigated the many ways in which artists from a variety of periods and backgrounds have experimented with using words, especially spoken words, as an integral part of their creative practice.

Creative practitioners working in sound and other genres were selected and invited to represent their artistic practices on the printed page for inclusion in a book entitled 'Playing with Words', this part of the project has also been disseminated through publication and distribution.

Each invited contributor to 'Playing with Words' was encouraged to experiment with the illustration, representation and communication of aspects of their practices with words in order to try and capture the qualities of their work in sound, that most elusive medium, for the printed page.

The research was also extended through scholarly study, archival research and further dialogue with the curated artists to form an academic essay about the variety of practices used by artists and creative practitioners working with words, particularly the spoken word for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Cathy Lane's own practice-based research was added to this field and produced a new sound work to be included in an online exhibition of curated audio works - the second major outcome of this research. The third was a public symposium.


Publication, Composition, Audio Compilation, Symposium, Journal and Conference Papers were produced from this research project

Playing with words: The Spoken word in artistic practice(2008) edited by Cathy Lane emerged from her own compositional practice with spoken word. The book  is an anthology of works from over forty leading contemporary sound artists and composers who use words, particularly spoken words, as their material and inspiration.

Each invited contributor responded with a work for this edition, revealing a rich variety of artistic approach and exploration of the spoken and written word communicated through sound poetry, interviews, creative writing, visual-textual pieces and performance scores. Cathy interviewed  Laurie Anderson, Pamela Z, Trevor Wishart, Paul Lansky for the publication.

Contributors: Alessandro Bosetti, Ansuman Biswas, Barry Truax, Brandon LaBelle, Brown Sierra, Charlotte White, Clive Graham, David Toop, Dirk Huelstrunk, Ellen Moffat, Imogen Stidworthy, Iris Garrelfs, J Milo Taylor, Jaap Blonk, Joan La Barbara, Joerg Piringer, John Wynne, Julian Weaver, Katharine Norman, Larry Wendt, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Language Removal Services, Laurie Anderson, Leigh Landy, Michael Vincent, Nye Parry, Oliver Brown, Pamela Z, Paul Lansky, Salomé Voegelin, Sianed Jones, Sten Hanson, Sue Tompkins, Thomas Gardner, Tomomi Adachi, Trevor Wishart and Viv Corringham.

Book Reviews

"...captures numerous valuable snapshots of activity in areas that are often only semi-visible...." - The Wire 

“Back in 1965, composer, poet, printer, and early Fluxus artist Dick Higgins wrote, “Much of the best work being produced today seems to fall between media” and this couldn’t be a more relevant statement on the breadth of activity written about in Playing With Words.” - Deanna Radford, Musicworks 

“Cathy Lane has produced a book that is at once beautiful, thought provoking, frustrating and instructive … it will be of great interest to to anyone invested in pushing the limits of the spoke odd as sound in all aspects of creation … Playing with Words creates an impressive bit of noise and should not be ignored. “ - T. L Cowan, Theatre Journal. 

“ … as Lane notes in the introduction, there is a social, cultural, and political power in words, as there is the opportunity for "artistic intervention" to bridge the gaps between the semantic and abstract components of words (10). This notion of power becomes a central theme of the collection.” - John F. Barber, Leonardo

Speaking Out: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice

An AHRC funded symposium, Speaking Out: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice at Tate Modern in February 2010 focused on the use of the spoken word in artistic practice and its manifestations in sonic and audiovisual art works. Taking the lead from the recently published anthology of works Playing with Words: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice, this event encompasses performances, talks and conversations by artists and researchers who employ spoken words as their material and inspiration.

Contributors included Tomomi Adachi, Caroline Bergvall, David Toop, Imogen Stidworthy, Brandon LaBelle, Oswaldo Macià, Dani Gal, Nye Parry, Inua ‘Phaze’ Ellams, Cathy Lane and Trevor Wishart.

Speaking Out: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice was reviewed in The Wire issue 314 and is discussed extensively in Critical Practice

Recordings of the event are available on that Tate's website.

Playing with Words: an audio compilation

The book is accompanied by a compilation of audio work by German sound art label Gruenrekorder, available as a free online download, a CD and DVD.

The works on this audio compilation are part of an intermittent ongoing tradition of artistic investigation of spoken language. The pieces included here negotiate potential oppositions such as semantic play and abstraction, musical and narrative structures, speech and song, one voice and many. Influences have been drawn from many sources including poetry, music, song, theatre, typography and graphic art, philosophy, radio, performance art, linguistics, fine art, literature and of course the keen observation and experience of the very many varieties of human communication that we all encounter and participate in every day.

Sound artists: abAna, Alessandro Bosetti, Amanda Stewart, Angus Carlyle, Ansuman Biswas, Barry Truax, Brandon LaBelle, Brown Sierra, Caroline Bergvall, Cathy Lane, Charlotte White, Claudia Wegener, Dirk HuelsTrunk, Ekrem Mülayim, Ellen Moffat, Imogen Stidworthy, Iris Garrelfs, Jaap Blonk, John Wynne, Jörg Piringer, Julian Weaver, Julien Ottavi, Katharine Norman, Language Removal Services, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Lawrence Upton & John Levack Drever, Leigh Landy, Lina Lapelyte, Majena Mafe, Michael Vincent, Mikhail Karikis, Nye Parry, Pamela Z, Paul Lansky, Salomé Voegelin and David Mollin, Sianed Jones, Sten Hanson, Thomas Gardner, Tomomi Adachi, Trevor Wishart and Viv Corringham.

Listen to the audio compilation and download online.