How Is “Every Sound . . . Possible”? Audibility and/as Tellability in Matthew Herbert’s The Music
This article demonstrates that audionarratological concerns are not confined to overtly aural media. Matthew Herbert’s The Music: A Novel through Sound (2018) foregrounds everyday noises we habitually ignore along with cosmic silences impossible to hear and makes those audible by means of words. Declaring that the resulting product of his unrestrained auditory imagination is a music album, Herbert stretches the limits of music far beyond Western diatonicism and engages with the troubled notion of musical narrativity. In the essay, we argue that the author’s wild claims on his reader’s inner ear might be far-fetched at one level but undeniable at another. We divide the novel’s diegetic universe into four storyworlds, which may intermingle and embed one another but differ on a tellability scale. The random noises occurring in and selected from Storyworld 1 are the raw material for the technological tour-de-force of recording, sampling, and mixing them in Storyworld 2, whose narrative interest is limited due to the unmotivated nature of its extravagant auditory bias. Those acquired sonic samples contribute to the diegetic musical work—Storyworld 3, which unites Storyworlds 1 and 2 but still sounds untellable to a conceivable general audience. Ensuring his empirical readers’ legal and commercial consent by crowd-funding the novel’s publication, Herbert involves them in his extravagant project and endows The Music with a tellability certificate, which he textually reaffirms by turning his sponsors into the listed characters within Storyworld 4 by the use of we- and you-narrative and an appended chapter documenting their own aural experiences.