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Annotation systems* | ZETTEL'S TRAUM: 0'00''–6'00''

Annotation systems* | ZETTEL'S TRAUM: 0'00''–6'00''

Annotations represent extra pieces of information within a document that can take shape in various forms such as notes, comments or markings. They are used to enhance, explain and make existing information more tangible, thus affecting our perception of the original content.

The seminar „Annotation systems“ dealt with different ways of annotating information and their use cases which we investigated in a series of typographic exercises. For one of these exercises, I created an annotation system (a systematic structure which annotations adhered to) for Arno Schmidt‘s seminal work ZETTEL‘S TRAUM, using the the first 6 minutes of the abridged audiobook version to create a vinyl cover edition of the text, including a notation manuscript.

Excursion // Counter Gravity: The Films of Heinz Emigholz


Some impressions of Emigholz' notebook annotations from the exhibition „COUNTER GRAVITY“

Exercise 01 // Me & My practice


Examples of my personal annotations (I)


Examples of my personal annotations (II)

Exercise 02 // Me & My Favorite Book


Annotating two pages of my favorite sci-fi book, „The Illustrated DUNE“ (1978)

Exercise 03 // ZETTEL'S TRAUM

Written by German author Arno Schmidt and published in 1970, ZETTEL'S TRAUM (also known as „Bottom's Dream“ in English) is widely considered to be a definitive landmark of post-war German literature and Arno Schmidt's magnum opus. It is particularly known for its creative use of shifting columns that frame the text through notes, collages, and typewritten pages. The 1,334 page-long story takes places in northern Germany and follows the lives four characters (54-year-old Daniel Pagenstecher who pays a visit to Paul Jacobi, a translator, and his wife Wilma and their teenage daughter Franziska) and deals with the difficult task of translating Edgar Allan Poe's texts into German and the themes Poe explores in his works.

For this assignment, we were tasked to engage with the text by exploring methods on how annotations could help depicting the content in a more accessible way while maintaining the structural hierarchy inherent in the text in some shape. We were given the original manuscript by Arno Schmidt, a clean typeset version by German typographer and designer Friedrich Forssman (who also gave a workshop during the seminar), and an abridged audiobook version, read by Ulrich Matthes.


Comparison of Arno Schmidt's ZETTEL'S TRAUM (left) with the most recent typeset edition by German typographer and designer Friedrich Forssman from 2010 (right)


Excepts of Arno Schmidt's original edition of ZETTEL'S TRAUM (1970)


ZETTEL'S TRAUM, typeset by Friedrich Forssman (2010)

I initially had difficulties working on this assignment as I just could not connect to the subject matter. I actually thought Arno Schmidt’s work, while visually impressive, seemed somewhat convoluted and confusing for general consumption. In fact, Arno Schmidt himself never sought out for this book to be read by the majority of people or to be finished in full in the first place. Curiously enough, listening to the audiobook version positively impacted my initial perception of Schmidt’s work.

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Audiobook version of ZETTEL'S TRAUM, narrated by Ulrich Matthes (right)

Excerpt of the audiobook version of ZETTEL'S TRAUM

Though I was still unable to connect to the story in a meaningful way, having the words read out loud made it so much more easy to digest the story. Ulrich Matthes, the audiobook narrator, succeeded in adding more perceivable depth and clarity to the narrative hierarchy which would have been left obscured otherwise. I challenged myself to break down the story in a more structured way that also incorporated the auditory aspect that made for a far better second experience.

I quickly decided to analyze the soundwaves of the audiobook version and narrowed my scope of exploration to the first 3 minutes. The resulting, Rorschach-like shapes compelled me to use a more illustrative approach as they perfectly captured a more psychological and surreal vibe that is inherent in the novel.

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Top: Waveform view in Audacity
Middle: Extracted waveforms that are set to the respective text passages
Bottom: Examples of Rorschach inkblots

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Left: Source text (typeset edition by Friedrich Forssman)

Right: The first 3 minutes of the audiobook version of ZETTEL'S TRAUM
Passages that appear opaque are not included in the audiobook. The highlighted passage (magenta) is repeated in the audiobook for emphasis.

Using the extracted waveforms or „sound inkblots“, I rearranged the text so that the passages that are read out by the narrator correspond to their respective shapes. I added time stamps that were predetermined by the author's use of typographic dividers within the text („ / “), thus providing the reader temporal navigation during the reading process.

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Initial layout approach in the rearrangement process

Through color, I wanted to further add clarity to the hierarchical structure by making dialogue roles more distinct from annotational and narrative thoughts. It was at this point when one of my fellow students pointed out that this visualization in its square layout (which was an arbitrary design decision at the time) was very reminiscent of a vinyl record jacket design. I became instantly fond of the idea since it also emphasized the auditory focus of my approach, inviting synergy of not only sound, but the aspect of musicality (and therefore tones and rhythm) as well.

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Initial design for the vinyl record jacket (vertical arrangement)

While the vertical arrangement of elements seemed unusual and interesting at first but reading the waveforms in that state proved to be slightly confusing due to how waveforms are usually presented (left-to-right). Subsequently, I changed to a horizontal setup in order to accommodate a more natural reading flow in regards to the waveforms. 

The hierarchy of information is complemented by making distinctions between spoken words that are part of the narrative (magenta) and spoken words that only appear in the annotation columns of the text (cyan). Annotations that are not included in the audiobook version are indicated by a set of brackets. Round brackets represent left-column annotations and curly brackets represent right-column annotations. Additionally, square brackets deal with alterations from the main narrative (middle column).

The resulting layout design completes the front cover of the record jacket.


Final design for the vinyl record jacket 

Free Project // ZETTEL'S TRAUM: 0'00''–6'00''

For my free project, I decided to continue my work on ZETTEL'S TRAUM. I expanded the initial scope of 3 minutes of the audiobooks by an additional 3 minutes which I used for the back cover of the record jacket.


Final front and back cover


Breakdown of the various information layers: Text layer, sound layer, time layer, annotation marker layer

For the inside, I included the first two reading pages of Friedrich Forssman's typeset edition which the first six minutes of the audiobook are based on. This enables the reader to directly compare the print version and how much of it translated into the audiobook format.


The first six minutes of ZETTEL'S TRAUM, the colors and opacity correspond to what is included and left out in the audiobook version

To highlight the aspect of musicality, I repurposed the cover visualization into a notation manuscript, allowing for a better structural insight and also re-introducing all annotations that got lost in the course of the audiobook conversion which were previously only indicated on the cover. By dividing spoken words and narrative thoughts into two levels, the visual flow is enhanced in a more dynamic way and creates an interesting reading rhythm.


Notation manuscript example and how to read it


Notation manuscript pages


Vinyl records with labels

Print // ZETTEL'S TRAUM: 0'00''–6'00'' (Vinyl edition)


Vinyl record jacket with notation manuscript and project documentation


Vinyl record jacket


Notation manuscript


Project documentation


Live presentation


This course allowed me to think about different ways to augment information, using annotations to change the overall perception of existing content. These annotations are by no means self-sufficient and autonomous: They serve to create another layer of expanding how we interact with texts. By thinking systematically about how annotations can make information more accessible (especially when the information is dense and hard to decipher without added explanations), we enable the reader to engage with the content in a more intentional manner.

Regarding ZETTEL'S TRAUM, I enjoyed blending different sensory aspects, focusing on using sound to achieve clarity and structure within a text that is known for being close to unreadable. Repurposing the text into a sound visualization onto a vinyl record jacket and then going more in-depth with the notation manuscript was an intricate, time-consuming but very satisfying experience which, due to my initial apprehension with the text, was not something I expected. All in all, this course helped me to understand how to bring in various layers of information together and weave them into a cohesive system that impacts the way we consume and understand content.

Ein Projekt von



Art des Projekts

Studienarbeit im zweiten Studienabschnitt


foto: Prof. Christina Poth

Zugehöriger Workspace

Annotation systems*


Wintersemester 2021 / 2022


2 Kommentare

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Shhh 😅
Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache *seufz*

und jetzt die deutsche version, kollege :P