Monthly Archives: January 2012

Technical Issues: Voice

The question of my inability to do character voices not withstanding, my decision to record audiobooks has thrown up another, hitherto undiscovered, technical issue with respect to my voice: that of its quality.

Now, a few people have told me I have a nice voice (and they haven’t always been hitting on me), but that doesn’t translate to a consistent reading voice that lasts for over an hour of takes and retakes. I think part of my conviction that my reading voice sounded boring was due to the fact that I’d run out of breath and my voice would sort of croak to the end of the sentence.

Part of the issue here is one of adaptation, to the extent that written punctuation does not always accommodate the read or spoken word. (So, it was true when I was taught that commas aren’t just placed where a reader might take a breath!) But other aspects of the problem are clearly due to  vocal strength and breath control, or lack thereof on my part.

Coincidentally, around the time I was taking up recording audiobooks for Librivox the second time, a friend on Twitter posted a request for feedback on the first lesson of a smartphone app she’s developing for the voice. I decided to take her up on it and got a bonus second lesson and a mini warm-up routine, both of which I also provided feedback for. (I do like it when a mutually beneficial exchange of talents works out.)

I now do the mini-warm up before every recording session.  The cat may look at me in alarm when I sigh down my vocal range, but it feels good to limber up before I start.

I’m not sure I’m the best judge of my own development, but the effect of the lessons and warm-up has been to make me more aware of how I use my voice  when I’m reading and to have some modest goals in relation to looking after and maintaining it.

The world still needs to be spared from my singing, but.


Wednesday Book Worms

Last night I met with the book club I attend every month.  (We’re called Wednesday Book Worms but we meet on Thursdays, because that night turned out to be more convenient for everyone.) Together, we’ve decided to do the AWW 2012 challenge, with each of us getting to nominate a book for everyone to read. When everyone’s in attendance there are 12-13 members of the Book Worms, so when we start reading the month after next we’ll have a solid year of reading Australian women’s writing ahead of us.

Our approach to the challenge is not to write specific reviews as such, but rather have someone take a sort of minutes of the discussion and post them on the Wednesday Book Worms blog.  I imagine we’ll rotate this duty, because if last night’s discussion of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was any indication it can all get pretty raucous and difficult to follow as conversations overlap and break away, drift off-topic and then inexplicably return to topic.  I also imagine there’ll have to be a kind of final summary read out by the minute-taker, so that everyone’s views and criticisms are represented.

Hmm, I’m not sure we thought through the logistics especially well.  But that’s not so important as the fact that we’re actively engaging and debating works by Australian women writers.

In the context of my own approach to the AWW 2012 challenge, I’m quite excited that through the book club I’ll be able to engage with the work of contemporary Australian women writers.  At the moment I’m trying to decide what book I’ll choose. I’ve narrowed it down to ten, to the extent that  I’m going to select one of Anita Heiss’s ’10 favourite novels by Indigenous Australian women’ recommendations on the AWW site’s Australia Day post.

Decisions, decisions.

The Pioneers: 1-8

I chose The Pioneers as the first book for my AWW/LibriVox challenge after reading about it on a site dedicated to its author, Katharine Susannah Prichard.  I was persuaded, in particular, by the site’s assertion about The Pioneers:

This classic Australian story not only commands a prominent position in the cannon of Australian literature but it is also an important part of Australia’s national cultural heritage for its fascinating record and reflection of early Australian life and perspectives.

I confess I was also a bit intrigued by Prichard’s biography.  She was nominated for a Nobel Prize and was a c0-founder of the Australian Communist Party. (There’s a rumour in my family that my paternal grandfather was once the head of the Birmingham Communist Party.)

Aside from my gossipy interest in Prichard’s biography, the two issues highlighted by the Prichard site are, I think, especially pertinent not only to the goals of the AWW 2012 challenge, but also other debates currently circulating in Australia about our literary heritage.

One of the concerns that influenced my decision to combine the AWW 2012 challenge with my new LibriVox hobby was the understanding that by recording works by Australian women writers I would be participating in an activity that would potentially make the works I record more accessible not just to Australians but to a global, internet-connected audience.  Such a goal is in keeping with Michael Heyward’s recent opinion piece in The Age, where he calls for more film and television adaptations of Australia’s literary texts to foster appreciation of those texts.  Creating an audiobook is also an adaptation of sorts given, as I noted in ‘How to Read?’, the work that goes into interpreting the text for an audience.  The company where he is a publisher, Text, is certainly doing their bit to make Australians more aware of the richness of our literary heritage by releasing an inexpensive range of Australian classics in May 2012.

The second issue highlighted by the Prichard site is the way The Pioneers offers some insight into Australian life and perspectives of the era. From my reading of the first eight chapters, Donald Cameron represents the free-settlers who came to Australia in search of a fortune that simply wasn’t available to them in their home country. There’s an excerpt from the 1926 film of The Pioneers that illustrates the view that Australia was the free-settlers for the picking:

(Personally, I think the casting here entirely missed the meaning of ‘dour’ as the prominent description of Donald Cameron’s demeanour.)

As the book progresses, it’s also clear that while the free-settlers were escaping a class-bound system in Britain, they weren’t above enforcing their own hierarchies in their new country.  It’s no surprise that ‘blacks’ and convicts are regarded with fear and suspicion.

The character of Mary Cameron, Donald’s wife, offers a counter-perspective–to the views about convicts at least (at this stage of my reading).  She very clearly expresses the view that a good number of convicts were transported for reasons that were not criminal, but rather politically motivated.

One thing that has surprised me, just reading chapters 7 and 8, where Mary is canvassing the level of support for a school to open up for the children of new settlers, is the understanding that the only potential teachers of children available were former convicts.  That’s fascinating right? That it was common knowledge that the criminal classes were the most educated?

Technical Issues: Microphone

While I was writing my last post, I was aware that it could have been a whole lot longer as, through the act of writing, my mind was jogged about various technical issues I’d encountered during my recording efforts. I hinted at some of those in the closing of my post and since I’ve encountered another overnight, the time for further discussion of technical issues is now.  I’ll try  to be brief, since I suppose these issues aren’t as fascinating to readers (though I’m not sure I have any yet) as they are to me.


I did my first recording for Librivox using the in-built microphone on my laptop.  While that worked well enough, I became aware of sound-quality issues in my subsequent attempts. For this reason, there was a gap of about a year before I contributed to my next Librivox recording.

I finally got around to purchasing the recommended beginner’s microphone  just before Christmas and contributed the final chapter of The Fairies and the Christmas Child by Lilian Gask. (Again, the completed audiobook is not available at the time of writing–I swear I’m not making these up!)  The noise-cancelling feature of this microphone helped me sound better, although it still didn’t eliminate those pesky crow sounds–more on which later.

Emboldened, I then contributed seven chapters to a project still in production, The Red and the Black, Vol. One by Stendhal. (Why don’t we use his given names?) In that case I had to resurrect my undergraduate French and my even more appalling Italian for the epigraphs that began each chapter. But more on LOTE feats later.

The main issue I’m  encountering with the USB microphone, now I have one, is the question of bumps.  Working in a wooden house on a wooden desk seems to amplify the slightest movement and I end up with the occasional bump even when I’m sure I was nowhere near close enough to the microphone.  I’m going to try the stack of books suggestion I just read on the wiki page I linked to above.


I’m trying to confine myself to 300-500 words per post here, so it looks like the discussion of technical issues has turned into a series and this is Part 1. I have so many more things to work through in this category.

How to Read?

Perhaps I should have made it clear in my first post, or  on the About page, but I’ve just realised I probably need to state explicitly that I’m not a professional voice artist.  Like all Librivox volunteers, I’m an amateur–I’m recording works in the public domain for the love of it, in the belief that such an enterprise is a good thing, rather than because I possess any particular vocal ability.

I was made aware of the possibility of contributing as a reader to the Librivox catalogue by a phrase that I heard upon listening to my first Librivox audiobook.  At the beginning of each recording the reader recites: ‘For more information, or to volunteer, please visit Librivox DOT org.’

So, I visited the website and volunteered my services.  I went for something easy (ha!) at first: a group project for the second Librivox version of James Joyce’s Ulysses, in particular, the first third of Section Nine, ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ (The completed audiobook is not available at the time of writing).  I enjoyed the experience of becoming familiar enough with the text–that section of it–to read it in a meaningful way.

As you quickly learn upon hearing your own reading voice played back, it’s not just about mindlessly mouthing the words, it’s about translating  the work in question and imbuing it with meaning that’s respectful to the original text. I’m not talking here about the embarrassment we’ve all felt upon hearing our recorded voice for the first time, that moment when you judge yourself harshly through others’ ears–or at least how you imagine they’re listening. It’s about the need to take note of punctuation, figure out where any emphasis might best be placed, and to keep your expression lively.  Of my own reading, I noticed a tendency to not be as expressive a reader as I would l wish. I thought I sounded rather boring!

It helped me to listen to other amateur readers on Librivox, to identify the ones I enjoyed listening to, and analyse what techniques they might have employed. (Librivox also publishes a wiki, which includes advice on reading).  Mostly, I think it’s about not rushing your reading, taking time so listeners can absorb the meaning of the story.  Attention to the rhythms of speech and pauses is incredibly important. It’s nigh impossible to make sense of a recording where there’s no difference in the tone or flow between speech and narration.

Some readers are astonishing in their talent. They create different character voices and maintain them consistently across hours of recording.  I admire their expression and characterisation immensely, and it’s clear they’ve put an awful lot of effort into planning their reading, but at this stage I’m not confident enough to commit to characterisation.  At best, I can do a soft voice for female characters and a low voice for male characters. As I’ve begun recording Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers, I’ve also made some (incredibly slight) distinction between the convicts voices and that of Donald Cameron, as a free settler. (Ideally, I would’ve adopted a Scottish accent for Cameron, but I’m sure I would’ve sounded naff).

I’ll continue to reflect more on the technical aspects of recording as I complete the AWW 2012 challenge. Possible topics include: vocal warm-ups, singing, microphones, wave forms, and noisy birds.

What to Read?

My decision to  combine the AWW 2012 challenge with my Librivox hobby limits the range of Australian women’s writing that I can read and record to works in the public domain. Immediately that rules out any contemporary writers.  Such a limit is an advantage to the extent that it narrows down, quite considerably, the problem of selecting from the vast back catalogue of Australian women’s writing.

A problem that can’t pass without comment, however, is that by restricting myself to works available via Project Gutenberg,  any selection I make will be limited to works by Colonial and early-Federation era published writers.  In view of Australia’s history of invasion by European settlers then, it is unlikely that I’ll be able to include works by Australia’s First Peoples’ women and women who come  to be in Australia due to subsequent waves of migration, especially  from non-Western European countries of origin.

Of course, if anybody can provide any information on Australian women writing from non-Western European perspectives during the Colonial and early-Federation periods, then let me know, please.  I’m certainly not an expert on Australian women’s writing of any era or perspective.

In view of my general ignorance about Australian women’s writing, I’ve had to rely upon an article about Australian women’s writing and literary values by Julia Lamond in Meanjin for a list of authors whose work I’ll investigate to record.  At this stage I’ll be favouring any works that aren’t already included in Librivox’s catalogue, thus,  The Getting of Wisdom and My Brilliant Career will be left to another time (the current versions are by multiple readers).

For now, I’ve got my sights on Rosa Praed, Ada Cambridge, Tasma (Jessie Couvreur), and Katharine Susannah Prichard.  I haven’t read anything by any of these writers and know very little about them.

That’s what this challenge will be about for me too: getting to know a bit more about the history and legacy of Australian women’s writing.

The AWW 2012 Challenge

I first heard about the Australian Women Writers Reading and Reviewing Challenge on  Twitter where several friends were signing up to the event, which seeks to address imbalance in the way many reviewers approach their assessment of works by female writers.

Such bias has, of course, been going on for many years, but the Internet offers even more opportunity for entrenched prejudices to flourish; and the organiser of the challenge makes special mention of social media news feeds as a particularly fertile site for such biases.

Thankfully, in Australia, women have the Internet too;  we have  the capacity to create thoughtful and considered assessments of writing by women, to foster a culture of respectful criticism where writing is judged on its own terms.

I mentioned the AWW challenge to my book club, wondering if we could somehow incorporate  it into our reading for the year.  One of the members was  enthusiastic about the project and was willing to take up the challenge individually.  Another had no difficulty with the reading aspect, but declared that she hated writing reviews.

For myself, I knew I believed in the importance of the project, but was less certain of even finishing any book I started, never mind delivering reviews.  At that stage too, I hadn’t maintained a blog for a couple of years and the challenge requires some kind of dedicated on-line presence.

It was only as I was pursuing a recent hobby–recording audiobooks of works in the public domain with the US-based volunteer organisation, Librivox–that I struck upon the idea of combining the two projects.

Thus, my twist on the AWW 2012 Challenge will be to read works by Australian women writers that are in the public domain and use this blog to record notes about my progress and any observations I might make about the content of what I’m reading.

See how I tricked myself into reading books and writing reviews there?

More soon.

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