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.

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About Kirsty Leishman

Currently enrolled in a Grad Dip of Teaching and Learning in anticipation of teaching English and Film, TV & New Media to high school students. Abandoned a PhD in television. Completed an MPhil on zines. Honours in Australian grunge literature. Long time university tutor of media, communications, cultural studies and academic writing. Opinionated. View all posts by Kirsty Leishman

4 responses to “How to Read?

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