Category Archives: Technical

Technical Issues: User Clumsiness

Proceedings slowed down here for a week or so after I spilt a cup of tea on my already ailing laptop.

Some time ago now, I dropped my laptop when the strap of my bag broke as I was getting off the bus one day. My laptop hit the concrete curb and in the process managed to kill the  screen backlight. While I took it in to a registered repairer, they deemed they couldn’t fix it to a warrantable standard. Or at least not without embarking on a potentially expensive search and see mission. And they did that thing that people at the cutting edge of computing do when they look at your 3 1/2 year-old laptop.

I took my  maimed laptop home and with the help of some friends hooked it up to a monitor, which allowed me to continue using it in a desk-bound fashion.

Then, late one evening last week, I made myself a pot of tea to sit beside me as I prepared to work or, more likely (it’s a bad memory I’ve repressed), faff about on Facebook before retiring.  Well, I’d poured my cup of tea and prepared to set it down on the desk when, in slow motion, the cup tilted, and at some point I’m fairly sure it tilted again, so that my poor laptop was awash with hot, milky tea.  After that it worked for a day and a bit. After that it stopped responding to the power-on button.

Some trauma, tears, and a few sweary rants that would put Kevin Rudd to shame later, I asked Twitter if anyone had an old laptop they could give away. Well, it turns out that Catriona of Circulating Library, who I do know IRL, did.

So, the AWW/Librivox challenge will go on. Hooray!


On a house-keeping issue, I’ve been trying to figure out how to include links to some blogs by women who aren’t doing the AWW2012 challenge, but who are clearly prolific readers and interesting writers, without straying too much from the deliberately narrow focus of this blog project.  I think I’ve answered my own conundrum in my description of the bloggers: they’re women residing in Australia and they write, so a recommended blog reading list is in order.  I’ve created a separate blog roll in the sidebar.

May I recommend you start your reading with Wendy’s reflections on the National Year of Reading (NYR) at her blog, The Spiralling Shape?  When I read this, one of the things I was reminded of was that the AWW2012 challenge came about in response to the NYR, as a way of focussing people’s reading and reminding them of the richness of writing by women in Australia.


Technical Issues: Song

I was interested to read in a comment made on the ‘Technical: Voice’ post here that there was a time ‘when it was everybody in the community’s responsibility to contribute their voices in song.’  Part of me wonders whether it’s for this reason that a book like The Pioneers–about the founding and development of a colonial settlement–has songs embedded in its depiction of every day life.

In the first half of The Pioneers, there are two songs I’ve encountered, about which I’ve had to make a decision with respect to how to adapt them from words on a page–arranged in verse and described as singing–to an audio format, where it becomes a matter of choice as to whether I should read the words straight; read them with a made-up sing-song voice to suggest singing; or to do some research, find the tune of the song being quoted, and sing it accordingly, within the significant limits of my vocal range.

What did anybody do before YouTube, I ask you?

The first song I researched was a gathering song of the Clan of Donald the Black that Donald Cameron sings when he’s ploughing the fields:

Pibroch o’ Donuil Dhu,
Pibroch o’ Donuil,
Wake thy wild voice anew,
Summon Clan Conuil.

Leave untended the herd,
The flock without shelter;
Leave the corpse uninterred,
The bride at the altar.

Leave the deer, leave the steer,
Leave nets and barges;
Come in your fighting gear,
Broad swords and t—a—r—ges.

In this case, my YouTube search didn’t yield anyone actually singing the words, but there were so many renditions of the music with bagpipes and fiddles that I took the tune and sang along to it.

Thankfully Prichard provides a ready apology for any bad singing on my part with Mary’s observation of her husband’s voice:  ‘His voice had not much music.’

The second song is one that the school master, Dan Farrel sings for his daughter, Deirdre, after explaining why they must always love Mrs Cameron. Farrel describes Mary as ‘my darling black head’, which doesn’t sound promising, really, until Deirdre begs him to sing the old song his use of the phrase has reminded her of:

Put your black head, darling, darling, darling.
Your darling black head my heart above.
O mouth of honey, with thyme for fragrance.
Who, with heart in breast, could deny you love?

The lyrics Prichard uses in The Pioneers, a translation by Samuel Ferguson, aren’t, I think, the most elegant arrangement. I was pleased to find a Gaelic language version, accompanied by a more nuanced English translation, on YouTube, not least because Prichard writes that Farrel sings the verse in Gaelic:

You only need to listen up to 1:49 on this video.

When I recorded this section of the audiobook, I was singing in English, which meant I had to make up my own phrasing, so it’s certain I don’t contribute much in the way of elegance myself to Ferguson’s translation of the song.

At any rate, I’ll continue to track down the tunes of any future songs I might have to sing during this project. Part of me rather enjoys having an excuse to sing–to just belt it out to prospective listeners–because it’s not something I generally do, even in my own lounge-room.

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.

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.

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