On “Doing Audio Things with” Bartleby, the Scrivener

Within our adaption of Bartleby, the Scrivener as an audiobook, we decided to divide the text into four parts, read by three [or four, depending on the interpretation of “Samantha”, the pre-installed “American-English voice” of my computer which we used to record the title and the author at the beginning as well as the credits at the end of the audiobook] female voices, and to then add different kinds of sound effects to these readings.

To me, the decision to record the text in three different voices (in the literary and metaphorical sense of the word) revealed how even though we all can read the same text, every one of us will always also read a different text depending on our interpretation and understanding of what we read. When I listened to the whole audiobook told in those three voices, I perceived the narrator to be a slightly different character in each of them. Every reader emphasized different aspects and interpretations of him and his personality. This made the experience of reading/hearing the story a more diverse one than merely reading the text alone in silence and therefore staying within my own “reading voice”. Even though the readers were not changing the text itself at all, merely the tones they chose, their way of emphasizing, of putting pauses showed how a text can change depending upon who reads it.

I was part of the editing team, specifically in charge of the sound effects, within the production of the audiobook. In my interpretation we were using sound in at least two different ways:

First, as an element of illustration. By using the sound of dropping coins instead of the “___/blank” Melville left in order not to mention the exact address of the narrator’s office on Wall Street, the sound of a computer-voice, and within Kelly’s manipulation of her own voice, we were referencing and interpreting elements the text itself suggested to us. In the first case, the illustration is quite literal: Melvilles textual “___/blank” could maybe be translated to audio most obvious with a “beep”. Instead, we decided to use the sound of dropping coins, referencing to Wall Street as a place that is defined by finance and money, which matches the role Wall Street is associated with in the short story:


In the second case, we let the introduction of the audiobook as well as the credits at the end read by the “system-voice” of my computer which I see as a reference to the interpretation of Bartleby/scriveners/workers as being expected to “function like machines” within capitalism. In this light, I find it to be witty that the story ends on the notion of “Oh humanity!” which is then followed by a “computer-voice” reading the credits:


Additionally, I think of Kelly’s sound editing of her own voice as a way to translate her interpretation of the dissociation (see Kelly’s post) into the sound of her reading. This can be seen like adding another layer to the text in order to transfer and illustrate her interpretation of it to the listener:


Secondly, I would argue, we also used the sound effects in order to add thoughts and elements to the text that were not induced by the written story itself. Our creation of what we called the “I prefer not to-chorus” can therefore be seen as a movement throughout the text, one that was not invented by Melville, but created by us. The creation of different voices echoing Bartleby’s famous “I prefer not to”-statement can of course again be interpreted in different ways: e.g. as a wish for Bartleby to be not alone, for a movement joining him in his passive resistance, as a reminder that others—particularly his immediate colleagues—could have joined him, but didn’t; or as a adding a force or maybe even a sort of power to Bartleby within the audiobook which he doesn’t have in the text:


I very much enjoyed the creation of the audiobook and the collaboration with Anthony, Julia, Kelly, Patrick and Raven! I’d just have one suggestion for groups who work on the same assignment in the future or maybe even for a little change of the assignment: I think that the process would have been easier and even more fun if we would have chosen a few scenes/passages and only worked on them. I feel it’s a little sad that we spend so much time on reading/editing the whole 1.5 hours, and therefore had less time to develop our ideas concerning the audio-storytelling part, to add sound effects etc.

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