“Signature Research” by Dylan Gauche, 2017, [Trigger Warning]: https://www.theheartradio.org/solos/signatureresearch
The piece I chose is technically not an audiobook, but an about 7 minutes long audio piece written and produced by Dylan Gauche. It has been published in an episode of the podcast “The Heart” and deals with the narrator’s childhood, youth, and family—and the various forms of pain he experienced as well as with his resilience. I chose this piece, because applies an incredible variety of the possibilities that audio as a medium provides but is based on the reading out loud of a written text. (Still, as this text has most probably been written for the piece and therefore for audio, it cannot be considered to be an audiobook in the traditional sense of the word.)
First of all, there is Gauche’s voice. He tells, he whispers, he imitates others, his voice gets loud and intense—at some point it feels as if he was shouting at the people who hurt him, the ones he’s talking about—and then quieter again. And he thereby never seems to be acting or “merely” reading. What I found especially interesting is that Gauche even used different levels of recording quality depending on the content of the narration. At some points the recording is deliberately rough and noisy to enforce the rather dark atmosphere of the text at this point. Gauche’s narration is also perfectly paced, he’s sometimes talking faster and sometimes slower depending on the mood and the content of the story. And, his narration also contains a very strong onomatopoetic moment when he quickly speaks out the word “drink” three times in a row and thereby imitates the sound of drinking.
Second, there’s the music. The piece contains two different kinds of music. On the one hand there is a rough recording of someone singing and playing the guitar—most probably the narrator’s father who is introduced as someone who would record himself playing self-written songs. At this point, the music works like an illustration of the content of the piece: while the “I” talks about his father, we hear him singing in the background. Then, a different application of music follows: two piano pieces are used to underline the emotional content of the story.
Third, there are sounds. In some moments, the piece consists of three different layers: A voice, music and other ambiance sounds. Some of them, such as the sound of probably a beeping medical machine, function as illustrating the story’s narrated content. Others, such as whirring noises, are undefined or at least not “readable” for me. I have interpreted the use of those noises as the creation of general unrest, which reflects the content of the presented story.
Fourth, there are other people’s voices. As already mentioned we (most probably) hear his father singing in the beginning of the piece, and we would also hear recordings of him on the phone. Another time, it’s the narrator himself imitating the voice of his brother. At a later point, we hear one sentence, a question, from his mother to which the narrator then responds.
Finally, there’s the silence. The piece talks about how during his childhood and youth, the narrator would constantly hear his father talking, leading to the “I’s” claim: “I can’t stand silence now.” This is reflected within the above mentioned creation of an overload of sound within certain moments of the piece. Moments in which we can hear the narrator’s voice without any underlying “background” of music or noises, are well placed and rare. The use of silence as a tool of storytelling is most strongly applied at the end of the piece. Its last sentence is: “And my house is quiet now.”—followed by a few seconds of this silence.
Overall, I think that—additionally to its challenging content—this piece wonderfully illustrates how rich the possibilities of translating a text into audio can be: one can work with voices, sounds, music, pacing, sound-illustration and “sound-counter-narration” of the actual content of the text etc. I therefore hope that it can be an inspiration for our projects!
(& very belated—sorry!) Blog Post 1:
After having read (and discussed in class) the texts by Kirschenbaum, Liu and Spicher Kasdorf et al, all of which focus on different aspects of reading and literature in the digital realm, I started thinking about the relationship between form and content, and I was astonished that if at all, this topic only appeared quite indirectly in the presented texts.
The thought came to my mind first when Liu introduced Blair and Sherman’s work about annotation practices and mentioned scribbled notes in the margins of books. As someone who cannot read without a pencil to underline and write, and as someone who loves handwriting and paper, I am one of those who still find it hard to read longer texts on a screen even though I used computers from the age of 13. When I do, I use the underlining and commentary functions extensively, but I am pretty sure that what I write in the “digital margins” is different from what I would write down in the margins of a book displaying the same text. I would not call one of those ways to write into the margins “better” than the other, and I certainly don’t want to join the ranks of those who lament about the disappearance of analog writing and reading as a matter of principle, or who decry digital technologies. But I do think that it is important to reflect critically about the media, the technologies and the digital infrastructure we use, and to acknowledge that there is a relationship between the content we express and the form in which we express it. This accounts for the book as a medium as well as for digital platforms and means to display content. The texts do this, but in a way that seemed to me as if the authors implicitly would accept the digital realm as a sort of “second nature”, as something neutral, something that mainly adds new possibilities to engaging with literature instead of understanding it as an infrastructure created by humans and commercial companies, and as an infrastructure that promotes certain forms of expression as well as it is defined by certain limitations.
One of the best, and indeed overworked, examples therefore is twitter with its limitation to 140 characters per tweet. As Kirschenbaum states in a side note, twitter’s “format encourages brief, conversational posts (…) that also tend to contain a fair measure of flair and wit” (my emphasis). Twitter is only one example for digital infrastructures providing various new possibilities to engage with (and produce) literature and to explore new “agencies of the readers” (McKenzie/Liu), but—as is any sort of analog printed text too—these new possibilities are not only provided but also restricted and to some extent determined be the means used in order to write, publish, read and respond to texts. Hayles’ differentiation between deep and hyper attention as two distinct forms of cognitive styles could for example be a starting point in order to analyze which digital medium could be best suited for certain projects associated with the Humanities.
Therefore, when Liu presents the use of Facebook to help students engaging with Shakespeare’s works, I think that it would be as interesting to explore what the students learned about the possibilities and limitations of Facebook as about Romeo and Juliet. While Liu asks: “how does engagement with literature or literary communities inflect, extend, or criticize the culturally dominant tools and practices of vernacular social computing?”, he concludes that these questions “can wait until we have more experience with literary social computing.” I would disagree and suggest that an analysis of those culturally dominant tools should be a part of any undertaking in the Digital Humanities from its very beginning.