It is a boom time for audio in literature. While most walks of life are dominated by that which is visible (mobiles, pc’s, and TV’s etc) when it comes to writing then that which is audible is equally potent. For me, at least, audio can deliver the better half of any ‘audio-visual’ content. Hush now, as I whisper some secret pleasures…
What kind of ‘audio’ am I talking up? I do not intend to sing the praises of tales with ‘musical accompaniment’. Sure, a brief recce conjures up examples like this kooky mix of spoken word and music for a children’s fairy tale read by a young David Bowie (Peter and the Wolf). Neither do I want to draw attention to the talking heads of traditional media, all too often posing as literary critics and heard on radio stations filling time under the guise of ‘intelligent chat’.
Instead this is a rallying cry for newer online platforms and assorted podcasts by which you can hear tales told. Beyond the advert and subscriber driven audio book outlets like Audible.com, there is a smorgasbord of free sonic delights to pleasure your ear buds.
The MacGuffin launched this year and has been my go-to for a couple of reasons. First, a declaration of interest: I’ve met the people behind MacGuffin (based locally in Manchester, UK) and I had prior knowledge of their long established, much respected, work in supporting short story writers and publishing quality short story fiction.
Second, a declaration of intrigue: they publish an expansive range of quality fiction: from classic to contemporary, both poetry and short story. I have listened to scores of clips on the MacGuffin, and my ears have mostly warmed to diverse content: transcending, disarming, graceful, shocking. There has been hardly a dud and even less clangers.
To briefly stick with Chinese writer Han Dong, I was able to find various audio clips offered by multiple sources like literary podcasts, writer talks recorded at UK universities, and even interviews with Nicky Harman – one of Han Dong’s English language translators.
In the following clip Harman discusses some of her translation of Han Dong’s writing, and gives her voice to a couple of his gems. If you are short on time, skip to about the 3’35 mark and listen to “A Loud Noise” by Han Dong – a clear cut/uncanny poem in which nothing happens and yet everything is somehow felt, revealed, understood. The scene – recounting just ‘a moment’ – is barely described in the poem yet if it feels empty it is at once pregnant with all that has been and/or all that will be…
As with other walks of life, contemporary literary fiction has its lip-synching chorus, caught up in a claptrap that applauds (and signposts you towards) a few, prestigious mags. Such mags often air audio items or run a regular podcast. The New Yorker fiction podcast is a bountiful behemoth that lumbers forward monthly using a standard format of (usually quite interesting) chat that casually analyses one short story. The range is good: stories by writers living and dead, chosen and read by a writer who gets a plug or two rather than reading from their own work. Here’s Paul Theroux reading, and then discussing, a Borges short.
The aforementioned claptrap plays out on a watered down, wider level when it comes to mass market, mainstream media outlets. Yet you can still boil down the hogwash to find little points of interest like this newspaper clip that reveals Will Self briefly discussing the learnings he gained, and stole, from Borges.
Always, of course, new developments arise. So I regularly perk up an ear for under-the-radar newbies. A recent example that I’ve yet to delve deep into is Tapes’n’Tales though my early foray suggests this platform places unusual emphasis on ‘production values’: adding sound effects and ambience to the spoken word. Time will tell whether the overdub of audio finesse helps or hinders any given story – and, naturally, I look forward to sampling some of these tales in the near future…
P.s. So how about you? Do you have ears with the sensory superpowers of an Aye-Aye? If so, what is your favourite platform or specific story?