Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What's in a Voice?

I came across a forum thread the other day, where kri was discussing the suitability of voices to texts. This was interesting to me, as the first LibriVox recording I heard was her recording of 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad. Now, Conrad was Polish, English was not even his second language, and he was a man. kri is neither a man or Polish (I think - judging by the voice). In fact, she sounds young, and American. Also, I have grave doubts about her ever having sailed up the Congo river.

I had downloaded the recording, put it on my iPod, and set off to work, when her voice came over my car speakers. I didn't know what to expect from LibriVox, and my heart sank. How could this voice do justice to 'Heart of Darkness'? Of course, after 2 minutes or so, all these concerns evaporated. I was hooked.

It reminded me of an experience I had when I started work at my first job. I had lived in South Africa for 14 of my then 18 years. You may not know this, but in 1987, when this happened, race was a hot topic in that part of the world. Apartheid was still in full swing. I was not, nor was I ever, a racist, despite the best efforts of the South African education system, and media. I was, however, acutely AWARE of race.

Now, I started work at a theatre in Manchester, which was about to put on a production of Brecht's 'Mother Courage'. They had a policy of auditioning people according to ability, and not race. Thus, if you were best for the part, you got it, regardless of whether your on-stage mother was white or black.

When I heard about this, I was amazed. How could you expect the audience to accept this? It sounded like political correctness gone mad. In fact, when I saw the production, after 2 minutes or so, all these concerns evaporated. When you are sitting in an auditorium, watching a play, you are already suspending, without any effort, so much disbelief, that this detail is quickly lost in the drama. And it helps if the actors were chosen because they were the best.

So to kri's recording. LibriVox recordings, to me, are the same as a friend, coming to your home, sitting down next to you, and reading you their favourite book. What makes their voice 'suitable' to the text, is not how closely their voice resembles that of the author, or the narrator, or anyone else. What makes it 'suitable' is the fact that they chose to do it, and to give it away. The care put into a reading (and if you are going to record a whole book, you have to care about it), seems to me to be worth a lot more than a Polish accent.

1 comment:

Kri said...

Hey, that's exactly how I feel, and I think it's the reason that the collaborative readings really work despite the fact that each chapter is read by a different person.

I'm glad that while listening to Heart of Darkness, your disappointment didn't last long!