Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Lately I have been indulging in the act of reading to music. This is something I do sparingly, not because I dislike music but because I want to appreciate raw text. No frills. The pure stuff. Just words and my story-craving brain latching on to its art of choice.
As a writer, I enjoy hearing the sound of words in my mind and feeling the rhythm of the sentences. This is where the craft comes to life, the space where words “perform” and imagination does the rest. Adding music would only alter the sound, disturb the rhythm.
So of course I was a little miffed when I first heard about Booktrack, a New York start-up that “combines music, sound effects and ambient sound, automatically paced to an individual’s reading speed.”
Miffed…but that doesn’t mean I disapprove.
After having watched the Booktrack previews for Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” and Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, I must say that the founders should be commended for this experiment. My theoretical distaste for the hybrid was sufficiently challenged upon contact with the actual technology.
There is certainly something attractive about an immersed experience based on a combination of audio and literary elements. Consider it akin to watching a movie. Imagination replaces the silver screen but the music and sound effects remain intact, enclosing the reader within the world of the story.
The essence of the art is the same, even though the technology surrounding it continues to change.
Tara Weikum, an editorial director for HarperCollins Children’s Books, comments on this new technology in a New York Times article:
We’re learning that everything is up for grabs in terms of what people are going to respond to or be interested in, and the digital space is ever changing…If a reader falls in love with the book, they want more of it. And if we can give it to them in something like an e-book or the Booktrack edition, then it’s pre-emptively anticipating what readers might be looking for.
As a book lover who collects movie soundtracks, I can appreciate this hybrid for as long as the musical score fits both genre and scene. It has to be good, too. Who wants to listen to halfhearted sound bites accompanying literary masterpieces? And to be fair to the musicians of the world, who wants to suffer through a bad story in order to enjoy a beautiful score?