Updates and New Recordings

Two months have slipped by, but not in idleness. I’ve replaced the Fitzgerald, Poe, and Kafka recordings with versions which, in my opinion, are greatly improved. They’re the products of quite a bit of study and experimentation, as well as of an increasingly discerning ear for overall quality and flaws that, while not entirely oblivious to, I was more tolerant of in the past.

It’s an ongoing process though, so as always, your comments are welcome.

The new recordings include 15 short stories and two novel-length stories by H. P. Lovecraft, a few well-known poems by T. S. Eliot, and one story each by Leonid Andreyev and Willa Cather.

Posted in Audio Recordings | Comments Off on Updates and New Recordings

Site Renamed

As of yesterday, the name of this site is Read to Me. With reference to the post here by that name… sometimes it takes a while for the nickel to drop, and then the choice is simple and obvious.

Posted in Ramblings and Musings, Site-related | Comments Off on Site Renamed

Read to Me

Read to Me was a program broadcast on radio station CJBC in Toronto, circa 1960. The host was Alan Small, and I can only hope I’ve heard and spelled his name right because I’ve never seen it in print. I’m unable to find any reference to either him or the program online. The radio station itself switched to a French-only format not much later, and as far as I could tell (and as far as I know now), all traces of its former identity vanished into the ether.

The program ran on Tuesday nights, from 11:30 p.m.  to 12:30 a.m., more or less. It was the last event in the station’s broadcast day, and was followed by “O Canada” and dead air.

Alan Small began the show with a short intro, and proceeded to read a short story or two from his collection of favourites. They were often short enough to fit two into his time slot, but sometimes there was only room for one. He read stories by a lot of authors, but the ones I remember best are ones by Poe, O. Henry, and Bierce. In fact, he was my introduction to Bierce.

I was 12 at the time. The last traces of my Hungarian accent were fading away; that was the school year (7th grade) in which I completely understood everything said in my classes for the first time. This had some awesome consequences, as you might imagine. My grades, until then hovering close to Fail, went through the roof. I’d been a big reader since age 5, but until then it was mostly books in Hungarian. That year marked the beginning of a voracious burst of reading the literature of the English language, which continued for decades. It was like diving into an immense, beautiful, always exciting ocean.

Alan Small and Read to Me got tangled up in my renaissance year, and so earned the distinction of being remembered by me for a lifetime.

I had an old AM radio in my bedroom (FM wouldn’t be along for at least another two years), but my parents were strict about bedtime. Lights-out was at 10:30, and there was a regular patrol checking for wakeful sounds and light under the door.

This meant lying in bed awake for an hour, and then, as silently as I could, get up and make my way to my desk, pick up the chair, and proceed to the radio on the other side of the room. I put the chair down in front of the radio, sat down, and craned forward so that my left ear rested right against the speaker. I then tuned in the radio station, just loud enough to hear in that position. One or two inches away from the speaker, it was dead silence.

I stayed in that position in the dark for the next 50 to 60 minutes, from the second I heard, “Hello, This is Read to Me. I’m Alan Small” to the opening note of “O Canada.” Then I turned off the radio and silently made my way back to bed, replacing the chair at my desk on the way. The only way the ‘rents could have caught me after that would have been to come in and put their hand on the radio to see if it was hot. I wouldn’t have put it past them, but it never happened.

It was magic. As I remember it, Alan Small had a broadcaster’s voice, a mellow, clear voice that never slipped up, and that, combined with his obvious love of the material, made him an absorbing delight to listen to. I often wondered why there weren’t more programs like his. It was such an obvious no-brainer for radio. Why make kids jump through hoops like that just to hear a few stories read? Why not at least move Read to Me up before their bedtime? There was so much to feel frustrated and rebellious about.

Today, kids have earbuds, and smartphones, and access to any story they want to hear, at any age and any time of day or night. Audiobooks exist in every category of published material, and thousands of great titles are legally downloadable for free. Young whippersnappers don’t know what deprivation is.

Today, I also realize that Read to Me was just a filler segment to close out the station’s broadcasting day. In the great city of Toronto, I was probably the only one who listened to it. Their daytime programming was in the category of “easy listening,” one step away from what was called elevator music back when they played music in elevators. (Please, don’t tell me there are still places where they play music in elevators.)

It’s strange sometimes to compare then and now. But that’s not the reason I decided to write about this. The reason is that the imprint Read to Me made on me by virtue of both the quality of the readings and the strained circumstances in which I listened to them, bears directly on the way I read today. Sometimes, while recording, I deliberately evoke my memory of Alan Small’s voice and think, “Come on, let’s read like that.” Then 12-year-old me grins and says, “Ok,” and then that’s how we read.

Besides, this is very likely the only place Read to Me has ever been and will ever be commemorated. There should be at least one.

Posted in Ramblings and Musings | Leave a comment

Kafka, Eliot, more Poe

Some new additions today:

Franz Kafka: “Report for an Academy,” “The Hunger Artist”

T. S. Eliot: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “The Hollow Men,” “Gerontion”

Edgar Allan Poe: “The Masque of the Red Death”

Posted in Audio Recordings | Leave a comment

The Primordial Raven

In 1972, I recorded Poe’s “The Raven” as an exercise for a graduate seminar led by Prof. John Fraser, who was then teaching in the Department of English at Dalhousie University in Halifax. I remember parts of the next meeting of our little group in John’s living room, where, as was our habit, we spent some of the time listening to each other’s recordings and commenting on their effectiveness (or, as sometimes happened, the lack of thereof).

On this occasion, John played the whole of my Raven performance, which was followed by at least a minute of total silence punctuated by an occasional “Hmmf,” and “Uh huh,” and “Interesting.” I seem to remember a cat or two walking around. Finally, one of the guys in the group said, “Well, of course, you could read the phone book and make it sound like poetry.” I allowed that he was probably right, after which I launched into one of my mini-tirades about how the prosodic features of great poems are informed by their inherent musicality, not the other way around. Then we moved on to other recordings and topics.

And there the matter rested for nearly 40 years. In 2004 or 2005, John emailed me to ask for permission to use my Raven recording on his website, Jottings, a rich collection of his own writing, and the location of possibly the most fascinating and eclectic poetry anthology I’ve ever seen (and one which continues to grow as I write this), collected with an original and unerring eye for the best, as opposed to what many other anthologists have made conventionally “the best” a few times too many.

My recording appears along with ones made by other students in other years, not as parts of the anthology, but as illustrations to accompany points he makes in an article about the vocal performance of poetry. It’s there in a fairly modest capacity, although John does refer to it with an admiration I’d had no idea he felt for it until then.

In the ensuing years, the web crawlers found Jottings and launched his link to my reading into deep cyberspace, where it was picked up by Poe fans around the world searching for material on “The Raven.” Links to it and to copies of it propagated to other servers began to pop up on web sites in several countries on various continents. It’s not as ubiquitous now as it was for a while, but it still appears on a number of “free mp3 files” listings in various languages, alongside popular readings of the poem by Christopher Walken, Vincent Price, and other notables whose names I won’t drop (here).

All of which has been both gratifying and worrisome. I think the performance stands up all right, but the quality of the recording is awful. It wasn’t top-notch even in 1972. It’s full of pops and clicks and me creaking the chair, turning the page, and bumping into the microphone, against the continuous background of tape hiss and the Uher tape deck’s motor turning the reels. On top of that, consumer-grade audio tape just wasn’t designed to last 40 years. There’s been the inevitable signal deterioration, and some two or three words have disappeared completely from the second line of the poem.

So I’ve made a new recording of the poem (even newer than the one I uploaded last week, which contained a couple of bloopers), using my present-day voice and interpretive impulses. With a few niggles, I’m personally more happy with this version. But I’ve yielded to opinion that the old one isn’t just different, but better. After a fair amount of thought, I’ve reached the conclusion that, given my unique perspective on both readings and both readers, it’s frankly impossible to decide with any objectivity.

Accordingly, I pulled it up in my audio editing software yesterday, removed most of the pops and clicks and squelched the continuous interference as much as I could without audible voice loss. I enhanced the voice timbre as much as I could, and with these changes, I’ve re-adopted it. Here it is:

The Raven (1972)

Posted in Audio Recordings | Leave a comment

Gatsby Fix-up

I recorded Gatsby 18 months ago, with a microphone not nearly as well suited to the job as the one I use now, and less recording experience than I have now. The voice signal is too weak and there’s too much bass in it. The result, while comprehensible, is quiet and dull. I tried to fix this last summer, and the result is what I initially uploaded here a week ago. It’s better than the original, but I decided it still wasn’t up to snuff, and have been learning recording techniques since then; I thought I could do a still better job. I’ve now finished this, and the recordings under the links are the latest version.

Posted in Audio Recordings | Leave a comment

Site Mission

The purpose of this site is to showcase audiobook recordings by me for public consumption in an informal setting. Recordings that make the cut will eventually be moved to the Suborion online store as either free or premium offerings. At present, the Suborion store is barely more than a twinkle in its daddy’s eye, but I will build it and they will come; that’s the general idea.

The first set of recordings to appear here are these:

Edgar Allan Poe: “The Raven,” “The Telltale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong,” “The Four Fists,” and The Great Gatsby.

The above, like all the ones still to come, are subject to periodic revision. I’ll post notices of that here as they arrive, in case people want to listen to the improved versions. The typical reasons I might do this are to improve the sound quality as I learn new ways to do it, and to fix small mistakes like omitted and mispronounced words, which are surprisingly easy to make and to overlook even after “proof-listening” to the recordings two or three times. The attention strays for a second, the eyelids drop, and boom, there it is.

Posted in Site-related | Leave a comment

Site Launch

The Audiobooks site went live sometime during the night of June 10-11. Still “discouraging” the search engines pending the need for fixes and refinements that will pop up during the first weeks of regular use, so I’m not expecting traffic at this point. This is my first crack at a WordPress site using my own hosting service. The learning curve has had its frustrations and is still ongoing, another reason for not going fully public just yet. It’s not always easy, but eventually I do seem find everything I need.

Overall, a big thumbs-up to all the people who gave their time and expertise to building this beautiful set of tools. It let me do in days what would have taken me weeks to code from scratch. WordPress.org, for anyone else interested in doing something similar.

Posted in Site-related | Leave a comment