The Risks and the Joys of Music and Sound In Audiobooks

By Nephrite

audiobookHello again everyone! Long time no see and Happy New Year to you all. I admit this article took me considerably longer than I originally planned or hoped for due to one specific reason. I changed intended topics twice over.

However as I’m sure you can guess from reading the article title things are slightly different this week. Rather than writing an article on a specific audiobook be it a good old fashioned detective yarn, history or something else entirely, I have decided to write on the topic of sound.

Sound is an unusual subject when it comes to audiobooks. Many of them come with no added sound or music beyond the voice of the narrator be that narrator someone as talented in the medium as Stephen Fry or someone who makes you want to scream out of sheer boredom. There is usually no easy to comprehend reasoning behind this. If the audiobook in question is considered something technical or historical such as an audio version of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time then there is a higher likelihood of there being no extra sound, most likely so that the listener can focus all their attention on the subject at hand however this is not guaranteed.

I myself listened to a version of Machiavelli’s The Prince in the first few days after Christmas which despite being a book that originated in 16th century Florence and all the unusual and somewhat outdated language that entails began with an introductory essay or biography of sorts complete with some quiet backing piano music. In some cases I can understand the hesitancy to include music or sound. After all you don’t want the listener to be distracted and lose the thread of the plot. Or worse yet not be able to hear the narrator over whatever backing music you choose. However even if you don’t include music per se you could include sound.

Many of the modern Star Wars novels come with audio versions(…because of course they do! It’s bleeding Star Wars!) and they come with no music apart from the iconic and universal main theme in most cases. But they all come with sound effects be that screeching TIE Fighters, Darth Vader’s ominous heavy breathing or the iconic hum of a lightsaber. And in my opinion they do an excellent job of showing how to include sound in such a way as to further the immersion of the audience rather than take you out of the experience. When they discuss cities of big spires that are so tall you can’t even see the top and you hear a speeder engine going all out to get to their destination, or discuss the still lifelessness of an abandoned freighter with the main character’s boots echoing in the corridors it makes it so much easier to imagine. To close your eyes and see those cities so vast they go beyond the horizon, space battles so explosive you can feel the shockwaves.

It can make it hard to return to something a bit more down to Earth. Which is why I love the use of music in Ian Rankin’s Rebus series on audio as well as some others. They have music at the beginning and end much like The Prince but every so often  they will include music in quieter scenes or as a way to split the book into acts like a play or a radio serial. And it’s always the same music which has led to me associating some small musical leitmotifs with certain characters. Be it a somber piano and violin tune with Rebus, a playful jazz or swing interlude with Rivers Of London and Peter Grant or a mysterious and adventurous violin piece with Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes. In fact the one time they removed the jazz from Rivers of London? Fans complained and it returned in the next book. Which just shows you how important music can be in audiobook productions.

Don’t misunderstand me. I appreciate that some people would consider music or sound effects in audiobooks a massive detriment and I understand it can be a nuisance or if done wrong a complete hinderance to one’s enjoyment. But to me personally I love the inclusion of extra music as it helps focus me. In fact when I listened recently to the first Horatio Hornblower in audio on recommendation, despite loving the narration I kept wondering why there wasn’t sound? Even something as simple as lapping waves in smooth oceans or a few waves crashing against the boat in storms would have helped the immersion since I’m pretty sure even Audible couldn’t afford to have muskets or proper twelve pounder cannons fired!

NephriteIn conclusion there can be dangers with sound in audiobooks and all listeners will have their own tastes but I do wish more audiobooks took the risk to include more music. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one to celebrate it!



Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as: , , , , , ,

3 replies »

Leave a Reply