… or sound addition?

It was the late Alistair Cooke, a radio journalist with a magisterial grasp of language, who claimed that a seven year old boy had once said to him that he preferred radio to television because the ‘pictures were better’. If he had been listening to Cooke’s evocative broadcasts that would hardly be surprising. We have all had the experience, though of rich and powerful images evoked in the mind by the written or spoken word. Often these images are more intense and long-lived than any image  created by brush or pixel. The makers of Booktrack(explained below) have now stepped in with an application which creates a soundtrack to the mental images created through reading. As a person who has devoted much of my creative energy in recent years to advocating the power of story, I should applaud this venture. However, I have some reservations…

Who decides what sound effects go where, I wonder? Presumably it cannot be the author. They cannot have copyright over the sound-scape created by the book, since they never had control over it. The addition of specific sounds by booktrack, though, limits the creative focus of the text. In the short film above, a women reads a Quidditch passage from Harry Potter with her children. In the background we hear the sounds of a whistle, a crowd cheering and broomsticks swishing by. Readers of the Potter saga will know, though, that often the sport itself is the least important thing when it comes to Quidditch matches. Instead, the author places our focus squarely on the rivalries underlying the sport, or the dark brooding unrest beyond the arena.  When a book moves to film we all have to accept that there is a degree of reverse interpretation which goes on.  In other words, next time we read the book our mental picture is coloured by the film. We are all used to this by now.  However, people reading a novel for the first time with booktrack will form a particular sound-enhanced picture at their first reading which it will be hard to erase, surely?

Whilst puzzling on that one, those of you engaged this year with Biblefresh initiatives to bring the Bible to life might like to ponder the following question? If you had to choose background music for the calming of the storm and the Sermon on the Mount respectively, what would you choose?

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