21 June 2006

Hear ye, hear ye!

We (the royal and literary we, together) might be interested to learn that the definition of a book is as follows (in part):

“A book is a collection of sheets of paper, parchment or other material with a piece of text written on them, bound together along one edge within covers. A book is also a literary work or a main division of such a work. A book produced in electronic format is known as an e-book.”

Following along with the various threads and this oh-so-helpful definition, I suggest a radical publishing maneuver: audiobooks of innovative fiction.

To my limited knowledge, there are no independent press audiobooks. Steve Tomasula has been working on audio for his excellent novel VAS, and I have dabbled in audiocollage and audiotext, but think of it—a collection of spoken-word audio books, perhaps under an umbrella coalition of small presses, ready for the sweatshop-produced Ipods of the technological multitude.

Sound good?


Trevor Dodge said...

As someone hopelessly addicted to podcasts right now, I love this idea. Shouldn't there at least be a monthly NowWhat podcast? Maybe a half-hour show featuring conversations with innovative writers, artists, musicians, etc? Or maybe a diggnation-style redux of the most popular/provocative posts here?


Carol Novack said...

I neither own an I-Pod appendage nor do I want to own one (I'm digital enough as it is), but I publish recorded recitations by contributers in my online magazine, as Davis knows. He created some wonderful recordings of his recited offerings with musical accompaniment (and art) for our current issue.

In regard to your concept re podcasts of this blog, I can't really envision an audience out there aching to LISTEN to articles, essays, etc. they can read here. Also, who would chose the essays, etc.? And who would have time to recite and record them?

I'd much rather hear "innovative" (in the sense of linguistically/aurally stimulating) writings recited by authors adept at reading their works out loud. Many writers are hopeless performance-readers. In such cases, one can easily find professional actors to volunteer. We found two here in NY to participate in our reading series; they were happpy to read selected pieces by contributors.

If members of this blog, as well as guests, were interested in creating their own recordings and transmitting them over the Internet via MP3's, to be heard over the Internet and podded as well (however that works), we could possibly offer a "writings" component to this blog, perhaps an Audio Annex. In case anyone else but yours truly is interested in the concept, I'd be happy to leave it to you to effectuate, Trevor. You're the techie.


Lance Olsen said...

I think the logistics and energy involved in such a project may be a complicating factor, Trevor, and, like you, Carol, I wonder if there is an audience for such things coming from the alternative likes of us, but if others are game, I sure am.

I can imagine, for instance, bloggers at Now What reading snippets of their own writing, excerpts from their essays, interviewing themselves and other alternative prose writers and publishers, talking about what they care about, reading excerpts from old and new books they love, tracing trends in the current world of fiction.

None of this would supplant what we're already doing. Rather, it would supplement it, enrich it.

Too--and I've been thinking of this for a while: why not some sort of podcast encapsulation of the highpoints from the forthcoming Writer's Edge conference in Portland at the end of July--again, excerpts from the faculty reading at least, but possibly also interviews with faculty and participants, etc.? That seems like a no-brainer for us to host at Now What.

Trevor Dodge said...

The question of whether or not a target audience exists seems at best a secondary concern to me at this point, and especially with this particular community. We are evidence enough of a target audience, and I believe that there are a lot more like-minded others out there waiting to plug in.

Recording MP3s is fairly easy, and distributing/syndicating them via the internet is something we can certainly manage. The power of podcasting is how relatively painless it is; if you have access to a computer with a microphone, sound card, and internet connectivity, creating multimedia isn't difficult.

If there is enough interest among us to generate content, we can fairly easily find a way to get a podcast feed up and running. I already have access to bandwidth and the basic tools necessary to edit and compress audio and video. So the only question in my mind is what kind of content do we want to produce?

The upcoming Writers Edge conference is a perfect place to take our collective pulse on this, Lance. In fact, I recall Lidia and I talking about doing something like this, and possibly starting a podcast of some kind for Chiasmus. If there's a bigger umbrella here, let's think large and loud.

Carol Novack said...

Hey Lance -- As a "student" participant in Writer's Age, I'm all for recording the readings of all participants, not simply faculty. Thanks to this blog, I'm publishing a writer I didn't realize would be attending the workshop, and there's another participant, another fine writer, in the current issue of my mag. To limit the recording to faculty wouldn't make any sense, given the non-elitist sociopolitical perspectives of the bloggers and guests here. Would it?

Lance Olsen said...

As it now stands, Carol, we have upwards of 50-60 participants for The Writer's Edge, as well as 5 faculty and probably 10 or so guests (representatives, for instance, from various small presses and experimental film makers who'll be speaking), so I suspect recording all participants, faculty and non-faculty alike, would be prohibitive in terms of time and energy and logistics. But I'm thinking a selection would be a wonderful thing. You know: excerpts from faculty and open-mic readings, snippets from the small-press panel discussion, micro-interviews with a few attendees, maybe even a sound-bites from a workshop or two, etc. Most podcasts of this variety run between 20-30 minutes, however, so we would have to keep that in mind and keep each segment both short yet coherent, should we decide to move forward with something like this. In other words, a sharp eye toward editing is the key, it seems to me, although I'm of course just thinking out loud.

Trevor: I very much like your idea of thinking large. Would you be at all interested in being our Now What DJ--that is, overseeing the podcast endeavor? If so, and barring unanticipated negative feedback by the rest of our contributors, I'm all about running with this shiny ball. Perhaps we could set out sights on a launch via The Writer's Edge? Or earlier if we can get our digital ducks in a row.

Carol Novack said...

Sounds good to me, Lance! Being a non-academic at this point of my life, I'd like to see the focus on the writings rather than discussions about innovative writing, though I'm interested in reading such discussions.

I believe that dissemation of essays/ruminations (creative non-fiction, as some of us call it) like yours and Lidia's, Frederic Tuten's, and Ben Markus's should be effectuated via online magazines, blogs and maybe even a few print mags with and without online sites. My issue with articles by Markus and Tuten is that they're in print mags, which aren't accessible readily to writers and readers interested in offbeat writing and questions concerning contemporary lit and the future of language in lit.

Black Lodge said...

as fans of what you all are up to here, we would love/tune in weekly/spread the word about a Now What podcast!
We like this idea of thinking big, assuming that there are more like-minded minds out there, grabbing onto an digital frequency and pushing out into the void. What you all are doing here is a big, awesome gesture towards a Prose community, a greater conversation that writers like us can learn from and be energized by. thank ya.

Ted Pelton said...

I like the idea of audiobooks as well. Don't have time to start doing it with Starcherone right now, but next year, when we move to the new 26 hour day, it will be the first step in our expansion.

jdeshell said...

In my role as crotchety luddite curmudgeon who’s hopelessly behind the times and should probably just shut up (after all, I’ve never even “blogged” before):

Other than publicity, what would be the point of mp3s or audiobooks? To put this another way: what is wrong with reading? I listen to audiobooks when I go on a driving trip, stuff like Ruth Rendell or Carl Hiassan or other stuff I don’t have to pay too much attention to. We complain about how no one want to give the effort necessary for reading “serious fiction,” and then capitulate by thinking that well, if we made it easier to digest, if one could listen while driving or changing the baby or watching soccer THAT would be a good idea. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? I’m all for being “absolutely modern” and all that, but this seems to be a way of avoiding actual reading in favor of something easier, something you could do while doing something else. Some of our work is difficult to read out loud as it is and is dependent on its relationship to the page (I’m talking you, Tomasula), not to mention the necessity for rereading.

Can you really listen to something being read to you and get enough out of it? I can’t. Even the best public readings (of fiction) are never enough for me: they make me want to get the book and READ it myself. Whereas audiobooks are their own object: once I’ve heard them, they’re dead to me, I never want to pick the actual book up and read.

I can certainly imagine the exploration of sound as an interesting artistic problem. But literature has to do with reading, and for me, that activity is very different than listening (even when I listen hard, with no other activity, to music). Now of course I can ‘hear’ the music of language while I read, and this pleasure is vital to my enjoyment of reading. But reading also entails so much more.

I realize there are many presuppositions here that certainly could be questioned: those of contemplation vs absorption, superficiality vs depth, presence vs non-presence, questions of voice etc. Ok.


Davis Schneiderman said...

As a long-time (and I mean *long*-time) skeptic of audiobooks, recently converted during my commute to work, I hear Jeffrey's concerns, but ultimately disagree.

I first began listening to audiobooks that seemed to be throwaway novels--texts I would never deign in my literary snobbishness to actually pick up and *read*. Now, though, while I still read the old fashioned way, I've also heard (because of a solid local library) Sebald, Butler (Octavia), Ballard, and Ishiguro, mainstream texts of merit I might not read otherwise because, well, I want to read texts from the publishers we've been blogging about for the last two months.

Also, the old-fashioned way of reading Jeffrey defends is quite different than these blogging and computer-generated activities anyway.

I have no doubt that audio-content changes, in perhaps very significant ways, the nature of text, but I wouldn't want to hold onto a single materiality/modality, when I think that our current materiality is a relatively recent historical emergence. Reading a text, pre-Gutenberg, is no doubt quite different than after.

Reading/publishing a story online, an activity viewed with general disdain until the recent past (especially by tenure committees), is also a sea change.

This is not to minimize difference, but to explode it. Isn't so much of the pomo problem (if we still care...) bound up in representation and the limits of the page?

I think the ideas suggested above are all potentially good ones (A "Now What" podcast, or something similar from "The Writers' Edge" workshop), but I think also of the possibilities of stories or novels from this side of the prose world made available in multiple formats.

I don't have the time to read every wonderful Dalkey Archive book that hits the shelves--but I'd sure as shit like to hear _The Making of Americans_ on my ride to Lake Forest College.

This isn't a slavish following of trend, nor an attempt to mimic the disgusting synergy of the multinational product machine, but to expand audience, to expand text, and to expand experience.

I know, I know, there are all sorts of resource questions here--and perhaps this is just a pipe dream. But I have access to a middling recording studio, and would be all for getting some of our great work onto digital tape.

I see and hear a future where content moves freely between media, and maybe, when you buy the next cool book to hit the world (maybe Jeffrey's new Starcherone title), you would get the audiofile as part of the package.


Carol Novack said...

Yes to all the yay's here, but no to limiting audio to 20-25 minute podcast segments. I think if selections of Writer's Edge readings and talks will be recorded for posterity, they should be made available by podcast AND via our annex, as simply audio files. Podcasts are great for commuters and people who don't care about where they are (ok, a dig at one of the increasingly acceptable/ed forms of alienation), as long as they aren't there here, but being able to access readings via the Internet is something I feel comfortable promoting. I also like the concept of branching out into audiobooks. I just don't want us to get caught up in the podcast craze.

There's a great value to being afforded access to well done out loud readings of innovative writings that focus on the song of language, on rhythm and tone. Many if not most people no doubt read "fiction" without an ear or at least with a tin ear. Granted most fiction doesn't need an audience with a good ear or even a sense of ear, but the beauty of language oriented writing can only be enhanced by affording access to its aural presentation. Just a roundabout and much too verbose way of saying YES, this is a great way to disseminate prose by writers who feel language the way composers hear music.

jdeshell said...

Defending a difficult position here, I realize. I mean, who wouldn’t want the fun and convenience of pod/web/radio etc discussions, presentations and performances of innovative fiction? Still, I’ll play the pedant.

First of all, to Carol: in no way am I suggesting a “tin ear” for reading prose, indifferent to rhythm, rhyme, etc. (what you call “music”). I am suggesting that I don’t need the author’s voice (presence) to experience language in such ways. I can do this as I read. In fact, at times, I find the author’s voice detracts, or at least gets in the way of the music I get from the prose: something like 2 radios playing at the same time, or when you see a film and can’t get the characters out of your head when you then read the book. Forgive this repetition, but the aural qualities of prose are extremely important to me. I just don’t need the author (or anyone else) to actualize them for me. So I guess I disagree when you write that “the beauty of language oriented writing can only be enhanced by affording access to its aural presentation,” if you mean aural presentation by others.

Now Davis. You write that “Also, the old-fashioned way of reading Jeffrey defends is quite different than these blogging and computer-generated activities anyway.” We agree here. I’m not sure this is necessarily a good thing. Blogging seems interesting, and the internet is a good way to communicate information, but (I know I’m going to get into trouble here), literature (any art form?) is more than simple information (not to mention my problem with the word/concept “communication”). How often, or with what success, do we read literature on the web? Every year I ask my students this, and every year they say they rarely read difficult work on their computer screens without printing it out. Can you imagine reading Proust, or Making of Americans (your example), or even many writers on this blog on the web? I can’t. The work is too complex, too difficult, to much that requires thinking about and rereading. (Does this have to do with the fact that many of us are novelists here?) So with what success do we expect our podcasts to have with the complex signifying system called language?

“I have no doubt that audio-content changes, in perhaps very significant ways, the nature of text, but I wouldn't want to hold onto a single materiality/modality, when I think that our current materiality is a relatively recent historical emergence. Reading a text, pre-Gutenberg, is no doubt quite different than after.”
I would argue that almost 600 years is not necessarily a recent development. Again, I ask, what is wrong with reading books? What experience do you want that you’re not getting from reading? Have we “solved” reading? If so, then why write? Is the use of technology necessarily progress?

“I see and hear a future where content moves freely between media, and maybe, when you buy the next cool book to hit the world (maybe Jeffrey's new Starcherone title), you would get the audiofile as part of the package.”
German Romanticism had a similar wish. The solution they came up with was. . . drum role please. . . the novel. The novel could contain every discourse, every “platform,” every media. At least in theory. Now in practice, they (German Romantics) couldn’t (or didn’t) write novels (excepting the not-so-good Lucinde). They wrote fragments. Criticism. Again, I’m genuinely curious: how has the novel failed you so that you desire other platforms? Is it enough to quote or otherwise refer to say, a song in language, to allow then the reader to hear (or not) that song in her head? Do wed need to control the reader that much to (in that way) to give them what music the language should evoke?

To put this another way: isn’t all text in fact hyper?

I guess this is enough for now. I’m not looking to rain on anyone’s parade here. I do find the questions of “new media” interesting.
All smiles here.

Trevor Dodge said...

Lance: yes, I am game to get a small marble rolling on this. I'll bring some equipment to Writers' Edge and start from there.

I think we're getting our wires crossed in this thread, though, especially in terms of what "reading" is. I don't see how offering audio and/or video podcasts in any displaces buying and reading dead tree editions. Listen to the Bat Segundo podcast, or KCRW's Bookworm, and then tell me if you're more or less inclined to read a book.

Lance Olsen said...

That's absolutely wonderful, Trevor. Thanks, thanks, and more thanks!

Like you, by the way, I think people are conflating notions of a podcast with notions of an audiobook. Perhaps, therefore, a quick distinction is in order. A podcast may involve a brief snippet of someone reading his or her work, but usually takes the form, in its more literary and literate incarnation, of an aural magazine filled with interviews, discussions, debates, news, etc. about the world of books. An audiobook is, well, usually a dead-tree edition in audio form.

While I share many of Jeffrey's concerns about the latter (in good part because I think written/read prose can do things heard prose simply cannot--and that's why the traditionally printed novel won't be going down doom's path anytime soon), Davis and Jeffrey's conversation has very little to do with the former.

If anyone's interested in hearing some great literary podcasts, let me suggest you head over to iTunes or your equivalent and check out, besides those Trevor suggests, Amazon Wire and NPR Books.

But all that may be begging a (for me, at least) more interesting question: why in the world would we want to poo-poo a Now What podcast before giving one our best shot? Why, in other words, put unfounded opinion before the hairy horse of praxis? It seems to me the experimental tradition, in the real sense of the adjective, poses innovative possibilties, knowing most will fail, but not which ones until they've been tried.

Plus experiments of any variety are fun.

So I say: Let's get this party started.

Davis Schneiderman said...

Jeffrey and all;

The most interesting positions are the difficult ones (triple lindys, back flips), and I am thankful for the chance to think out some of these points.

•I agree with you about the reader’s privilege to envision the author’s voice without the channel or noise interference of the multiple. Of course, the existence of an audio version of a text (even, in my imaging, bundled with a traditional text) in no way requires that the reader actually press play. There are no doubt many people who would agree with your position on this, but just as many, I would guess, who like hearing two or more radios jangling at the same time.

•I also agree that readers do not necessarily today “read” on the net; I’ve had the same response from students who have never read anything we might identify as a “literary” text online; rather, the movement, as we all know, is toward the short (and not always pithy), the brief, and the “communicative” (as you say) via social networking platforms such as MySpace. [I should say that I also do not care for reading online, and rarely check out anything of great length.]

The implications for prose can be seen in almost every online literary journal, the rise of sudden/flash/short shorts fiction, and the arguable changes in print publications that have reflected the shift toward brevity.

While I see major potential in Carol’s and Trevor’s suggestions for podcasts (and Lance's enthusiasm for), and I do listen to the occasional podcast, the question of the long-form audiobook is really a different one.

And, while the net was indeed my example, I still hold that an audio version (to keep with the same example) of Steve Tomasula’s VAS (which, as a polyvocal text, might become more of related artwork than a reflection of written prose), would be freakin’ cool—and would not necessarily have the same inherent problems as online prose. Apologies, previously, for conflating the two media.

•You write, in response to my comment about changes in the materiality of text, “I would argue that almost 600 years is not necessarily a recent development.

I take your point, but did qualify these 600 years with the word “relatively.” Nonetheless, we could look any number of other shifts in the development of prose (from serialized novels such as Tristram Shandy to the gothic tales of your guy Poe), and while both take place on the page—where those pages appear, and how they are processed by readers, makes for something else altogether. [Yes, still “older” examples, but there are others.]

Your questions: “Again, I ask, what is wrong with reading books? What experience do you want that you’re not getting from reading? Have we “solved” reading? If so, then why write? Is the use of technology necessarily progress?”

To those, I say, or write, or, you hear in your head, or you hear _my voice_ in your head (since we’ve met), et al… there is nothing wrong with reading books, but, this blog has also diagnosed various difficulties with the book industry. The two are not mutually exlclusive.

Technological “progress,” you are right, is a loaded concept (a la Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition of course…), and I’d be the first to agree with this (after all, the trains ran on time for Hitler). Yet, technology, at the same time, is not necessarily something other than, or the opposite of progress.

Why not investigate a different mode of narrative deployment (and yes, I’m aping business speak)--if it could be done in an “progressive” manner that might supplement the readerly experience? The reception of such a project would certainly depend on the reader/listener, but that reception is in no way separate from the business climate of the book industry. [Let’s get wit’ some of that good ole’ means of production…]

•Finally, to your point about the novel as capable of containing all discourses—I say onward! I love it. The novel hasn’t failed me at all…my time-management (to use another multitasking term) simply forces me not to read as much as I would like. I have time in the car; other people have time on the train; or, we have free moments when it would be cool to have you, or Tomasula, or Blonde, or…so many others, in the background, instead of whatever other insipid flicker is available to us.

Just another possible method for shaking things up. If may not work, but why not try?


jdeshell said...

Dear Davis et al,
It's just that you're a much better performer than I. My tongue gets caught on my own sentences, especially if it's early in the day and I've had nothing to drink. I still think reading and writing is the most radical thing we can do. I hope I'm not turning into John Updike. Anyway, thanks for letting me take what's left of my wits for a walk around the block. Jeffrey

waw said...

I, for one, will be downloading with bells on once a podcast in the Now What umbrella of interest is available.
I'm not, by the way, an audiobook fan at all. With a few exceptions, I feel what was made for the written page works best on the written page.
The most successful podcasts are designed for the medium, not adapted to it. I think Trevor understands this as well as anyone could and I suspect you are in the best hands out there to get this rolling.
Just keep in mind that in this world of short attention spans, ads on every surface, and jump-cut living, the podcast can be a terribly effective tool. Used well, it could bring a mighty number of new readers to the book. I know many (many!) people who will happily listen through a 5-15 min podcast who would not dream of reading a 5-15 page short. Capture thier attention and show them what they really want, and they'll come. It works. Just look at corporate America - they've mastered it!
(Sure, no one is going to bring mobs of people "back to the book" with a podcast - but get a few people reading and it's all worth it. Then get a few luddites listening to the podcast and seeing what it can do and it's even more worth it!)