Last night, to celebrate, I worked. I needed to turn in my recording for PodCastle and had been given an extension because of my cold last week. The dragon lady was not appropriate for this story. Even so, my voice was a little fragile and we had to stop a lot.
Actually, that’s not completely true. The reason we had to stop a lot is because we weren’t recording in a studio. We were in an office building, with Rob’s sound equipment set up as an impromptu studio. The sound-proofing was inadequate, so periodic sirens would force a halt. At that, it was quieter than our apartment. As Rob says, any sound you can hear while recording will be picked up by the microphone and seem louder than in real life.
Which meant that we had to turn off the overhead lights, because the florescent light ballast hummed. It meant that, since the room was very “live” that every lip smack, swallow, or shuffle of paper turned up on the recording. It meant that I had to stand completely still, because the floor creaked and that turned up.
But, we got the recording. Clearly, I have to come up with a different recording space before my next assignment is due.
My niece gave me a cold for Christmas, so we’re going to take advantage of it to show some tricks for dealing with throat ailments. For kicks, I recorded the whole post this time. You can listen to it here OR you can read and just listen to the example clips.
You’ve probably noticed that when you are sick your voice tends to get lower, right? Basically, what’s going on is this: the pitch of your voice depends on the length and thickness of your vocal cords (folds really, but that’s a tangent) Men have big thick manly vocal cords, while ladies and kids have thinner more delicate ones. When you’re sick, your throat gets inflamed, which thickens your vocal cords. They vibrate more slowly and voila, lower voice.
Let’s pause for a moment to listen to some audio, shall we? I’ll let you hear a recording of me reading Rampion with my normal voice, and then switch to one with my voice the way it sounds right now.
Since the cold is lowering my voice, I can raise my pitch and try to compensate somewhat. For me, it feels like I’m speaking incredibly high, but to someone who doesn’t know me, this will do a lot to bring my voice into the range of normal. I wouldn’t want to do this for long, but it’s gotten me through many performances.
It’s passable, but there’s a danger here. I have a smaller vocal range when sick already, and by moving my voice up in pitch, I cut off the bottom end of my range. When ill, I mostly have bottom end and then nothing until the very top end. Your mileage may vary, but try humming through your vocal range next time you are sick.
And if you are feeling frisky, take advantage of that suddenly deep voice. Everything can sound sexy with your new range. For example:
Mostly though, the answer to being sick is to rest your voice and to drink plenty of fluids. Stay away from the citrus, dairy and caffeine. But if you have to use your voice, at least you’ll know why it’s misbehaving.
Today was largely relaxing, except for our outing to buy Christmas presents. We borrowed Dad’s car and drove to the mall to pick up some things. Now, you have to bear in mind that this is really the first time either of us has driven since moving to NYC six months ago. We’re really used to being pedestrians at this point in our life, so rather than driving from the strip mall to the main mall across the street, we decided to walk. Traffic was icky and it was less than three blocks away.
Except that Chattanooga apparently has a thing against sidewalks. There were none.
Strangely, one of the lights had a pedestrian crossing button, to get the traffic light to change color, but no crosswalk, no crossing signal, no sidewalk on either side. Just who were they expecting to hit the button? Drivers just didn’t know what to do with us. I felt far less safe walking than I did driving. I’d forgotten just how intense the car culture is after living in NYC and Portland.
Meanwhile, I’m probably not going to be online much the next couple of days, so may I offer you some old-time Christmas Radio. This includes such gems as the original cast recording of It’s a Wonderful Life.
The recording is of a live show — all the sound effects, all the dialogue, everything happen live in front of an audience with no stopping for mistakes. I hope you’ll understand that I’m quite proud of working with WRW.
Incidentally, this is the show I was working on when I got the idea for “Death Comes but Twice.”
Mental note: Do not have a voice lesson on the same day as booked to record a chapter of audio fiction.
On the other hand, the vocal fatigue probably helped my male characters sound a little deeper.
Actually, the voice lesson was interesting today. We were working on “Summertime” and at the end of it I’m supposed to shoot up to a B and then float there before glissandoing back down. When I’m in shape, it works, but it’s been well over a year since I’ve sung this and I told my voice teacher, Sue, that I thought I sounded more like a whistling teakettle.
She was trying to come up shows where producing a whistling teakettle sound would be useful. I said, “Actually, I was in the Teakettle of Good Fortune.” As we’ve discussed in previous entries, I can’t whistle, at least not the conventional way. So I demonstrated the whistling teakettle sound that I used in the show, which involves saying “Woo!” on a rising scale, and then my voice suddenly pops up to this impossibly high note.
Sue starts laughing and tries to find it on the piano. It’s an A. The one that’s two and a half octaves above middle C. Which is ridiculous. Apparently I’m using what’s called “whistle voice,” to make this sound. It’s when the vocal folds come together down to a little hole and one essentially whistles through them. It’s nice to know what I’ve been doing.
Also, don’t ask me to do this for you at a con (you know who you are) because it’s full volume or nothing.
Ready? Guess which upcoming item at Subterranean Online is the secret project I’ve been referring to.
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I’ll be recording through next week. Basically, for each hour of listening pleasure, you can figure about five man hours of working time; that’s counting my work and the engineer’s work together. He has to do things like edit out the places where I try to say “Mazaltlan” and come out with “Mazeltlof.”
Now aren’t you wondering how Midsummer Night’s Dream and Mazaltlan both occur in one story? Just you wait. I will tell you, though, that this is a really fun read. I love Kage Baker’s work and this is a hoot.
Okay. At some point, every SF story on the planet is going to hit some handwavium. You know the thing I’m talking about, that magic point where you just have to make stuff up in order to cover the gap between what is possible and what you think might be possible sometime in the future. On the page, it can be fine, but then… then you have to read it outloud.
John Scalzi pointed out this clip, which provides the most beautiful example of speaking handwavium with confidence. Watch it and then we’ll discuss.
Okay, first of all, it’s very, very, funny. Second, although this goes way over the line into absurdity, the fact is that even though his words make no sense, at all, by using tricks of pacing and emphasis, he creates the illusion of meaning. The actor’s name is Mike Kraft and he writes and performs industrial training videos. If he used just one of those phrases in an SF story, you’d totally buy it. So let’s see if we can apply what he’s doing to an SF story.
For instance, he’s giving the made-up words no more weight or emphasis than the real things. Look at your sf story. The technobabble words in it are everyday words to your characters so you should treat them as such. At the same time, Mr. Kraft is also using hand gestures, sign-posting and phrasing, to give clues to what words mean.
Hand gestures aren’t an option for audio fiction, but some of his other tricks are.
Signposting, at its simplest, means that he changes the direction in which he is looking when he changes direction of the speech. You can also do similar thing by pausing before beginning a new thought.
Which is really part of phrasing. Notice how he’s using a pause for emphasis here, “Such an instrument, comprised of Dodge gears and bearings, Reliance electric Motors, Allen Bradley controls, and all monitored by Rockwell software is [pause]Rockwell Automationâ€™s retro-incabulator.” It lets you know that what’s coming next is important. He pauses again in the next sentence before each of the “significant” parts of the encabulator.
He also uses emphasis, (which means that he gives a slight punch to certain words by using speed or volume) such as “panendermic simi-boloid slots of the stator. Every seventh conductor being connected by a non-reversable tremi pipe to the differential gurdel spring on the up end of the grammeters.”
Back in Reading Aloud 1: The Basics we talked about twisting words that had an almost onomatopoeic quality to them. Mr. Kraft does some of that, but not a whole lot because it would be inappropriate for his character.
He’s also using good old-fashioned stage presence to pull this off. As the character, he believes that each of these words makes perfect sense because they are all part of his character’s world. Watch his hands; his character knows what each item does.
Your exercise for today is to try and read the transcription of this clip. Then I want you to find the most convoluted handwavium in your own fiction and see how real you can make it sound.
(Tor Books – July 14 2020) Mary Robinette Kowal continues her Hugo and Nebula award-winning Lady Astronaut series, following The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon. The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and […]