JIAM2012 Photo: 11

My hands hurt. More specifically, my wrists, with radiating pains up my forearms. Years of gaming followed by years of working in ergonomically poor conditions at a computer job have left me with chronic carpal tunnel syndrome. It flares up maybe once or twice a year when I’ve spent way too much time at the studio console and then at various computer keyboards. That’s what I did this past week and its an occupational hazard that is not covered by OSHA, so many businesses do not accommodate it. There are friends and co-workers of mine in the past who have had surgery done to ameliorate the pain; but it’s effectiveness appears to me temporary so I am hesitant to go there. In the meantime, I resort to using Ice Patches and a wrist band!
I used to literally plunge my hands into ice baths; but then I came across these ice patches at the drug store and inspiration struck! I cut the patches into thirds, apply one strip to the top of my wrist, a second strip to the bottom of my wrist (creating a sort of broken bracelet) and then don the wrist splint/band. Repeat for the other hand. I then do this odd little exercise wherein I press my finger tips together, leaving space between my hands and bend my wrists. I don’t know what’s really happening, but it feels like I’m stretching out the inflamed nerve ends and  it feels really good!
Anyway, this solution enables me to work for hours, pain free. But I’m not pushing my luck tonight. I’ve got another week of studio and keyboard time ahead of me so I will keep this post short 🙂

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JIAM2012 Photo: 10

You may have seen some of the photos from the APA Audie Awards as tuxedo-clad gentlemen posed for their promo shots with a glass of champagne in one hand and a bedazzled woman on their arm; or conversely a stunning woman with a brilliant smile with a bemused husband by her side… In many of these pictures, you will notice one or more of the subjects wearing a medallion. No, they are not visiting ambassadors from obscure countries; but Audie Award nominees! 
I’m not sure when the tradition of handing out medallions to the nominees first started; but I do know that the first couple of years, my husband kept turning his back in, thinking they weren’t to keep. Then he brought them home; and now he doesn’t anymore again because they take up space and weight in his luggage which is better allocated to bringing home little blue boxes from Tiffany’s. Also, because the medallions don’t cite the year or the nomination and are therefore  indistinguishable from one year to the next, they amount to little more than a shiny souvenir.
True Story: Last year I was told to hold on to a bunch of the medallions until the Blackstone nominees came in. I was standing next to the incredibly suave and charming Robin Sachs. I cannot for the life of me remember what happened to fluster me: it could have been Robin Sachs himself (he can say the most outrageous things! 😉 or just a matter of trying juggle medallions and hors d’oeuvres and stuff; but I ended up dropping and scattering the medallions onto the marble floors of the Times Building anteroom, causing many people to turn their heads and interrupting a pitch one person was giving  the company studio director (and for which she still apparently hasn’t forgiven me because she still brings it up; but in all fairness for which the studio director is still thanking me)! Yes, that’s me, full of grace and elegance 😀
Anyway, so what do we do with them? For awhile they were sitting in a drawer. Then my daughter found them and used them to create safety harnesses for various stuffed animals for a zip line she set up in our house. Yeah, I know, it sounds disrespectful; but…um, yeah. I got nothin’ in my defense.

JIAM2012 Photo: 08

Many in the print publishing industry take Fridays off during the summer. I have heard that this is because the heat in NYC, the center of the publishing universe, gets stifling and people escape for the more tolerable climes of The Hamptons or The Poconos or wherever. Though it makes sense, I wonder why it seems to be a tradition in the publishing industry and not so much in the say… the banking industry. If any one can shed a light on this for me, I would appreciate it!

Anyway, if you are not in the print publishing industry, you are probably working on Fridays; but have a reasonable expectation of clocking out as it were and kicking back for the week-end. Through the efforts of unions over the decades, you will have week-ends, holidays, and paid vacations. Increasingly nowadays, though, that “time off” comes with that ubiquitous and somewhat insidious 21st century umbilical cord, the cell phone.

The above picture is the shadow of the Studio Director at Blackstone Audio, Inc., after hours in the early evening at the dog park. He is taking a call from a narrator. He often gets calls from narrators et al at all hours of the day and night, weekdays and weekends, holidays and vacation. If you call Grover and he doesn’t answer or return your call right away, it’s usually because he’s on a chain of calls dealing with some issue or challenge; or he is literally in a place where the signal couldn’t get through (e.g. the Javitz Center, Klamath National Park, etc.) He views it as a part of his job to be accessible to narrators in particular to answer any and all concerns regarding casting, research, and whatever.

There are jobs in the audiobook industry that are “9 to 5” but at a certain level, the job isn’t so much a job as a lifestyle. The love for the art and craft of it carries you through 24/7/365 🙂

JIAM2012 Photo: 07

This is the recording sign out side of Studio A. It is the equivalent of an “On Air” sign at a radio station or more pointedly, a “Do Not Disturb” sign on a hotel door. The recording sign, when lit, is actually telling people two things: 1) Please keep the noise levels down in the areas just outside the studios and 2) Do not enter. Sadly, many people do not seem to understand these things which leads to studio engineers, directors and even narrators to come charging out the booth to give offenders dirty looks.

There is a lot of sound baffling and insulation in each of our booths, which keeps out a lot of noise; but very simply can’t compete with the cocktail party level of conversation that people like to hold outside the studio doors and windows. Plus, some someone at our company decided that the hospital-green walled space outside the studios was the perfect place for a monster copier machine. The copier itself can’t be heard in the studios, but the people who like to chat it up while waiting it for their turns at the copier can. They are probably trying to compete with noise of  the copier machine; but I cannot rule out the possibility that their collective and general experience as habitues at local bars and restaurants makes them think they are talking normally. Also, I am not ruling out the possibility that everyone is deaf. Yes, it’s that loud. Why is this a problem? One the noise is distracting and two, there are noises that will get picked up the recording. It can be particularly disappointing when the narrator has just worked through a particularly difficult passage involving Irish wristwatches and or a run-on sentence that covers a page and a half, to have to do it again because someone was squeeing in delight over baby pictures, at a frequency to alarm dogs. The only thing that makes this whole situation worse is when the overheard conversations aren’t even interesting. Really, I just don’t think that,

THE BAGEL PLACE NOW HAS AVOCADO DIP!!!”
should be acclaimed with the same fervor and volume as,
“THE BUILDING’S ON FIRE!”

Oddly, there are also people who see lit recording sign and think it’s a “Welcome” sign. It’s actually exactly the opposite. Sometimes we have celebrity narrators, authors as narrators, or guest narrators that everyone wants to see work. They fail to understand that the act of observing actually does affect the process being observed. The narrator is there losing himself in the story; and the engineer (and the director if the session requires one) are right  there along with the narrator in an intimate setting (To put it bluntly, walking in on a recording session is akin to walking into a bedroom while a couple is having sex.) In comes someone who has decided to see what’s going on or meet the narrator. The intimacy is broken. Now the narrator has an audience. Even if the session ostensibly continues, the reading has a different feel. Often, I’ve had to scrap the sections that were recorded while there was an audience and re-record those sections. Every interruption is a delay.

Whether you know someone working at an audiobook publisher’s studio or at home, please think twice about entering the studio space when the “Recording” light is on. Or that hotel room with the “Do Not Disturb” hangar on the door as a matter of fact :-/

TEN ON TUESDAY

PRINT

OK, Let’s try this again! Last week my post was eaten by tumblr and today I’m late (it’s Wednesday); but nonetheless, I have been reading and listening!

I finished Snow Falling on Cedars (by David Guterson.) It’s a beautifully written and evocative story about a Japanese man on an island off of Seattle, Washington who is accused of murdering another man in the fishing community. There’s racial strain (post-war America), heartbreak, injustice and vindication. The whole feel of the novel reminds me of a single note being played very slowly on a violin: There is all this slow building of tension as the poignancy and anticipation build at the book’s own pace. It’s not a book you race through: Rather, you slow your breathing down and savor the story. I have only one complaint in that there is a major loose end that isn’t tied up by the end of the book. No one seems to have noticed; but it really bugs me and prevents me from giving it five stars.

I’ve also knocked off a couple more short novels and a children’s story: Lesley Castle (by Jane Austen), The Uncommon Reader (by Alan Bennett) and Coraline (by Neil Gaiman.) Lesley Castle is actually a collection of three stories that Jane Austen scratched out at the age of sixteen. For the Janeite who wants every little scribbling of Ms Austen’s, this would probably appeal; but the writing is really so inane (and in the case of the last story, unfinished) there really isn’t much of anything there except for the academic. The Uncommon Reader was a cute story about the Queen of England who happens across a bookmobile parked outside the palace kitchens. I think “twee” is the word I’m looking for :-/  Finally, I picked up Coraline.. I’ve never read the book, listened to the audio or seen the movie, but I was very curious about it. My nine-year-old daughter saw the movie and didn’t like it at all (She’s not one for the dark or weird.) Anyway, the story reads very much like a knight’s tale: a quest, a dragon, acts of courage. The illustrations were interesting, reminiscent of Ralph Stedman with a folkloric twist. I’m thinking about writing a hat trick review of the book, audio and movie 🙂

I’ve started reading Tortilla Flat (by John Steinbeck.) It’s about some broke down (as in poor) paisanos in Monterey, CA who make do with a certain amount of guile and a lot of self-justification. They are pretty much harmless though and you can’t help but feel a certain amount of affection for them. This is another short novel and while I would have normally finished it over the week-end; I have to admit I just haven’t felt like reading for a few days. It’s not a slump per se, just that I’ve got too many other things on my mind that I need to focus on and not escape into a book!

I totally forgot to read a chapter from A Short History of Byzantium (by John Julius Norwich) this past Sunday; but I’ll make up for it by reading two (chapters) this coming Sunday and finish off the first part.

  1. The Little Book (by Selden Edwards) – Mount TBR
  2. Netherland (by Joseph O’Neill) – Mount TBR
  3. Atonement (by Ian McEwan) – Mount TBR
  4. Emma (by Jane Austen) – Back to the Classics; Mount TBR
  5. The Royal Road to Fotheringhay (by Jean Plaidy) – Mount TBR
  6. Pest Control (by Bill Hughes) – What’s in a Name? Challenge #5
  7. The Religion (by Tim Willocks) – Mount TBR
  8. The Time Traveler’s Wife (by Audrey Neffenegger) – Mount TBR
  9. The Age of Innocence (by Edith Wharton)
  10. Sea of Poppies (by Amitav Ghosh)

AUDIO

I finished  The Last Werewolf (by Glen Duncan; narrated by Robin Sachs.) For the life of me I can’t figure out why they didn’t use a second narrator for the final chapters of the book; but they didn’t! Anyway, Robin Sachs was great and his reading made the book a little bit more palatable. I had no problem with the explicit language or vocabulary; just the obtuse exposition of existentialism and the ridiculous secondary characters that read like 1980s Hollywood casting call rejects.

I’m halfway thorough Half-Blood Blues (by Esi Edugyan; narrated by Kyle Riley) and I’m trying to decide whether to continue or not: The story is great, which would argue for the glass being half-full and finishing the book. OTOH, the narration is terrible and argues for the glass being half-empty and DNFing the whole thing. The narrator is listed as Kyle Riley, who appears to be a white West-End actor; but the narrator in the audiobook sounds like an African-American. If I really am listening to Kyle Riley read this book, kudos to him for sounding like an African-American (from whose POV the story is told): the cadence, informal and slangy language of the book are “edge-to-edge.” BUT and this is a huge “but,” otherwise the narration is way off: the narrator doesn’t pick up on textual clues (e.g. she said softly – the narrator practically barks out the line), all the characters sound the same regardless of gender, nationality or age, there are mispronunciations (e.g. “Liesl” should be pronounced so that the first syllable rhymes with “bee,” not “eye”) and the narrator sounds very pleased with the sound of his rich, deep voice. Is this really the Whole Story narrator or, someone that Macmillan picked up for the book (and didn’t re-credit the packaging)?

I’ve moved The Eleventh Plague  up and added Pinned to the second position. I originally got these two titles to participate in the SYNC program via The Audiobook Community; but since ABC moved to a FB-only initiative (which doesn’t format for groups within the page), I’m not pursuing it. Nonetheless, I went through the trouble of getting the two titles and I might as well listen to them and free up some space on my iPod!

  1. The Eleventh Plague (by Jeff Hirsch; narrated by Dan Bittner)
  2. Pinned (by Alfred C. Martino; narrated by Mark Shanahan)
  3. Vacation (by Matthew Costello; narrated by Peter Macon)
  4. The Bone House (by Brian Freeman; narrated by Joe Barrett) – Thriller/Suspense
  5. Silent Scream (by Karen Rose; narrated by Marguerite Gavin) – Thriller/Suspense
  6. My Dog Tulip (by J.R. Ackerley; narrated by Ralph Cosham) – Biography/Memoir
  7. The 4% Universe (by Richard Penak; narrated by Ray Porter) – Non-Fiction
  8. My Korean Deli (by Ben Ryder Howe; narrated by Bronson Pinchot) – Non-Fiction
  9. The 13-1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear (by Walter Moers; narrated by Bronson Pinchot) – Fantasy
  10. Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures (by Walter Moers; narrated by Bronson Pinchot) – Fantasy

JIAM2012 Photo: 06

Last night, in NYC the official APA Audie Awards were meted out and, a dozen Armchair Audies participants vicariously experienced the thrill by following the action via twitter. I had printed out the Armchair Audies ballot so I could follow along. There were two trains of thought running through my mind as the evening progressed: The first was in comparing the Armchair Audies picks against the APA judges’ picks and; keeping track of Blackstone Audio’s nominations. 
When the Audio Drama category was called, I really expected The Mark of Zorro to win; but when I, Claudius was announced, I wasn’t surprised. I myself deliberated between The Mark of Zorro and I, Claudius and flip-flopped on my final decision many times! They are both truly excellent productions and, as I noted on my ballot, there is certainly no shame in losing to the BBC Radio 4 presentation (AudioGo.) I highly recommend both productions and am sincerely happy for AudioGo  🙂
Blackstone had been nominated for a total of twelve Audies and, as categories were called and the awards went to other audiobook companies, hope lingered until the final Big 5 categories: Best Narration by Author or Authors, Best Solo Narration – Female, Best Solo Narration – Male; Best Achievement in Production and, Audiobook of the Year. In the Big 5, we only had one nomination (The Mark of Zorro) in the Best Achievement in Production, so that meant we were not going to be coming home with our usual three of four. And we didn’t win this one either. That’s right, Blackstone was zero for twelve! 
But Blackstone did garner one extraordinary distinction: The Special Achievement Award was given to Craig Black, the founder and owner of Blackstone Audio, Inc. Apparently, he got up, thanked his family, staff, some narrators, and then proceeded to have a poignant moment in remembering the late Yuri Rasovsky (audio dramatist who adapted Johnston McCulley’s The Mark of Zorro and directed the production as well.) So, in the end, no one at Blackstone was terribly upset about not having won any title awards; but rather very pleased to have been recognized within the industry that they helped build.
And yes, I am happy they are not unhappy because that means I still have a job [knock on wood] 🙂

JIAM 2012 Photo: 05

These are the Sennheiser Pro HD 280s, the headphones that are the most common in stock at the company I work for. They clamp around the head and provide great sound. And I hate them. I hate them because I always feel like my ears have been vacuumed sealed and somethings I imagine my eardrums coming out when I take the headphones off. I hate them, because after a couple hours in the studio, it feels like a vice and I end up propping one earpiece off and wearing just half the set; alternating ears every twenty minutes or so. The narrators don’t seem to mind wearing them though, which is just as well because they are closed-backs and the mic can’t pick up any feedback from them.

For myself, on the other side of the glass, I prefer a lighter-weight, open-backed headset and right now I’m pretty happy because I have a set in play in the studio I’m working in (I believe the set I’m working with right now might be the Sennheiser 650s.)  The only thing is, is that they are far from noise canceling so I also hear the noise in the hall outside the studio as some Other People apparently feel the need to talk about their week-ends as if they were at an APAC Mixer in NYC :-/ Still I take the trade-off, because the frequency of noise distractions is less then the incidence of pain when I wear the HD 280s.

For many people, a pair of headphones is a pair of headphones; but if you have to work with them x number of hours a day, you need a pair that picks up all the sound and is comfortable. And regardless of your choice, you really do have to take breaks form listening. You know if you’ve been on the headphones too long of you start having headaches, if you starting getting a ringing in your ears or, when you take off your headset, you suffer from some auditory hallucinations…

True Story: In 2007 I had to work on proofing a book that was a crush. The company wanted the book fully proofed and slated by the next morning so I pulled an all-nighter. I did not take listening breaks. At somewhere around 4:00 the next morning, I took off the headsets and started typing up my notes. Except I was distracted. It sounded like my refrigerator was singing Dolly Parton. At four a.m. there really is no one that you can ask, “Can you hear that?’  so you pretty much resign yourself to the fact that your ears are toast or that “bad trip” you took in college is still manifesting itself or that your refrigerator is actually channeling Dolly Parton or that you’re insane. All bets are on, so not being able to resolve which one it was, I went back to filling out the proofing sheets, occasionally hearing Dolly wafting in and out.  Sometimes I would walk over to the refrigerator and try to pick out the song; but always it was tantalizingly distant or would fade away. Finally, I finished up and had to drive down to the company to deliver the work. It was a morning of Golden Fog: the fog rolls in; but instead of being all white, it’s this incredible golden hue. Of course, you can’t see any better driving through it than in a white-out; but it does add a surreal touch to the day, especially when you’ve spent the most recent hours contemplating past indiscretions and The Grand Ole Opry and if, in fact you’ve died and you can’t tell whether you’re in heaven or hell. Anyway, I eventually dropped off the work, went home and crashed. I never did hear Dolly Parton again; but I did resolve to practice safe listening after that!

Everyone once in while, I’ll have to pull a double session which required longer stints on headphones and; one those days, after work, I always feel like my ears are blown out. It takes me  awhile to decompress and often, I don’t want people even talking to me. Yeah, I’m a veritable ray of sunshine on those days!

There are studios that don’t use headsets for session work, preferring to use monitors; but it’s more difficult to pick up the finer noise anomalies (e.g. a stomach growling or a machine hum) in the wash of the sound as it travels over a wider area. It’s better to pick up and correct as many noise anomalies in the session before it it heads out to proofing and post. Correcting at source provides a better over all recording.

At home, I have a pair of Grado SR60s which I adore though I could probably stand for an upgrade as they’re pretty old and beat! In my husband’s studio, he wears AKG K271s which he doesn’t hesitate to extoll as the best and most comfortable headphones he has ever had.

What headphones or ear buds to you use?

P.S. – In case you were wondering, we did finally resolve The Mystery of the Singing Refrigerator: About eight months later, it sounded like our old built-in/wired-in 1950s heating units were singing something very hillbilly. On that day, just as when the refrigerator was channeling Dolly, there was low cloud cover. Putting two and two together, it seems that an AM radio station’s signal was getting trapped underneath the cloud cover and some of our appliances were picking up the signal! It happened only once or twice again after that; and now, for whatever reason, our appliances have gone back to making just plain old humming noises 🙂