Friday, April 17, 2009

Letting Myself Make Mistakes

When my chief advisor and I listened to my first draft of "Entrance and Exit," we both found things that we would like to change, but she encouraged me to let those things go and carry on with my recordings.

A Struggle
While I have the utmost respect for my advisor, I was very tempted to disregard her advice on this matter. I even went so far as to e-mail her about my inhibitions. Put simply, I told her that I just wanted to do one more recording and fix just those things that we talked about. But, after working with me for over three and a half years, she knows how I rarely am satisfied with my work. She knew that I would want to make it perfect. She furthermore knew that I had so much more work to accomplish, and trying to focus on creating the "perfect story" would make it nearly impossible to accomplish anything more.

Maintaining a Sense of Drive
I think that I may take from this experience a terrific life lesson. Perhaps people who are willing to let themselves make mistakes are more likely to stay focused and driven. Perhaps I could accomplish more if I put myself heart and soul into the moment, publish/submit my work, and then reflect on my mistakes and how I can improve on them. Maybe it is that very desire of not being satisfied that will help me to keep my passion for growth and learning...

While I still believe that I am capable of reading every story to my full satisfaction, perhaps it is more important to keep moving forward and not let the little things drag me down. I think that I shall be more likely to produce if I keep moving forward, taking note of all the mistakes that I identified and trying to learn from those mistakes to better inform future decision-making.

A Body in Motion - How I Tell the Story

Today, I'm going to talk about the importance of modifying one's physicality while telling stories.

Presenting the Story
It is very important not just to read the story, but to present the story. Much of this has to do with body positioning. Basically, my philosophy is that one should let the words and emotions of the story dictate how one presents the work. I read stories out loud as if there were a person sitting in front of me who was ready and eager to listen, and, in that case, my posture, facial animation, and hand gestures all have to be considered as if I had not only my voice at my disposal to present my stories, but also a wealth of body language. This kind of reading has distinct advantages. One of my choir instructors relayed the idea to our ensemble one day that the way one stands to sing reflects how he or she feels about the music. For example, if you stand with your feet crossed, it hints at indifference. The contrast, proper posture, indicates that a person is assertive and ready to do justice to the music.

How Physical Changes Inform the Story
The same goes for reading. Everything about me has to fit physically with the character. For example, when I read the voice of the "old physicist" in "Entrance and Exit," I leaned over a bit. I spread out my fingers and hands and made very excited gestures using all of my lower arm. While one could say that these physical choices are merely a reflection of the vocal intent, it is immaterial what the cause is. The reality is that choosing to make such physical changes helps me to stay focused on the story. It helps me to let my voice sound like the character whom I am trying to portray.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How I Relax...

I have described my troubles with the amount of time that it takes to work on my project, and now I describe a way in which I may have found a way to help me focus. That avenue is music.

Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken.
~Ludwig van Beethoven


A History of Falling Short

As I attempt to focus on my own "generative processes," I reflect on my past. One of the neat things about grade school was looking up to the yearly projects of the older kids. If I remember correctly...First graders studied native Americans. Second graders did a research project on one of the fifty states. Fourth graders built models of the solar system. But, one project caught my attention more than the others: the sixth-graders studied the medieval period, and their studies culminated with the building of castles. I saw many castles made of sugar cubes and cardboard...and I wanted mine to be different. I wanted mine to be great. So, for two years, my mother helped me save up what must have been well over a thousand milk jug caps (My family drank a LOT of milk!), and I had these grand plans to build an amazing castle of milk jug caps...For years I had this planned, but, yet, there I was, the morning it was due, frantically gluing together a shoddy imitation of the plans that I had formed in my head for years.
Countless other projects and papers turned out to be nothing nearly as good as I was capable of producing. The solar-system project ended up being nine or ten (long live Pluto!) crudely-painted pieces of cardboard placed along a string of spray-painted beads.

(This is not to say that I was not occasionally proud of my work... I liked my president project on James K. Polk and my state project on Arizona.)

The problem for me has never been a lack of desire...I think that problem is that I psyche myself out.

The Frustration of Distraction
or How I Psyche Myself out of Completing Endeavors to my Satisfaction

I think that, at times, I get very high-minded, thinking of the glory of the finished project without outlining a process and focusing on each step. I wonder how much of this is due to how I like to work in blocks...just a week ago I shut myself into a computer lab and worked on this project for ten hours. I read a play for my theater literature class by sitting in a booth in the student center, blocking everything else out, and read the play straight through. This reading lasted three hours, and I remember thinking how I did not seem to notice the passing of time.

How Music Helps Me

I am a person who can have trouble focusing on the task at hand. Perhaps I have cultivated distraction in my life by the way that I once spent a good deal of my leisure time...

In my high school days, I often returned from whatever practice I had (soccer, basketball, scholar's bowl) and parked myself on the family computer. I then proceeded to listen to music, talk to friends over instant messenger, and play a simple computer game... I sometimes wonder if I focus better if the easily-distracted parts of my brain are being taken up by some well-organized, but subtle, distraction. It seems that the answer could be a resounding yes, as I found myself last Sunday working tirelessly on this project while listening to the music of Dream Theater in the background. Perhaps my mind is less distracted by the concept of how much time something is taking if it has something audible to distract it from such superficial worries. Music, with its creative organization, seems to have a wonderful balancing impact between my emotions and my rationality. Beethoven also said that
Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.

Last night, at my part-time job, I listened to the Royals game...the evening was not a very busy one compared to some nights at that restaurant, but I managed to complete all my evening's duties fourty-five minutes earlier than I often do.

Another related vexation...

Another issue that I face is that I think that, in the long run, it would be counter-productive for my maturation process to try to force myself to do things... I think that I will be better off discovering a process that helps me produce best sans an inward struggle.

A Solution?

Perhaps what I should do is figure out how much of my attention I need to accomplish a task...and turn the volume of the music to an appropriate level to help me take my mind off of superfluous concerns but still be productive. Then again, maybe I am doing this already...

I struggle with time...

The purpose of this post is to explain how I examine, and attempt to overcome, one of my personal challenges.

As this is my senior speech project, the matter of completing adequate work hours is of the utmost importance to address. One of my project advisors has agreed with me that one-hundred fifty hours will be a sufficient amount of work hours... But there are several problems with how I approach fulfilling my time commitment. One is wanting to be honest with my time usage - not declaring that I have worked longer than I really have.

Of course, I believe that both of my advisors are more interested in the quality of my work than with, for example, if it takes me thirty minutes or an hour to read through a story.

As previously posted, I have decided to do the entire "Empty House" collection, and I am fully aware that, with the initial reading of the stories, researching details, practicing reading the tales aloud, recording, editing, and posting, each story will probably take at least 5 hours to complete. Still, I worry about the hours. I realize that I should focus more on the work and let the hours take care of themselves.

As far as time concerns go, creating blog posts will also eat up a significant amount of time.

Part of the reason that I have concerns is that I, personally, want to hold myself to the highest work quality possible... now, my concern is that I will not be able to get the entire collection done before the school year is over... I have a habit of not being able to properly gauge how long activities will take me. It is very possible that I may need as much as two-hundred hours to complete the project to my personal satisfaction.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Preparing the Collection

After deciding to do the Empty House collection, the next step is very simple, but very important... I had to get physical copies of the stories and organize them. Physical copies are important because having them in my hands allows me to mark important parts of the story, things that I want to remember, or analysis that I might do. I also do not think that it is bad for the eyes to stare at a piece of paper as opposed to a computer screen (ironic, huh?).

I used the following process to get organized: printing from, stapling the hard copies, ordering the stories, and numbering all of the pages.

Printing from Gutenberg
Since I am doing the stories one-by-one, I did not simply want to go to the website and print off the stories in a big heap...not to mention the fact that I already had printed 3 of the stories and read them. Anyway, I copied and pasted the text from Gutenberg into Microsoft Word and printed from there. As a side note, I am also proud of myself for printing off the stories on the back of already-used sheets of paper. Hooray for re-using! I discovered the other day that one has to put the already-used side of the paper facing up. I stacked the papers in alternate directions first so that I could keep the sheets from getting mixed up.

Next, I tracked down one of my professors to borrow his stapler because, for some reason, the stapler that usually sits at the front of the Fine Arts lab has been missing for a few days. I stapled the stories in book form instead of corning stapling because I think it helps create the feeling that I am reading a book; that, and I can crease the side and easily flip back and forth to reference different parts of the story.

Putting the Stories in Order
As mentioned above, I already had printed three of the stories. These were "The Empty House," "A Haunted Island," and "The Wood of the Dead." I numbered the stories 1-10 as they appear listed on Gutenberg. After this, as you would expect, I put the stories into a neat stack, 1-10, and placed them in a pocket folder with 1-5 on the left side and 6-10 on the right. (I also put another story that I had printed off, "The Dance of Death," behind 6-10, to keep it out of the way.

Numbering the Pages
I had actually started numbering the pages before stapling because I had not yet obtained the stapler. I started numbering the pages because I was concerned that they would get out of order and I would have a big mess. I , fittingly, placed a story number before each title, and then numbered each page using a keyword from the story title followed by the numeral. I circled the numeral to help me in scrolling.

As a footnote...
The possibility of doing the collection as a solo project
On the LibriVox forum message board for the Ghost and Horror stories collection (Volume 003), the thread manager, user name ceastman, suggested that, if I wanted to do all ten, I should consider doing a solo project. I have messaged the person back and asked how I might do this.

Finding More Stories to Record

As I mentioned in my last post, I started with "Entrance and Exit" because I already knew the story. But, then, after thoroughly enjoying the reading of that story, I decided to look for other stories by Algernon Blackwood. I admire, first of all, the chance to delve into the literary structure and discipline that goes with his writing... I had several terrific English teachers growing up, and I know that I am fairly competent with the written expression of my language, but I am often thrilled to discover something that I did not know. For example...

The coloring of an infinitive
What I discovered upon one of my readings solidified something that I had begun to realize before: that, in "standard English," one is not supposed to insert an adverb into the middle of an infinitive. I realized this by noticing, in the first sentence of the sixth paragraph of a story by Blackwood called "The Dance of Death," how he wrote, "The spontaneous jollity natural to a boy and girl dance served, however, to emphasize vividly the contrast of his own mood..." Notice the phrase that I italicized (it is not italicized in the story). In English, a trouble that we sometimes have is that our infinitives - to go, to run, to stop, to love, etc. - consist of two words, and that we often insert our adverbs into the middle of those phrases - to boldly go, to quickly run, to abruptly stop, to madly love. Of course, there are practicality issues... Who really cares if people do it or not? The answer to this could be a resounding "just English teachers." :) "The meaning is still there" would be a solid argument against such language harping. But, whether or not a person chooses to follow this prim practice, a writer could certainly use this device of "proper" English to give his or her writing a rustic or noble feel. But, I digress...

Making a decision
The point is that, through perusing some more Blackwood stories, and knowing that the LibriVox message thread manager wanted more ghost stories, I decided to record an entire collection, a full ten stories, by Blackwood, and send them in to the LibriVox catalog.

I settled on this particular collection after I printed off and read four Blackwood stories. (It is also worth noting that, for some reason, many of the stories on, the location where I found "Entrance and Exit," are unprintable. This would be understandable if the stories were under copyright, but many are under public domain! So, if a story is on Gutenberg, one can just copy and paste the text and print from a word processing program or from the Gutenberg page itself.) I especially liked (See, I did the adverb insertion thing, too! I find that amusing to notice. :) ) "A Haunted Island" and "The Empty House." Since those two stories were of the same collection, I gave birth to a brainchild... Why not just do the whole collection?

For your convenience, the full collection, "The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories," is available on

The first story that I will tackle is "A Haunted Island" because I enjoy its thriller qualities, which I will describe in detail when I present another post with my full analysis.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Recording Process & The First Draft

I have discovered that, in life, it's good to start with something you know and build from that. With that in mind, I decided that the easiest thing to do when I start recording for the LibriVox project would be to start with a story on which I had already worked. So, I settled on "Entrance and Exit" by Algernon Blackwood. This is a short thriller...about a 12-minute read out loud.

Since the LibriVox project is done of public domain material, it is important to ensure that the book, document, or story that one wishes to read is in the public domain. So, I had to make sure that "Entrance and Exit was in the public domain. So, one of my project advisors helped me to find that the story was, indeed, in the public domain, as it was published in 1914.

You can find the full text here: "Entrance and Exit" by Algernon Blackwood .

My process for the first recording was as follows:

1. Warming up.

If I recall correctly, on my way over to the recording lab in the Fine Arts building of my campus, I warmed up my voice. This was of vast importance, and not just because I was a bit congested that day! In anything that a person does involving the voice, it is of the utmost importance to warm up the voice. Through six years of choral singing experience, I have found that my voice feels best when I warm up my head voice and falsetto voice first. This accomplishes two things for me: a) since it is impossible to produce a strong or clear tone in head voice with tension, it gets me thinking about proper relaxation and b) it gets me to think of using a great deal of my vocal range. Using a greater vocal range, I believe, enhances my performance.

2. Test for voice quality
After opening up the program and checking the microphone status - it is important to make sure that the sound is going into the microphone and not into the computer's internal microphone...sound quality is much, much better through the external mic. - I ran a couple of test files. I feel that it's important to listen to how I sound before I begin recording...this way, I can check how the microphone is picking me up.

3. Microphone height
For the testing process, I said something simple into the microphone, adjusting the microphone to four different levels...low, medium, a little high, and really high. I do not remember what I said for the test, but it is immaterial. The point is that I said the same thing at each height. After recording these tests, I listened to the four samples and found that I liked the sound quality best at "medium" and at "a litte high." Upon reflection, I wonder if I might want to use the different speaking qualities at different levels of microphone height to give different types of characterization. It is also important to note that I am not holding the microphone with my hand. It is on a headset.

4. The LibriVox Introduction Most supervisors for the submission of recordings ask that the LibriVox introduction be given before every reading. It is to be read as follows:

[Chapter Number] of [book title]. This is a LibriVox recording. All LibriVox recordings are in the public domain. For more information, or to volunteer, please visit

If one wishes, he or she can add:

recorded by [reader's name/name of choice for recording]


[Book name], by [author], translated by [translator name], chapter [number.]

It almost goes without saying that short stories such as "Entrance and Exit" do not need the chapter number read because they have no chapter; also, if the work is read in its original language, no translator name will be necessary.

5. Record the Work!
When these simple steps have been accomplished, it is now time to read the story. I paused a few seconds, as LibriVox recommends, and then began!

The First Draft
Without further ado, I present the first draft of "Entrance and Exit." At this point, I do not know how to import audio files into blogger, so I used Windows Movie Maker to create a simple video using the LibriVox logo as a graphic.

Low Quality

High Quality