Adventures in audio by Sandra Horn
I first ventured into a recording studio aeons ago when I was working in a pain management clinic. I was using a technique of induced deep relaxation with the patients and wanted to give them something helpful to use between sessions. There was a recording suite in the teaching hospital and they had a whole library of royalty-free music I could add. Soon after we began, the technician stopped me and asked if I had anything on under my sweater. Eh? Apparently, there was a synthetic-material-rubbing sort of noise, undetectable to the human ear but picked up by the microphone. Luckily, I had something decent underneath, so peeled off the top layer and we started again. I’d been pre-warned to keep still and not to rustle my script, so was feeling quite tense while trying to maintain a soft soothing voice...’Stop!’ said the technician, ‘there’s a rhythmic background noise. We think you might be clenching your buttock muscles.’
Scrolling forward a geological epoch or three, I recorded Tattybogle for a cd, at lovely Starshine Music’s place in Sussex. We arrived in the early evening, so as to avoid the noise of the builders who were there in the day building a studio. They hadn’t gone home, so we sat in the garden and reflected how quiet it was in the Sussex countryside. Apart from dogs barking, a combine harvester in the next field, and as a grand climax (ha!) Shetland ponies bonking enthusiastically and vocally just over the hedge. We waited for it all to die down and then went in. As the studio wasn’t yet finished, we recorded in a bedroom – two bedrooms, in fact, with Richard the Sound Engineer in one and me next door. Everyone else sat downstairs and were forbidden to run taps, flush loos, etc. I read Kipling’s ‘Four and Twenty Ponies’ first to remind me of my Sussex voice, and off we went.
Some years on again, I re-published my storybook The Silkie as an ebook, with a beautiful new cover by Anne-Marie Perks. For some reason, since lost down a hole in my brain, I thought it would be a good idea to make an audiobook of it. In fact, it wasn’t a bad idea as such, but the mistake was to record it myself. I was nervous about throwing any more money at it by employing an actor. I went to see theatre Director, Fran Morley, who had directed my play ‘Six Characters’ , and she gave me an intensive session on the text and how to give it life. Fine. Except that the studio I had booked was cold and gloomy, I was by myself with headphones that kept slipping down, trying to hold on to them, not clench my buttock muscles, not rustle the pages of the script...and all my preparation went for nothing. It’s flat. To crown it all, the technician then proudly announced that he’d ‘taken all the breffs out’ of the recording, which he seemed to think was a good thing to do. Indeed, he had taken them out, and then closed the gaps...it sounded like an insane gabble. We went through it all again, telling him where to put them back, but this was costing me a fortune so in the end we took it home and edited it ourselves. It was much better, but still not good.
I also recorded the text of ‘Rainbow!’ there, which went rather better, and my multi-talented friend and the book’s illustrator, Bee Willey, will use it in an animated version of the book. It will also exist as a colouring-in book and we’ll see how that goes. New departure!
Episode 4: Starshine invited me to record ‘The Moon Thieves’ in their completed studio. I sat in the lovely sunny room, with triple-glazed wndows onto the Sussex Downs, not miked up because it was all built in somehow, and could see and talk to Richard in his glass booth. It was fun and I know the text backwards and inside-out, so it’s lively. Richard then put some silly sound effects in. Great! Sadly, the people it was made for, who wanted to put stories into a form that children could listen to on smartphones, etc. went out of business, so it has never been used. Ho hum.
Episode 5: my play about FGM has just been recorded BY AN ACTOR, in a studio in the crypt of a church just round the corner. I knew actor Jan Wilde because she had commissioned a comic monologue from me for Dorset Opera’s gala evening, and she had made a wonderful job of it. We did several takes for sound quality and odd bits Jan wasn’t happy with, and there it was. She did both voices and it sounds great! It’s now on WAV and MP3 files and has been winging off to anyone who wants to use it.
Next time? If there ever is a next time, I’ll phone Jan!