Audio People of the World: "You, Knight!"

Much to be said about a recent ITConversations podcast episode. Ostensibly, this episode was about the LibriVox success story. (LibriVox is a community project producing public domain audiobooks from public domain books in diverse languages.) Yet, during this conversation, Web analyst (and Microsoft employee) Jon Udell along with LibriVox founder Hugh McGuire managed to share much insight on such varied issues as community-building, project management, grassroots movement, open source development, participatory culture, and aurality/orality.

After the chat, Udell and McGuire followed up, on their respective blogs. Udell developed a useful script to make all LibriVox books into RSS feeds for use in iTunes and other media players. Such a collaboration is an appropriate example of the power of “scratch your own itch” development, described during the podcast conversation. The conversation also prompted Librivox reader Sean McGaughey to describe LibriVox as a killer app. [Update: Blog version of the same description.]

I was led to this podcast episode through a visit to LibriVox reader Kara Shallenberg’s blog. Started listening to the LibriVox podcast after reading about LibriVox on fellow YulBlogger Patrick Tanguay’s own blog. Among other things, LibriVox helped me appreciate Canadian Literature and I’m quite glad that the project may contribute to Montreal’s widespread recognition at the cutting edge of technology and culture.

As an aural learner, I was quite taken by Udell and McGuire’s comments on auditory media. It seems that these two guys really grok what is so neat about sound. At least, their ideas about sound are quite compatible with my own ideas about music, language, and the cultural importance of sound.

We might be in a minority, North Americans who care about sound. Many people (including some online visionaries) seem to care more about visuality. In fact, given the large number of Web designers in the “Web 2.0” movement, it might be said that auditory media have often been considered a subset of “audiovisual content.” Yet there is something to be said about sound standing alone in digital life.

For instance, McGuire and Udell talk about the possibility for people to undertake other activities while listening to audiobooks and other auditory content. Commuting is probably the easiest one to grasp, for most people, and while it might be fun to watch a DVD on a plane or bus, audio podcasts are possibly the ideal “distraction” for (hearing) commuters. Listening to podcasts while moving around has led to very stimulating experiences.

Fans of McLuhan would probably think of “hot” and “cool” media. The difference between video and audio podcasts clearly relates to McLuhan’s ideas about participation.

There’s also the issue of rhythm. While moving images certainly can be rhythmic, speech and musical rhythm seem, to me, to be more readily associated with diverse human activities. No idea where to look for the cognitive side of this but it’s clearly worth investigating.

For lack of a better word, sound is more “abstract” than other sensory experiences. Acoustic signals do have a physical reality but the practise of listening has been used to elicit important ideas about abstract structures in Euro-American aesthetics.

Lots more to talk about but it will do for today.

12 thoughts on “Audio People of the World: "You, Knight!"”

  1. Sean,
    My pleasure. Gave me the occasion to subscribe to your podcast. Had listened to several of your readings on the LV podcast and quite enjoyed the Lewis Carroll song. You certainly have a unique voice! 😉

  2. i’m very curious about this oral/aural information exchange from an anthropological view. i think we are “built” to receive information orally – this is our most “natural” method of getting information. whereas text is a new invention with a mechanical intermediary between the idea-maker, and receiver. but we are fine-tuned to get information from a voice, which carries so much more information than just the words (i guess ideally, we see the person too, adding yet another layer of contextual information).

    so i’ve always wondered: what happens when an illiterate society is transformed into a literate one? the negative impacts must be massive … a loss of direct connection to the histories that get passed down generation to generation. if you can write it down, you don’t have to hear it; but in writing you lose so much.

    so in some ways, librivox *adds* an (important) layer of human information to the existing text; a layer which has much to do with the intentions (ie to share a love of the book, among other things) of the reader.

  3. Very interesting take!
    I happen to agree and so do several anthropologists. Of course, ethnographic disciplines are often linked to orality and we do have a concept of “oral societies.” Oral transmission (without audio recordings) being an unbroken chain of face-to-face interactions, we see the social and cultural value of orality has something different from lack of literacy.
    There’s a lot of work in folkloristics (one of my other disciplines) on oral/written. Much of that work has to do with the fact that written communication is just one mode and that oral communication is multi-modal and diverse.
    We definitely should discuss all of this at some point. Maybe at the next YulBlog? Or are you going to PodMtl tonight? I might drop by.

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