While I’ve got a middlin’ speaking voice and about zero dramatic training, I figured - perhaps in harmony with the above quoted Eagles song – that an audio version of the novel might be attractive to some people who like being read to.
There’s this alarming tendency I have when confronting any task I haven’t tried before. It’s neatly summarized in a single question: “So how hard can it be?”
As with a whole bunch of other times I asked myself that question, I found out exactly how hard it can be when I first stared into the microphone at Hangar 13 Art & Design where its owner, Glenn Torresan, had settled in at the keyboard to supervise the recording. Glenn is a good friend, a sterling lad and an astonishing guitar player and songwriter, but I don’t think he had any idea either about how challenging this would turn out to be.
I had read aloud several of the longer descriptive prose sections as I wrote them to get a sense of the cadence I wanted, but I hadn’t put voice to any of the conversational bits (some of which go on for pages) or the connecting bits. So it was a revelation when I began to hear the thing “live”. It was more of a revelation to realize that I had to read it right. The stumbles and pauses you have in your brain when you read to yourself just don’t cut it. The computer-based recording doesn’t lie.
There were also quite a number of physical, auditory and meteorological challenges. We recorded after work hours in the evenings, mostly during the particularly hot August and then the particularly wet September of 2010 in Ottawa. In August, the temperature outside was frequently over 100 Fahrenheit. Because we had to turn off the humming air conditioning and shut the windows in Glenn’s cavernous building to dampen the ambient noise, the place had that “Brazilian-rainforest-in-summer” feel where clothes stick to you and there’s a little bead of sweat at the end of your nose.
Then came the thunderstorms. Many, many thunderstorms, so we had to start over again after each crack and rumble. Oh, did I mention that Hangar 13 is in an industrial park near the Ottawa Airport and obviously on a flight path? But we just couldn’t pretend they were deliberately inserted sound effects. My adlibbing over the weather or the aircraft wasn’t exactly seamless. “Michael listened to the thunder as he...etc, etc,” or “Staring at the jet plane passing over head, Michael....etc, etc...” just didn’t work.
Glenn’s something of a storm trooper when it comes to getting the sound right, nothing dramatic, just a curt “Stop!” when I mangled something. Then he would play it back so there could no question. Most times, I would stop myself when I blew a line. It was a humbling experience as he gleefully (and repeatedly) pointed out my vocal idiosyncrasies – often adding an annoying “mm” grunt sound at the end of sentences, pronouncing “p” with a grating pop, that sort of a thing.
Fuelled by beer and cigarettes, the longer sessions (made longer by my stumbling over real simple words) produced a difference you can sometimes hear chapter to chapter. Some chapters end with a raspy, deeper tone in my voice to be followed by a new chapter recorded on a different night where I start out sounding all eager and crisp.
Surprisingly to me, the dialogue sections where I had to do different accents turned out quite well I think, with the least amount of stopping and starting. There were screw-ups, to be sure. Michael’s RCMP drill instructor in Regina, for example, can’t seem to make his mind up whether he’s Scottish or Irish.
Above all, what made the recording arduous was the time it took to record all 648 pages. We agreed to a pace of two chapters a session. Sometimes, that meant four hours, never less than three. So all in, maybe 80 hours were needed to produce about 20 hours of book. Commercial plug: that works out to 75 cents an hour!
Then, as further punishment, I had to listen for any major gaffes in what I had just recorded on the half-hour drive home each night so that we could fix them at the next session. Sometimes, I cringed and sometimes I thought: “Geez, ya know, this old bastard tells a pretty good story”.
Glenn and I wrapped up recording on September 27 and there was the oddest sense of emptiness as I finished the Acknowledgements at the end. We eventually had developed an easy, irreverent way of working together and both of us, I think, enjoyed the process, not just recording but shooting the shit about all sorts of things. I intend to keep the piece of paper he would sometimes wave under my nose when he had pressing, paying, work-related things to do. “Read faster!” it said. He’s also promised me a CD compilation of all the obscenity-laced outtakes.
On the whole, I’m pleased with the final result, endlessly grateful to Glenn, and hopeful that people will like hearing the words coming from this “certain kinda fool”.