The memorable power of stories and sound in solitude
Waking up each morning with the world still at a relative standstill, it can surprisingly feel like a lot of work is required to focus on the good that’s presented to the public. Even with a myriad of individual artists and hands streaming live from their homes to help bring entertainment and a sense of unified solidarity in a distanced dynamic, it takes a conscious decision to watch, listen, and devote one’s own energy to that which we’re watching, no matter how entertaining it might be. The onslaught of so much stress can certainly make it more difficult to mentally hold onto things, even things that normally would be the highlight of a day or a week.
That said, this challenge to finding emotional relief through just music, combined with the announced passing of prolific author and artist Tomie dePaola, spurred forth an interesting question merging the two activities, in the midst of a universal search for connection amidst separation:
Has there every been a story that was originally created without sound, that became immensely more memorable and stuck closer to the top of your memory bank, because of musical element or sound design added after-the-fact?
While the easy answer to this personal question would be to recall every video game or movie script ever made, there’s a slightly more niche grouping to this collaborative line of art that comes to mind: stories enhanced with music that remain un-animated or without a full soundtrack. As the author and artist behind so many different children’s books, dePaola’s stories are exactly the kind of creative vehicle that could either stand on its own or be read aloud and given just the slightest of sonic augmentation, without having to compete alongside a full-fledged musical album.
In the case of stories geared toward young children, it’s easy to presume that the conjoined delivery of sound, word, and perhaps even picture if print pages are turned in tandem with an audio narrative makes double or triple the impact. One trip down the rabbit hold of Audible audiobook samples of dePaola’s stories and the pairing runs wild. Imaginative accents of a few bars of instrumental music enhance the emotional intention of character actions read on the page or serve to usher in a tradition of mood in the story before any words of the next passage are even uttered. A great example of such aural enhancement can be heard in the read aloud book recording of Ludwig Bemelmans’ classic book, Madeline’s Rescue:
Of course, Sound design as a form of creativity isn’t limited only to books or books of the children’s variety. Nor is it something that has only come about recently. But its role with a medium that becomes nearly all imagination driven without a presence, certainly makes a notable difference and does so without telling readers/listeners exactly how to think of the premise being presented to them. A character is dancing with glee in a scene? The sound design might reflect a happy disposition and even certain tempo but it doesn’t go so far as to strictly outline the kind of movements the read/listener imagines in their own mind. Still, the associated motif or phrase that arises to inspire that visualization is more than likely to stick out in a person’s thoughts when the story in question is brought up in the future.
This delicate balance of artistic interpretation and narrative guidance, in congruence with independent conceptualization, really embodies where we are as a global society when it comes to keeping our minds entertained and facing a direction of normalcy rather than anxiety. And seeing as people ranging from musicians to actors, to general celebrities are turning to reading aloud, I wonder if sound design and collaborations in the name of making collaborative art that’s more memorable together, will become a more mainstream trend for musicians down the line?
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