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Polyliteracy’s pet peeves re: audio-books

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Zwlth
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 Message 1 of 16
03 August 2011 at 9:38am | IP Logged 
Inspired by Professor Arguelles' vision of polyliteracy, I have striven to develop a number of my languages to the point where I can not only read but also listen to audio versions of books in them.

I don't want to be an ingrate, so I try to remain ever mindful of how privileged I am to live in the first age when it has been downright easy to access audio-books in a wide variety of languages. However, I've developed a number of frustrations that I would like to share here in the hopes that someone may have found a way around them, or at least in the hopes of resonating with others, for misery does love company.

My first pet peeve is with the preponderance of translated, predominantly Anglo-American literature, over native literature. German is certainly one of the strongest languages out there, with one of the richest literary traditions. But, just browse through the offerings of Audible.de. Does your typical German really want to listen to Tom Clancy more than Hermann Hesse, or does he just do so because that is what is offered to him? If I go to Liber Liber to look for Italian audio-books, I will find better quality classics, but still too much Austen and Dickens and the like. Look around for Spanish material and you will find Dan Brown everywhere, Carlos Fuentes nowhere. Clearly, it is nice to listen to a translation or two when you first get this advanced, but after you have passed that stage, what is the point of having bothered to learn a foreign language if you are only able to listen to low-brow thrillers from your own language translated into it?

My second pet peeve is with untalented but prolific narrators. Spanish appears to have the highest quantity of "synthesized voices," so let's just leave that aside altogether. It seems like Silvia Cecchini has read about half the Italian audio-books that are available for free or for sale. I suppose her voice is pleasant enough in itself, but she has no ability to modulate it for either situation or character, so ultimately she just clips along in a bright and cheery monotone no matter what is happening in the story. For Russian, one gets the impression that Vyacheslav Gerasimov has read about half the entire inventory of audio-books. Unlike Cecchini, who can't emphasize anything, he (or someone who sounds just like him - maybe it is a question of style here as I'm not that strong in Russian) emphasizes everything, reading every sentence as if it were significant. Faute de mieux, I can listen to these two if theirs is the only version of a work available, but it really diminishes the experience and I would very much prefer not to. This is not the case for René Depasse, however: I find him to be absolutely unlistenable. This is a great shame, for he seems to have made more than half of the recordings on classic French literature on Litteratureaudio.com. Sadly, he is so prolific that he clearly reads without any preparation or forethought, just picks up books and reads them through with such absurdly exaggerated accentuation that I suspect he may have been the brains and one of the voices behind the Assimil Latin and Esperanto recordings.

Thoughts, anyone?
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Volte
Tetraglot
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Switzerland
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 Message 2 of 16
03 August 2011 at 3:31pm | IP Logged 
Audiobooks are often a discouraging field to explore at first. They seem to be very decentralized, and when one finds a particularly small and unpleasant group of them, it can be disheartening.

And, as you are all too well aware, many audiobooks sound horrible, even when they're not translated low-brow thillers, or translated in general. Worse, it can be extremely difficult to get specific good recordings, especially if they're more than a few years old and not of a highly popular book.

The good news is, there are a lot more good audiobooks out there than you currently realize. Russian is incredibly rich in audiobooks; for some authors, the problem is deciding between which of a dozen readers to listen to.

The situation with German is also quite good. If I walk into a large German bookstore, and bought only good recordings of original German literature, my main problem would be carrying the weight as I left the store.

French, Italian, and Spanish seem to be far shorter on good audiobooks, but they do exist. I'm currently listening to "Les Trois Mousquetaires".

If you're willing to listen to a German trilogy for children, "Tintenherz" has the best German narrator I've yet heard. Polish and Russian audiobooks I've encountered tend to have quite good ones as well.

As you mentioned Esperanto, I'm aware of only one good audiobook in it: "La infana raso", read by the author, William Auld.

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Cabaire
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Germany
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 Message 3 of 16
04 August 2011 at 8:44am | IP Logged 
Quote:
"La infana raso", read by the author, William Auld


Great! That's corking good news! Where can one get it?
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Zwlth
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 Message 4 of 16
04 August 2011 at 9:41am | IP Logged 
Thanks for the feedback, Volte. It has actually been many a long year since I first began to explore audio-books, and so while it would be nice if there were a lot more sources than I currently realize, I doubt whether I am missing very much. To begin with, I have your own excellent and frequently updated thread on lists of free legal audio-books (surely the single most valuable post on this entire forum), and I am also pretty adept at scouring the internet on my own. I certainly don't limit myself to free sites as I am not at all averse to paying for top quality and thus I do steady business with Audibile.de. I do lack the ability to physically walk into bookstores as you describe, so if you know of any that have a selection other than that which Audible.de makes available online, it would be wonderful if you could pass that information on.

My German is considerably past listening to children's stories and I've found quite a few outstanding narrators as well as some classic literature amongst all the schlock that is offered.

I wouldn't agree that French is short on good classic audio-books as litteratureaudio.com has a huge selection, even if you unfortunately have to bypass all those wonderful texts mutilated by M. Depasse, and there are a good handful of extremely talented narrators on that site, including one particular donneuse de voix, Pomme, whose voice melts my ears into my heart every time I listen to her.

As for Russian, while I am well aware of the wide selection of texts, I wonder if you can name some talented narrators? I hope and pray that there are some, but I've never yet found one who was above mediocre.
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Volte
Tetraglot
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Switzerland
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 Message 5 of 16
04 August 2011 at 8:50pm | IP Logged 
Cabaire wrote:
Quote:
"La infana raso", read by the author, William Auld


Great! That's corking good news! Where can one get it?


UEA sells "La infana raso" by William Auld, including the audiobook.

It was rather hard to find online (as, foolishly, I didn't just start by checking UEA's site). It took quite a lot of searches, in a couple of sittings. In general, checking UEA first is a good idea; they're about as close as the Esperanto world has to an Amazon.

Be careful about using this book as a study tool. It's experimental poetry. Here's an excerpt from the canto where he plays around with re-compositioning (swapping around vowels, changing/adding/deleting consonants, mashing together words that sound similar to the one that's implied, etc):

William Auld's La Infana Raso wrote:

Laŭ gonoraloj, la milit' neĉesas -
nu, kunpremeble, ĉar per ĝi inspezas
tiaj fraponoj, kaj hakiras gloron:
dum ve kaj mi ekiras nur doloron,
aspuras la soldat' per murdo laŭron.
Polatakistoj fiaflanke vokas,
durante, ke la tuta mendo mokas
nian nocion kaj ĝin ne rasplektas
kaj nur larmejo brava nin protektas:
kanonoj, bomboj kaj fuŝiloj baras
la malumikon, kiu akuparas.


It's very evocative and untranslatable, but definitely not how anyone should aim to speak. Most of it is tamer than that, admittedly; only one canto really takes this to extremes.

I should also mention that it's set to music, which makes it much less suitable for shadowing. It's still lovely to listen to, though.


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Iversen
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berejst.dk
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 Message 6 of 16
04 August 2011 at 11:16pm | IP Logged 
It is actually a sign or normality that Esperanto also has got its own experimenting poetry. But it is a game that should be reserved for special occasions with consenting adults as its players and a veeeery patient public - not something you can use as a model for learning to speak a language. Similarly one wouldn't try to learn to speak Italian like an opera singer in an opera by Metastasio or other people who have specialized in a genre with its own rules - at least not if you aim is to buy a bread in a shop or ask for directions in a foreign town.

However I would like to mention an other aspect of the discussion, namely that learners of 'small' languages or dialects often have very few reliable sources. For instance I would estimate that 90% or more of the Scots I have heard was spoken by Billy Connally on Youtube, and before the recent Universal Esperanto congress in Copenhagen I had hardly heard any Esperanto except Radio Verde, where there are just two speakers (who speak nicely and well, but unusually clearly and slowly). If those few persons perform in a way you like it may not be a problem, but I understand those who can't stand the way a certain native speaker talks, and who nevertheless have to listen to it because that person practically has monopolized the production of audiobooks.

I remember once in the early 60s where all Danish actors went on strike. Oh, what a blessed time! I could almost enjoy listening to readings of literature on the radio in that period, because all those hysterical histrionics with their manierist and affected speech and manners were absent from the media. Instead ordinary people with normal, sober voices made the recordings, and it was a pleasure to listen to them. Alas, then the actors returned, and since then I have not listened to radio theatre or reading of literature because I simply can't stand those types. And this happened long before I switched to non fiction - it was simply a matter of avoiding a way of speaking which I found deeply uncongenial.


Edited by Iversen on 05 August 2011 at 9:41am

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Volte
Tetraglot
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Switzerland
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 Message 7 of 16
05 August 2011 at 12:18am | IP Logged 
Zwlth wrote:
Thanks for the feedback, Volte. It has actually been many a long year since I first began to explore audio-books, and so while it would be nice if there were a lot more sources than I currently realize, I doubt whether I am missing very much. To begin with, I have your own excellent and frequently updated thread on lists of free legal audio-books (surely the single most valuable post on this entire forum), and I am also pretty adept at scouring the internet on my own. I certainly don't limit myself to free sites as I am not at all averse to paying for top quality and thus I do steady business with Audibile.de. I do lack the ability to physically walk into bookstores as you describe, so if you know of any that have a selection other than that which Audible.de makes available online, it would be wonderful if you could pass that information on.


Searching amazon.de for hörbuch, I get 128,300 results.

Despite the audiobook thread, and lots of time online and in bookstores, I still feel like a novice in searching for audiobooks. I've hardly scratched the surface of finding them for non-European languages. Even within European languages, I strongly suspect there is a lot I'm still not aware of.

Zwlth wrote:

My German is considerably past listening to children's stories and I've found quite a few outstanding narrators as well as some classic literature amongst all the schlock that is offered.


I mentioned "Tintenherz" merely because Rainer Strecker is a truly outstanding narrator, in my opinion. Also, while "Tintenherz" is children's literature, it's not a bad read - I'd compare it favourably to Carlos Ruiz Zafón's "The Shadow of the Wind" and Michael Ende's "The Neverending Story". All three stories partially take place within themselves, and while they will never be truly classic Literature, they're far better than any thriller I can think of.

Would you be willing to share your list of outstanding narrators?

Zwlth wrote:

I wouldn't agree that French is short on good classic audio-books as litteratureaudio.com has a huge selection, even if you unfortunately have to bypass all those wonderful texts mutilated by M. Depasse, and there are a good handful of extremely talented narrators on that site, including one particular donneuse de voix, Pomme, whose voice melts my ears into my heart every time I listen to her.


It seems to have grown a lot since last time I looked; thank you. It has over 2000 audiobooks now.

You're absolutely right about Pomme. Her voice is breathtaking.

Zwlth wrote:

As for Russian, while I am well aware of the wide selection of texts, I wonder if you can name some talented narrators? I hope and pray that there are some, but I've never yet found one who was above mediocre.


The best Slavic ones I was thinking of were for Polish. There's an old cassette recording of "Pozegnanie z Afryka" with a narrator with a rather nice voice. I suspect that the narrator is Hanna Maria Giza. I can confirm that she's not Karolinan Nolbrzak, the narrator of a much more recent recording of the same story, and which I do not recommend.

For Russian, I had to do a bit more digging. I was still quite new to audiobooks when I L-R'd Russian, and I can't recommend the narrators of any of the ones I used. So, the following recommendations are based on listening to a handful of excerpts; take them with salt. If they're not fantastic, the worst are still ok, which already involved filtering out a lot of readers.

Владимир Самойлов seems competent. He's no Pomme, but I'd call him better than mediocre, and he reads some Russian classics.

Дарья Мороз reading Турецкий гамбит by Борис Акунин. Sadly, it's a thriller, and abridged. The author is apparently considered the best of his genre.
Сергей Кирсанов reading Волшебник Земноморья by Урсула Ле Гуин. Translated children's literature.

I'm not sure of the narrators, but there are ok recordings of the following:
Тевье-молочник by Шолом-Алейхем
Левая рука тьмы by Урсула Ле Гуин - the narrator really enunciates, and modulates his voice reasonably. I wish I knew his name and whether he'd done anything else.

I'm sorry that the list is short, and not based on extensive listening. It's simply a listing the best readers I could find in an hour or two wandering through my Russian audiobooks.

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Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 6286 days ago

4474 posts - 6726 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 8 of 16
05 August 2011 at 12:36am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
It is actually a sign or normality that Esperanto also has got its own experimenting poetry. But it is a game that should be reserved for special occasions with consenting adults as its players and a veeeery patient public - not something you can use as a model for learning to speak a language. Similarly one wouldn't try to learn to speak Italian like an opera singer in an opera by Metastasio or other people who have specialized in a genre with its own rules - at least not if you aim is to buy a bread in a shop or ask for directions in a foreign town.


Esperanto's history with experimental poetry is almost as long as the history of the language itself, and there have been quite a few talented authors of it.

I fully agree that "La infana raso" shouldn't be used as a model for how to speak the language. I'm yet to find an Esperanto audiobook which I think is well suited to that role, though there are several which are didactically useful.

Iversen wrote:

However I would like to mention an other aspect of the discussion, namely that learners of 'small' languages or dialects often have very few reliable sources. For instance I would estimate that 90% or more of the Scots I have heard was Billy Connally on Youtube, and before the recent Universal Esperanto congress in Copenhagen I had hardly heard any Esperanto except Radio Verde, where there are just two speakers (who speak nicely and well, but unusually clearly and slowly). If those few persons perform in a way you like it may not be a problem, but I understand those who can't stand the way a certain native speaker talks, and who nevertheless have to listen to it because that person practically has monopolized the production of audiobooks.


Yes, this is very true. The size of a language and the number of audiobooks it has seems to be surprisingly weakly correlated, though.

There are quite a few audiobooks in Esperanto, with quite a few narrators. While I'd like to praise the idea and thank people for putting in the time, I do find most of the ones I've tried unlistenable. I've heard of several others that I've been unable to get copies of.

Iversen wrote:

I remember once in the early 60s where all Danish actors went on strike. Oh, what a blessed time! I could almost enjoy listening readings of literature on the radio in that period, because all those hysterical histrionics with their manierist and affected speech and manners were absent from the media. Instead ordinary people with normal, sober voices made the recordings, and it was a pleasure to listen to them. Alas, then the actors returned, and since then I have not listened to radio theatre or reading of literature because I simply can't stand those types. And this happened long before I switched to non fiction - it was simply a matter of avoiding a way of speaking which I found deeply uncongenial.


I can't stand over-acted audiobooks either. That said, my personal taste in narrators runs to ones who do change speed, intonation, etc in understated ways that suit the story. Some amateurs do a decent job of this; others have unpleasant voices and speak in a monotone (not that the pros are immune to this).

A few narrators, like Rainer Strecker, can get away with going further and giving different characters noticeably different voices, but that's incredibly rare to pull off decently.



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