Bronson Pinchot became a household name through Balki Bartokomous, the joyful character he portrayed on the 1986-1993 sitcom Perfect Strangers, and he has had memorable roles in such movies as Risky Business, Beverly Hills Cop, and True Romance. He currently hosts and stars in the DIY Network’s The Bronson Pinchot Project, a reality series in which he renovates properties in Harford, Pennsylvania, but a lesser-known Pinchot factoid is that he’s also a prolific narrator and voice actor for audiobooks, frequently sought out for his ability to get into the guts and psyche of what he’s reading — no matter what he’s reading. Over the past five years, Pinchot has provided the voice for more than 100 titles, demonstrating a mastery of everything from the bright pop fizziness of Chip Kidd to the southern gothic darkness of Flannery O’Connor; for every Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Captain Hans Van Luck, there’s some cheeky antidote like The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers. In addition to the work itself, Pinchot’s reward for what I think of as a kind of roving curiosity has included awards from AudioFile magazine and Audible.com.
In 2014, Pinchot’s audiobooks include Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo by Nicholas de Monchaux and several fantasy novels by Jennifer Roberson — but it’s his voice work for Authority, the second novel in my Southern Reach trilogy, that I am obviously most interested in. It’s a hard novel to voice, in my opinion. Authority’s scenes form elliptical patterns, full of spiraling conversations and corridors crowded with memory-ghosts. Told from the perspective of Control, the new director of the Southern Reach secret agency, the novel chronicles his attempt to make sense of his organization’s research into a dangerous, pristine wilderness closed off from the rest of the world. Dark humor and deep horror collide. I once described Authority to a friend as my attempt to show what would happen if Franz Kafka and Dilbert had a love-child that was then raised by John le Carré and Mark Z. Danielewski.
How, then, to read something like that aloud? Done the wrong way, it could be a mess. Yet miraculously, when I heard Pinchot’s version, it was exactly as I’d imagined it might turn out if done right — with an understanding of the rhythms of the language and the intent behind them. I felt almost as if Pinchot peered out from between the words on the page, a position perfect for a novel haunted by so many things. So when the opportunity arose to have an in-depth conversation with Pinchot about audiobooks and the decisions you make inhabiting a text, I couldn’t resist the opportunity. The following incredibly long back-and-forth took place in late May across several emails.
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
I do, though, like all philosophical resolutions, I only intermittently achieve it. The essential task facing the narrator is to identify or invent a vivid personal definition of what “narrating” ought to be. I am uncomfortable with the chilliness of the word narration. It sounds very much outside the action — the voice on a National Geographic educational film intoning, “These giraffes are just learning how to mate”; or my mother, upon Audrey Hepburn’s entrance in My Fair Lady, informing the room: “She used to have such big doe eyes; what happened to her eyes?”
Simply “reading a book” aloud in an airless audio booth is the kind of mental and physical punishment only ever glimpsed in the lower section of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. I decided early on that I should not “read” the book but “be” the book, the way I imagine Homer, in performance, “was” the Odyssey. We know he wasn’t “reading” it. In any case, if an audiobook listener doesn’t have the time to curl up with the actual physical text, he or she still yearns for, and deserves, the experience of being carried away by the author’s vision.
In coming to the realization that you should try to “be the book,” did you create any general rules about the experience of recording an audiobook?
Just one golden one: Always remember that every single word, no matter how insignificant-seeming, has to have had a specific intention in the author’s mind as he or she wrote it. It is one’s duty to discern, to divine, or to supply a performative intention to match that writerly intention. For instance, I will often do three or four takes of what might well be considered a throwaway: the dedication. If a work is dedicated to the author’s mother — without further verbal hints at the specifics of the relationship — I’ll say it rather tenderly and respectfully, for the simple reason that mothers are often our first and most influential storytellers, and any author acknowledging his or hers is acknowledging her role in his formation as an artist of narrative. At the very least it creates an unexpected moment of immediacy between narrator and listener, which in turn encourages, subliminally, the golden triad of author/narrator/listener. Some authors will reveal, in as little as a word or two, that their mothers may in fact have disapproved of the book, in which case I’ll be gently puckish and teasing. Any piece of writing is agony to create; dedicating it to someone is a big deal. Why not acknowledge this in the reading of that dedication?
L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is dedicated “To my good friend and comrade … my wife.” In 1899, this would have been a fairly unusual way to describe one’s wife; in fact, Maude Baum was a very freethinking woman and the daughter of a prominent exponent of women’s rights. To my mind, it has the wonderful spin of “she’s my equal, folks.” Baum knew that children being read the book might hear it, or glimpse it, or perhaps even just mark the expression on the face of the parent reading it silently. It’s important. It wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t.
Even the words “such-and-such a publisher presents …” has intention. I mean, it isn’t “Call me Ishmael,” but it is certainly: “We’re proud of this book.”
This way, by the time you get to the title, if any, of chapter one, you should be off and running. Even if the initial chapter has no title, that absence denotes a certain intention, perhaps a touch of aridity. You can certainly read “One” with the intention of: “All right then, here we go: This is what I, as author, choose to share with you first, though I may enrich or even contradict it later.” And “one” is very mysterious; how many chapters will follow? When you get to “the end,” you can read it with authorial relief (“what a trial that was to relate”); with regret (“ah, but it might have ended differently, if only …”) or with irony (“I tricked you, didn’t I?”).
I still remember with disgust how a “voice” teacher in my university days had us “try to recite the opening of A Tale of Two Cities on one long breath.” How tragically — how monumentally — how soul-shivingly stupid! The famous opening is a series of tumbling self-contradictions: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …” If, as narrator, you do not list but juke, as it were, to follow Dickens’s shifting intentions, you will convey to the listener Dickens’s struggle to attempt to sum up the period of the French Revolution and to begin his tale. It might be well to experiment with allowing an accelerando of frustration into it. For Dickens to invite the reader into the strenuousness, almost the hopelessness, of responsibly painting his picture, is in fact an act of great and calculated intimacy.
Though he was the acknowledged master of English prose style at the time, he is saying, “Even I can’t do this justice. Perhaps you and I should just venture into the story.” He is saying, “It’s irreducible, you must take in the events.” This is a prime example of how standing in for the author — and I don’t mean affecting an English accent and donning an expensive Ralph Fiennes beard, but rather inhabiting the act of storytelling even to the way its rigors affect its rhythms — helps you become the book. The narration is as alive with yearning as any speaking character.
Do you have an initial process or routine by which you get to know the book you’re going to be reading? Do you mark them up, for example?
I don’t mark them up. I simply experience them the way the reader of a physical copy of the book is meant to do. I plunge in. Any piece of writing is a landscape littered with narrative signposts. I follow them. Even hideous writing larded with freezer-burned clichés is an indicator that you, as narrator, are going to have to labor to make everything seem as if the writer is coining it on the spot, because the author sincerely imagines that he or she is being vibrantly descriptive. Length of phrases: Does the author want intimacy or distance from the reader? I “watch the movie,” as it were. Does the author start with a long, establishing shot of the landscape, or a super-close-up of someone’s mouth (in other words, dialogue)?
I gently lay my mind on the text as if the text is a Ouija board and let it move me around. And my eye circles the page precisely the way your eye circles the landscape when you are anxiously looking for someone in a crowd: You scan for red hair, for a hat, for someone towering above the others, whatever it is. I pick up adverbs out of the corner of my eye. “How wonderful to see you, Jeff” may be the opening of a chunk of dialogue that ends with “… she muttered hostilely.” You look for that like a helicopter rescue team looking for a dehydrated Cub Scout in the mountains.
You mentioned in our initial correspondence that it’s “quite interesting in dialogue … if the author has a new person speak up precisely when they should.” I find this a fascinating way of looking at it. As a novelist, I tend to make sure anyone new who isn’t a minor character has piped up or somehow been referenced by about 50 pages in. Otherwise it feels as if I’m somehow cheating — somehow destroying part of the unity of the novel … Do you mean something similar? And when a new character doesn’t speak up when they should, what does it mean to you in terms of inhabiting the work?
On a subliminal level, if, as narrator, one is lucky enough to enter a book — and if the author has done his job, you tend to tumble into it like Alice into the rabbit hole — you begin to feel like a conductor with an invisible orchestra. When the trombone — in the person of a pessimistic character — ought to kick in, you expect it/him/her to kick in. Sometimes, in a given scene, one character will make a long speech about something or other, and your gut tells you that, based on your accumulated knowledge of the players’ psyches, the other character in the room ought certainly to have objected to something on the spot instead of dutifully waiting until the end of the aria, as it were.
I find “interrupts” are key from a pacing point of view. Interruptions and contaminations. Whenever a scene seems too easy, I either double down on that long speech so it’s somehow so bloated it’s over the top and funny, or I do, indeed, interrupt it. In figuring out where to interrupt, there’s a kind of compositional feel, a sense of whether you’re working in major or minor chords, for example.
Writing is so much more like music than we are accustomed to acknowledge. I mean, in both musical notation and writing, characters in black on white (usually) signify pitches and words, and words in turn signify a variety of things. Before the eighth century B.C., all storytelling in the West was strictly oral, of course, and so this idea of a series of diagonals, verticals, and dots signifying words which in turn signify the action of Tess Durbyfield slipping a note under Angel Clare’s window casement, which in turn signifies the turning point of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, is, in essence, musical notation. So you try to look through what’s on the page to see what the author meant the reader to feel, and even beyond that, what the character meant the author to feel. Because, as everyone who has ever written knows, characters assert themselves and have the last word.
This next question is perhaps predictable, then: How miserably do writers mess it up when you hear them read at, say, a bookstore? Do you enjoy readings despite the fact that you’re listening to a lot of mumbling and disjointed garglings and the like?
Well, I think fish gotta swim; birds gotta fly. Performers should perform; writers should write. If I may personalize that: When I read my own writing, I am revoltingly, unforgivably bad. I just don’t think it can be done well. I go to a dinner with my dear friend narrator Ray Porter and have him read my work to me, and that is the way. The most appalling thing in the world is a poet reading his or her own poetry. Dear God, that’s painful. Is there anything on Earth more egregious than seeing an actor talk about his or her own performance? Hell on Earth. I’d rather be on the receiving end of a demon’s pitchfork in a Bosch painting. Let a professional talk about it. Or better yet, let nobody talk about it; go see the movie or the play.
Sometimes I wish that those “being the book” for audiobook purposes could change the text. I change the text of my own work all the time for my readings because there are things that have the right cadence on the page but don’t when spoken aloud. If I wrote like Elmore Leonard, that probably wouldn’t be necessary; but even Stephen King has been known to alter his written words for a reading. Do you think that this kind freedom would cause chaos, or would it help you?
I think a book should be read precisely as it was published; otherwise you are changing too many variables. You are abridging. If you expect to hear a “reading” of a piece of “writing,” then you, as audience, deserve to hear that piece of writing. That said, I deeply feel that if authors had their actor friends over to read sections of their burgeoning books aloud on the living-room couch, they’d catch a lot of things that are fatty and the world would be a better place. I highly recommend this. Words are words, and they were meant to be said and felt. Shakespeare made no effort to publish a single one of his plays, as everyone knows.
Do you ever get specific notes or ideas from the writer about how something should be read? What is a helpful note, and what is, shall we say, less helpful?
Good notes are like good writing: You want to get at a place in the heart. “She was the most nurturing person I’d ever met” is welcome and useful; “she had a nasal Newfoundland accent, slurred her Ws and had a phlegmy laugh,” slightly less so. I got a wonderful note once from an author: “These characters don’t demonstrate their emotions. They just have them.” Fabulous to work with. I got the note on [VanderMeer’s novel] Authority that I should do nothing to make the women characters “feminine.” That it should be about the way they thought and took on the world, not anything about the timbre of their voices.
I wrote that note based on a sample I’d been given long before, where the women’s voices were made very girlish, which didn’t mesh with what I knew of them. In striving to create characters that hopefully aren’t the usual, I was living in fear of that being somehow undermined. There’s also this weird thing where I was still working on the third novel and I knew I’d be tempted to listen to the Authority audiobook before I finished the edits on Acceptance, and I’ve got this superstition where the wrong cover art or wrong voicing while I’m still working on a project can destabilize my own view of the characters. Peculiar, I know.
Well, it’s a wonderful area of creative weirdness. You can embrace the life-imitates-art-imitates-life chicken/egg/chicken thing and get very lost in it. Shakespeare worked with the same troupe for years, and it is reasonably posited that since he wrote virtually all his great tragic roles for Burbage, at a certain point, he had to have been writing with Burbage’s strengths at least partially in mind; Burbage must surely have desired to stretch his limits to do justice to what the master was creating. My best performance of all time is reckoned to have been Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Given the fact that the character sings a song every time he enters a scene and exits a scene, there is a strong sense that the comedian who played him said to Shakespeare, as I have myself said to writers/composers of plays in development, “I really think you owe me a song here.” Autolycus appears only in the second half of The Winter’s Tale and there is another non-comic character, who only appears in the first half. This character, in debating whether or not to expose an infant in the woods, utters the line, “I cannot weep.” It can be read either as “my emotions are too deep for tears” or, rather delightfully, I think, as “I am — as you know — the same well-known comic actor who will shortly appear in Act II as Autolycus, and though I have agreed to play this ostensibly dramatic scene rather than sit with my feet up through the whole first half of the play, you really mustn’t expect me to go as far as to weep, as Burbage might.” I just love that.
For a fiction writer, the parallel might be working within the constraint of a desired structure or a character viewpoint that needs to be narrow, requiring you to make some things visible to the reader through subtle touches or a particular emphasis on a phrase or image. But — going back to superstitions — are there things you avoid doing when you work on audiobooks? Or some action you avoid?
There is a holy moment where, as narrator, you can feel the character’s emotions welling up in you like Champagne bubbles; there is no way to describe it except in smarmy language like this, but it certainly is sacred and eerie. I imagine it can’t be that different from what happens with the author. In any case, when that happens, I tend to snap at anyone who interrupts me for any reason. Recording Mark Twain’s Chapters From My Autobiography, I felt it very strongly. Twain dictated the book from his sick bed in old age; and one particularly sophisticated and heartbreaking thing he did was to intimate to the reader from time to time that — when he could bear it, and by no means in chronological order — he would relate the circumstances of his beloved daughter’s death. Therefore the dreaded event hangs over one’s head like the Sword of Damocles. The reader learns through dribs and drabs that this most cherished child died insane and blind, embracing the dress of her absent mother (Twain and his wife were on a cruise at the time, and trying desperately and, as it happened, futilely, to get home), and as the death of Susie drew closer and closer, I could feel tremors wafting up my esophagus and perching on my vocal cords. My engineer kept intruding over the headset: “This is brilliant! You’re doing so well!” and I would snap at him, “Thank you, but please don’t interrupt me, don’t stop me!” And it became very complicated, because of course I realized he was stopping to compliment the performance in part because the emotion of what was looming was paining him too.
Admittedly, that is a flawed example because Twain’s daughter Susie was not fictional; however, I do feel very strongly, as perhaps you do, that fictional characters have full emotional existences, which good novelists merely “sample.” The character speaks privately to the novelist, who puts down only part of what he or she hears. If this is done correctly, the character also speaks to the auditor, and in many famous cases — Hamlet, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Joe Gargery in Great Expectations — the reader has the distinct impression that the character is imparting things to him/her that the character may even have withheld from the author him/herself, and perhaps even to all other readers. So when a character truly speaks — in emotional colors beyond the words — I try to make sure nothing intrudes; and in a spirit of protectiveness, I can get a little snappish; and then I end up having to make coffee for the engineer, and in extreme cases, supplement it with pie and cajole him by careful degrees into seeing me in a benevolent light.
That’s a beautiful gift to give to the reader, but that approach, the intimacy of it, isn’t simple to achieve, is it? I don’t always hear that in audiobooks, a kind of giving over. I hear it in the audiobook of Authority, but that’s also just my reaction as the writer, who has already lived within the text. The reaction of the people who buy the audiobook and listen to it might focus on something completely different. I wonder if you have a favorite kind of listener reaction.
The best reaction in the world is from the author, hands down: “That’s the way the book felt to me when I was writing it.” Second best, for a memoir (from an auditor): “I was surprised to see that the reader wasn’t the author himself.”
Best of all time: I received a letter from a buyer for a bookstore telling me that when a certain character had done a certain surprising thing in Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn, she had burst into tears. In the reading of it (and preserved in the recording), I myself had somewhat unsuccessfully choked back tears; she asked me how I had arrived at that choice. I told her the truth: It just happened as a result of that surprising thing the character did.
I related the story to Karl, and he said, “I never intended that the character should do that thing. He just up and did it. When he did, I burst into tears.” So here you have a fictional character taking matters into his own hands and wringing tears from his author, then from his interpreter, and in due course, from the book’s listener. Emotional dominoes. Stupendous.
This makes me curious about the atmosphere in the studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
I’m in a small box, an audio-isolation booth about 35 square feet and fairly airless, because air conditioning would make a hum on the track. At the same time, I’m not in that box at all; I’m in the book; I’m wandering in an emotional landscape tilled by the author. It’s wonderful. Certain worlds I actually ache to go back to, they are so well realized. When the book is very painful, I lurch out of the booth and make coffee and answer emails and eat trail mix, searching, rather touchingly, I think, for just the chocolate M&M’s.
How long do you record at a time, on average? And does a claustrophobic quality in a book heighten this effect? I ask because I think of Authority as my claustrophobic novel, and if I had to read it in a small box, I would probably be gibbering to myself after a while.
I have a bit of a wonky lower back and a terrific sensitivity to stale air, which makes me feel as if my skin can’t breathe, so two hours is often my maximum to sit in a chair in a booth. In general terms, you can get one “finished” hour for every one-and-a-half to two hours you spend in the booth. I read a fascinating book, Caribou Island by David Vann, in which a husband and wife are plotting to, well, kill each other. The husband is an expert in Old English, and part of his ritual to prepare himself for offing his wife is to wade into ice-cold water, naked, and declaim sections of Beowulf at the top of his lungs. Obviously this passage had to be chilling and passionate and rife with the character’s life’s worth of frustration. Sadly, I am not fluent in Old English, though I can sing in Middle English, so we did it phrase by phrase, and I think the ratio of studio-to-finished that day was more like three, or perhaps 13, to one. One thing about the atmosphere in “the booth” is that I have a window on the world — filled with the large figure of my engineer, Tim. Tim, I always say, looks like an artisanal doll of a hippie made with corn husks and other recyclables. When the writing is good, I look at him and we wag our heads in admiration. When it’s very, very poor indeed, we look at each other and make faces of despair, self-pity, weltschmerz, and pizza lust.
I’d second that endorsement of Caribou Island — an unsparing, stunning novel — and I love your take on it, the tone or mood of it infiltrating your way of inhabiting that particular text, almost as if you’re peering out from the words. But you also mention making faces at poor writing. When that happens, are there ways to correct for a “klang,” I wonder? Or a series of klangs? In dialogue, say?
Yes, of course; many. You can impart a sense of a character’s tripping over his or her words so that an author’s grammatical error or unhappy word choice seems like a nice bit of character revelation. Lest anyone reading this think I’m being prim, here’s a recent example of a klang, from a spy thriller. “While pretending to holster their guns, Jack and Tasha surreptitiously checked out the bodies of them.” Someone published that. Only the character names were changed to protect the innocent. When in doubt, I use idiorrhythm — to coin a dubious but useful noun from a seldom-used adjective. Speaking idiorrhythmically, one can impart a sense that the words the character is uttering are the character’s imperfect attempt at voicing a lucid thought. In a play or movie, one could simply send a message to the author, accompanied by Godiva chocolates, asking, in a terribly roundabout way, if he/she meant for the phrase to be klangy; in audiobooks, you have to make it work, which is a discipline I have grown to love.
It seems to me many of these decisions that have significant effects occur at a minute level of detail. Perhaps even what seem like grace notes can come to define a performance. For example, and forgive me if I’m wrong about this … but it seems as if Control’s voice is a bit different at the beginning in dialogue than it is later in the audiobook. Was this an intentional effect?
I took my cue from you. Early in the book, he is conscious of his otherness, or the Southern Reach’s otherness, however you want to phrase it. By degrees, he gets immersed — literally. So I followed the psychological signposts, or psynposts, I suppose they should be called. My younger brother sounds like he’s a complete product of the suburb of Los Angeles where we grew up when he is speaking to his colleagues in the collectible field; but not when he is speaking to me. For fun, we will speak to each other in “San Fernando Valley–speak.” I know that I, for example, speak one way if I am talking to another actor, and an almost entirely different way if I’m talking to my right-hand man way up in the farthest reaches of northeastern Pennsylvania. Both are utterly natural, but they are like two different dialects. Tony Blair was quite infamous for letting a touch of Cockney into his speech when addressing the masses.
That’s always fascinating, isn’t it? The way we change how we talk. I know a few people who seem to talk like the person they’re talking to, and I know if I’m talking to a stranger, I will sometimes let a bit more of the South into my voice for some reason. Meanwhile, I curse like a sailor around my wife and very close friends, but don’t otherwise. It’s a fascinating effect to try to get across in fiction, because there’s this concept of “consistent inconsistency” — that because we do change like that, a writer should try to convey such things, but if you do it wrong, it just seems like bad characterization.
These are some of the ineffable effects that make audio recordings justify themselves. You can traffic in the subliminal because the material is going directly into the auditor’s brain. In the same vein, when doing, say, nonfiction, there are infinitesimal tonal things one can do to create a difference between the authorial voice and a quote. One very slightly more presentational; one more conversational. Because the auditor does not have the benefit of the altered indentations or quotation marks that can be seen on the page. You can do a lot with breath. You can take a fairly gusty breath preparatory to a character addressing someone whom the character feels is a bit difficult to deal with, and that gust serves as a signifier to the listener that the whole exchange takes a bit of perhaps unwilling effort on the speaker’s part.
Do you have a preference for reading fiction or nonfiction for pleasure? And is what you read for pleasure what you’d prefer to read for audiobooks?
For pleasure, I look at pictures. I don’t read at all outside of the audiobooks because that would be too much of a good thing, really. Leaves the palate nice and clean. I have recently wept openly narrating the diaries of Scott and Amundsen as they raced to the South Pole (some of which we left in, as appropriate), and had my heart wrung by the story of Brian Wilson, in nonfiction. I have also been swept away, sometimes entirely unexpectedly, by fiction. Good is good; if my acting career taught me anything, it’s that you don’t want to get genre-bound. As I used to say, I prefer a great episode of I Love Lucy over any part of The English Patient. You never know what you will find. The nice thing about recording audiobooks is you are assigned things you would never have picked off the shelf, so it gets you out of your rut. It’s how I learn. I’m now rather keen on astrophysics, having read a book about same. It’s pretty wonderful.
What makes nonfiction compelling read aloud? Is it the same thing as what makes fiction compelling?
The author’s awe of, delight in, and passion for conveying, his or her subject. So, yes, the same criteria as fiction. I always wondered as a child reading on the cereal box that this or that cereal had “iron” in it … what business metal had in my body. I now know, purely as a result of being assigned nonfiction, that all metals in our bodies and in the planet are the result of particles from exploding stars. Sometimes that gets me through the day.
Do the landscapes of a book also affect your approach? And by that, taking an example from Authority, there’s a shift where, after most scenes occurring in a strange building, the main character is outdoors for quite a while. Does anything about that affect the tone or atmosphere of how you approach the material?
Everything I can grab on to affects my approach. This would be the equivalent of invisible dynamics over the musical staff. I call it “narrative pull.” Good authors do it seemingly unconsciously. If things are relaxed, sentences are generally longer and more rhythmic; tense, and things get shorter and more punchy. I remember hearing a demonstration of how a violin is actually retuned to play certain pieces by Von Biber, and I think one can do that in reading. After all, you can be in the car with your girlfriend on the way to Thanksgiving and be laughing and carrying on in an easy, chesty voice, and then spot a family member in front of the house glaring at you and instantly get constricted and bottled up in your larynx. I used to roll my eyes when people talked about the actor’s “instrument,” but I got over it. We all have an instrument. When you feel your chest tighten up at the sight of someone unpleasant, it changes your voice and demeanor almost exactly as if someone is putting a guitar fret clamp on your throat.
Speaking of ’orrible voices, among my favorite things about the audiobook of Authority is the Voice — Control’s never-present boss who does a lot of shouting and cursing and whose voice is disguised so Control won’t know whom he’s speaking to. Your rendition is so spot-on and gives me a lot of joy. So, my final question is: Can you tell me how you arrived at that version?
A little anecdote to warm the cockles of your heart: The studio manager at Blackstone, Bryan Barney, used to be my audio engineer and sidekick. Now he’s my boss, and a fearsome one, though he is less than half my age. He was particularly strict with me on Authority, especially vis-à-vis the Voice. In short, he stonewalled me on “processing” it in the studio to give it the “electronically enhanced” sound you specifically mentioned in the text, insisting that I must enhance it with what he termed “vocal acrobatics” alone. I seriously considered power-pouting but did as I was told, which perhaps is always best.
The thing is, when all was said and done, I was forced to transform not the mechanics of the Voice’s voice, but its emotional worldview in order to make it cantankerous; and that in turn transformed the sound of it. I have to hand it to Bryan. To his credit, I also said to him around the same time, when asked to audition for [another] novel: “Why do I have to audition? I read this guy’s stuff two years ago and he loved it!!” to which Bryan suavely replied, “Well, you’ve been out of the loop for two years doing your home-improvement show, and he’s had other narrators. So why don’t you put your energy into doing such a good audition that he’ll never want anyone else?” I was comeback-less. The author loved it, I was hired, the book was a deep pleasure, and we all lived happily ever after. I’m afraid all the clichés about actors being children are true.