Augmented Media: More Than Blasters and Lightsabers

Star Wars Main Theme
John Williams & The Boston Pops Orchestra

Augmented media has proven remarkably difficult to execute effectively. The most consistent form I have seen done well is graphics in print books. This is unsurprising, as this form of augmented media requires the least amount of technology and has been in practice for ages. Look to the first books that parents read to their children. However, with increasing technology what is now possible? With my auditory inclinations, I am fascinated by using music to augment my storytelling. How can we resurrect lost bardic arts?

Audiobooks seem to be the first logical steps in this direction. Spliced sound effects and background music into a narrative track does not require additional hardware on the consumer side and allows for effective control of timing by editors. The major challenge of this format derives from distraction and saturation. In some cases, I have missed entire sections of narrative. These challenges, however, can be overcome with experience and skill.

The first major category of augmented audiobooks is the full cast reading. With this technique, the audiobook becomes more than a narration. In its own way, it is a theatrical performance with many of the same technical and logistical difficulties. Though accessible and effective, any variation in sound quality or slight off beats of timing for each individual reader is immediately noticeable.

My preferred type of augmented audiobooks is the single narrator reading with accompanying sound effects and background music. The Star Wars books are excellent examples, the Darth Bane trilogy by Drew Karpyshyn being one of my favorites.  Star Wars books have the advantage of being able to draw from the sound library established in the franchise. As the main theme kicks off the narration, I can almost see the iconic scrolling letters in my mind’s eye, giving a feel of unity with the rest of the Star Wars expanded universe and leveraging my established emotional investment.

The second key of success is subtlety. The narrator’s voice is always the primary sound. Sound effects are timed to coincide with the end of sentences or clauses, falling into natural gaps. Also, sound effects are used sparingly. A handful of blaster shots or a single volley of clashing lightsabers is enough to give the impression of an entire battle being fought when combined with a skillful narrator.

For me, a good soundtrack on a movie or TV show elevates emotional resonance, and provides a subtle and effective branding, two topics that are near and dear to my authorial heart.  Furthermore, augmented audiobooks seem to play by the same rules already mastered in those formats. It seems logical then, to turn to those precedents as examples on which to model future success.


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