Friday, January 16, 2009

Outside Looking In

"Oh my gosh," said the highly-paid voiceover professional on the phone today, as a recording of her reading of Texas city names was played back to her. "Do I really sound like that?"

So it's not just you.

For two and a half hours today I listened to this woman being recorded for our automated information line. I have no idea what she looks like. But from an audio perspective, it's like being in the room with a supermodel. I have no particular problem with my speaking or singing voice... but, damn, she sounds good. I feel a bit inadequate now.

Still, even the best voice starts to wear after that long, especially when all she's reading - however sumptuously - are city names, prompts ("I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. Did you say ________?") and numbers. Numbers inflected up? Numbers inflected down. Oh yeah, and the alphabet. I also realized, after the recording session was over, that she did not say "thousand" at any point. We're going to need her saying "thousand." I think "million" and "billion" can probably wait a few years, especially in light of recent budget cutbacks.

And this was tiring for me. Imagine how she felt! In fact we don't have to imagine, as after thirty minutes or so of reading, she got the burps. Several blips had to be re-recorded to eliminate an inadvertent "urp" that snuck in there. I get the impression that when you're a professional voice talent, you end up swallowing a lot of air. Think of that, next time you dial an automated system and listen to a bunch of inhumanly smooth voice prompts: it's only by the grace of God (or sound engineers, depending on which way your religious leanings tend) that these phrases were not simply belched at you outright.

She also has to deal with culture shock. Texas has some strange place names, not to mention several that really aren't pronounced the way you might think they should be. This is especially true if you happen to be a worldly, well-educated east-coast socialite. That's how I picture this woman due to her voice and the fact that she's on Eastern time, though it's also possible she's a 435-pound truck driver based out of Pittsburgh.

Almost all anomalies are handled with grace, aplomb, and my old friend the International Phonetic Alphabet. But some things kind of bother her. One can't help but take her point. "Refugio," for instance, as many of you Texan-type people already know, is pronounced "re-FURRY-oh." Try explaining this to the voice talent, who is almost certain this must be a typo in the IPA transcript. "Tow" throws her off as well, and I have to unmute my phone and step in. "Nono, it isn't like towing a boat," I say, "it really is 'Tow' as in 'cow.' The locals have a saying to that effect."

She reads smoothly, with occasional interruptions to sip water, make comments, or genteelly excuse herself after burping. "Cunningham," she reads in that perfect, unflappable voice. "Currie. Cushing. Cuthand. Cut and Shoot.

"Cut-n-shoot? Are you kidding me?!"

Later on she had to read the names of various major statewide attractions, including the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. I hope to visit this place someday, because according to the Corpus Christi website, it's "home to the stately Whopping Crane." That's something I'd really hate to miss.

They're stately, but God only knows what they sound like.

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At January 17, 2009 4:59 PM, Anonymous Rik Surreal said...

I don't know exactly why, but this anecdote is very Vonnegutty. I'm gonna call TexDOT just to hear her, I bet she gives good talk.


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