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By mgieva • October 17, 2011

The Sound of Books: There Is No App for That

The written word reveals a fantastic universe, inviting your mind to step out of the ordinary and envision a different reality. Eloquent sentences and literary techniques summon you to meet quirky characters, picture unknown places and see new colors. But don't attempt to dream up any sounds. There is an app for that.

The release of Booktrack, an iPad app that creates soundtracks for ebooks, must be a signal that the human race is experiencing a failure of imagination. The goal of the product is to enrich the reading experience, to "dramatically boost the reader's imagination and engagement," as Booktrack writes. Yet the app is serving a purpose exactly opposite of what it seeks to inspire.

The eBook soundtracks include audio effects matched to the text. If one reads about a storm, I guess the story will be "enhanced" through the sound of thunder. Or if the eBook is about a vacation by the sea, one might hear waves crashing into shore. But what if to me the sound of waves is soft and accompanied by singing seagulls? Will the app know to bend the music through the prism of my imagination? I don't think so. I think the soundtrack will provide me with a fixed framework and reduce the amount of personal nuances I add to the story.

I understand Booktrack's idea to take the reader away from his or her surroundings (the approaching train, the subway chatter, the construction noises, etc) in order to focus on the text. But please don't match sound effects to keywords in an effort to "enhance" my reading experience. Let people fantasize about a world in which music is much more nuanced than any processed sounds.

Photo credit:  jbelluch