Before I begin my dissection on how sound can heighten the experience of a podcast, I did want to point out that, while sound is an important part for hearing audiences who listen to podcasts, I don’t support the strong suggestions that many websites give to “listen to the podcasts instead of reading the transcription”. I think it’s important to point out that the deaf community should have access to — and be able to learn from — podcasts as well. While hearing people do rely on sounds in podcasts that is not to say that other audiences should be excluded.
Reading the podcast “True You” and listening to the podcast were distinct, almost disparate, experiences. This podcast in particular relies on contrast between the sounds and does have individual sections that are not as easily interpreted when read. The beginning of the podcast, upon reading, did not make sense as it stood out as an individual event. If it were in an article this part would not work to frame the ensuing stories about identity and how a vocabulary is built from within a single person.
The first story’s impact is muddled, at best, when read in the transcript. The giggles coming from a piercing-clad punk woman gives little impact when in between sections of text. The sleep talking takes on a mundane character rather than one that drives the listener to want to find out more about her story. Moreover, it was impossible to decipher through reading alone what Marquardt felt about X — or her inner child — and how her past has affected her. In reading, often times writers can compensate by mentioning what their face looked like as they said something, or modifying adjectives, but no other information is available from the transcript.
In a way, the use of sound modulates the tone. For example: “I’m dead” she said, laughing. Is a lot different from: “I’m dead!” She screamed, bleeding.
Emotion that is carried from the voice is not the podcaster’s choice, however it is an inevitable advantage to listening to a podcast. What a podcaster can do, and what Abel recommends, is to carve out a space where that emotion, with all its pauses and pockmarks, can linger. There are moments in the podcast where people are comfortable enough to let their thoughts wander, which gives the story appropriate emotion in pacing.
Despair is not the only emotion that is lost when there is no sound, the elements of mystique and hopefulness are lost to. It is easy to read something on paper and immediately feel as if everything is bleak and the whole story is a tragedy. A change in music can alter the tone of the piece and transition us from what is depressing to what is hopeful, this also helps a character arc develop as the characters find out more about themselves and life.
A transcript will give us no pace. One can either zoom through the piece, or read and come back to it. Either concept is not typically allowed in podcasting, which is formatted to force the listener to follow a distinct pace. Due to this, the audio must be intentional and of interest. The music and sound bites especially help the mind rest and transition.
The emotion is reflected by sound, and even ambiguous sounds create more meaning. When reading a transcript, there is a lack of an “aha” moment, due to the way it is written. The emphasis is more on seeing what’s going to be read next, but the didactic nature is almost lost when sound is absent.
The concept of a void, which Abel mentions, is an important concept in human nature. The idea sounds almost cliche in the transcript, but in the actual podcast it is actually a headlining element of the story. The silence contrasted with the background music heightens this concept and gives it purpose. The sound interacts with the story that is being told, augmenting every concept.
What may seem banal, such as grasshoppers, is suddenly exciting when you hear the persistent buzzing of a locust. Even sound of pencil markings guide the reader to conjure up an image of their own cartoons.
The questioning background music almost transports us to another dimension. The characters seem to be in a dreamland confronting themselves through a gap in time-space rather than a story of sleep talk or self-defense.
The sound gives us cues, reminds us what is learned, what is to be learned, and what could be most important. The story elevates a one dimensional page to an actual world through which a listener can travel.