Movies have soundtracks, books to have booktracks?

Movies have soundtracks, so why not books? Booktrack aim to plug that gap, as they put it:

Booktrack represents a new chapter in the evolution of storytelling, and an industry “first” in publishing, by creating synchronized soundtracks for e-books that dramatically boost the reader’s imagination and  engagement. The company’s proprietary technology combines music, sound effects and ambient sound, automatically paced to an individual’s reading speed. Funded by investors including, Peter Thiel, co-founder and former CEO of PayPal, and member of Facebook’s board of directors — and in partnership with the largest publishing houses, best-selling authors, and award-winning composers and musicians — Booktrack is already well on its way to creating a new genre of entertainment.

It’s known that music can add atmosphere, enhance the visuals and give movie watchers audio clues to the plot. When a story (whether novel or short story) is made into a film, the film gets a soundtrack. Some authors include names of bands or songs in their acknowledgements for providing a soundtrack to writing their book. But, if you were reading an e-book, would an accompanying soundtrack enhance or distract?

Watching a film is to submerse into a largely visual medium: you watch the actors move around the set, you both watch and hear the actors speak their lines, the actors’ movements and gestures enhance what you’re hearing, the actor creates their character (not always successfully). Although you may find the characters  from the film live on in your imagination afterwards, the initial response is visual: did the film look good/credible/have brilliant visual effects. The soundtrack is an afterthought: the chilling notes of suspense, the romantic sweep of strings as hero and heroine get together, the songs that define the movie’s key moments. The soundtrack’s there (might even play in your head for days afterwards) but it’s not a distraction.

Reading a book, however, isn’t a visual experience. True, you read the words from the page visually. But what’s creating the book is your imagination. As you read you are turning the author’s words into a dimensional world. It might be that you see the hero(ine)’s actions, that you get angry with an exasperating character, that the dialogue becomes real. But this transformation from word to imagination isn’t just visual. You begin to hear the characters’ speak (if the author’s written the dialogue properly), you sense and smell the locations. You feel the interaction between characters. You may even create your own soundtrack to what’s going on. But you don’t read a book like you watch a film.

I’m not convinced that a booktrack could be more than a gimmick. I broadly welcome anything that would boost (e-)book sales. But I know when I read a book, any music in the background literally fades into the background as I get drawn into the book and focus solely on that. I also know when I read a poem, I need to pick up the poem’s own rhythm so find it very difficult to read poetry when music is in the background and find the music an irritation. I know if a book automatically came with a soundtrack, I’d been turning the volume down to zero.

But what do you think? Would you listen to a booktrack? Can you suggest any songs that would naturally fit a soundtrack to your favourite books?


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