As Lester Bangs (played by the incomparable Philip Seymour Hoffman) said in Almost Famous: “I used to do speed. You know, and sometimes a little cough syrup. I’d stay up all night, just writin’ and writin’. I mean, like 25 pages of dribble. You know, about The Faces or Coltrane. You know, just to fuckin’ write.”
I can relate. Not about the cough syrup. I’ve always been decidedly square and I'm at peace with that. But about the writing. When I write, it’s like dipping a ladle into a deep well. And the more I write the deeper I can reach, to bring up the good stuff that runs deep like Stillwater (see what I did there?).
I think that’s where the magic lies in art. In exploration.
I’ve spent many hours watching recordings of other actors. Breaking down their scenes and mimicking them. Their movements and expressions and cadences. My personal favorite was during the pandemic watching Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the creature in National Theatre’s 2011 production of Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle. Which ALSO had a fantastic version where he and Jonny Lee Miller switch roles with Miller as the creature and Cumberbatch as the doctor . It's pretty cool, check it out!
It’s truly breathtaking to watch a master, which Cumberbatch is on the stage. There’s a wholeness to a masterful performance. A complete immersion. Like how children play. Most immersion is very good but is still missing something, some unnamable element that I think has to do with the ego and an unwillingness to release the self completely. To me, a truly excellent performance gives me tunnel vision: All I see is what’s happening in front of me. Like when I get sucked into a writing project. I resurface for air and dimly realize time has somehow passed.
On the flip side of that, a full embrace of technique can be magnificent. The documentary Sing, Dance, Act: Kabuki featuring Toma Ikuta is a gorgeous example of this. Kabuki (a classical Japanese style of theater originating in the early 17th century, for you non-history nerds) is highly stylized, with specific expressions and movements, where even just walking into a scene takes ages of practice to get it just right. It takes years to train at this specialized form of storytelling where every tiny movement must be perfectly executed to just the right order or it pulls the viewer right out. It’s a sort of mechanical immersion, a very different plan of attack from the raw, instinctive style I’m accustomed to. There' s something poetic about taking a thing and breaking it down to the smallest, most basic elements. Refining them. Crafting them together again in a pure form. Japanese culture does this a lot, with the language, the food. Everything lovely is a ceremony. Focused. Built upon experience and skills and technique to make it look seamless and simple when it’s anything but. Japan is full of artisans.
Many masters of art do this. It’s so very, beautifully human.
I think the way to really embrace this immersion in one’s own life and art is to find pleasure in the world around them. In the small things, the elements and atoms. In repetition and refinement. In movement and the poetry of time. To step out of oneself and focus so wholly on something else–whether in watching or in doing–that the rest of the world falls away. That’s why I started this blog. To get myself more into the habit of stepping back and viewing and cogitating. I’m reminded of a lovely French novel I’ve reread several times that does just that.
This is the (artist’s) way. Keep it real.
Remember how fast things changed when the pandemic hit? When we were, for the most part, taken completely by surprise and life as we knew it was no more? The same thing is happening with AI.
Artificial Intelligence is everywhere it seems. It’s always in the news and people have been using it to streamline work and to come up with ideas for awhile now. This is the Wild West of technology and it’s slipping its way into all of our lives (and if it hasn’t for you yet, just wait!).
Everything is happening so quickly that it’s a struggle not to fall behind. There’s so much to learn every day and I personally feel like I’m barely treading water trying to keep abreast of these changes. I don’t want to be like my mother, who knew how to program back in the 80s but stopped paying attention right around the start of more user-friendly operating systems in the early 90s. This put her firmly in the computational stone age and I was doomed to years of not so patiently explaining how to use basic hotkeys. Despite being in the first generation to inherently understand computers, I feel like I hardly recognize this crucial and once so familiar tech.
In the VO industry, many people are panicking over AI. Or at the very least sense a looming dread as they worry for the future. Companies have already been using AI to create audio recordings of articles that sound very human-like (until the inevitable hiccup that jolts the listener straight into the uncanny valley) and this will put a lot of voice actors out of work. Not the ones at the top, mind you, but the ones in the mid to lower levels, which is most of us. Jobs in eLearning, corporate narration, and other non-broadcast voiceover doesn’t need a great deal of emotion or dynamism. In other words, it doesn’t need actors. It needs narrators. And a computer can do this just as well as a person. It’s cheaper to use AI than to hire an actor to record something straightforward. And AI makes fewer mistakes. It can process a wall of text in just a few minutes. It is, unfortunately for artists, good business practices for the company to use a program that does the job as fast and as cheaply as possible.
Quantity over quality and all that.
Worryingly, some companies are hiring actors at stupendously low rates--and some actors are willing to trade their voice for a little bit of cash so their voice is used in an AI trainer or as an AI voice. A lot of newer actors see these offers of a few hundred or thousand dollars and jump at the “opportunity”, not realizing that in the long run they’ve sold off their future in VO for next to nothing. Because once the company has your voice, why the hell would they pay you again? They already own you.
Some companies have gone the nefarious route of posting “auditions” that are used to harvest voices without the actor’s consent. This is illegal, but good luck protecting yourself when you don’t know where your intellectual property has gone in the world wid e web and the guy stealing your voice is in another continent. Some big companies have supposedly been harvesting audiobook narrator's voices too, claiming the authors gave them permission even though the actors who did the recordings didn't.
The world is changing, whether we like it or not! This is all the more reason to be savvy and know how to protect yourself! Here are some steps you can take:
I think, most importantly, don’t panic! Automation and the desire to streamline has been around forever. Socrates said writing things down would be the end of good memory, yet we remember just fine. TV came along to ruin the radio, yet we still listen to terrestrial, satellite, and internet! Virtual reality has come along to replace actual reality, yet we still seek to be present through meditation and forest bathing. Art will not disappear because of AI--instead there will be more of it and we will be overcome with choices like we already are with streaming services. The trick, I think, is to be flexible. To keep your eyes, your ears--and your options--open.
But where does that leave the artists?
AI can mimic humans very well (this blog, for example, is being recited by a clone I made of my own voice), but there is a narrowness to the performance. AI can’t make dramatic leaps and choices, it can only say what is put in front of it. Plainly, with limited range and no spontaneity. And always a little bit of monotone.
Considering that humans still seek out art at all, after the tens of thousands of years we’ve been making it, I imagine this will lead to a range of buyers: ones who just want the jobs done quickly and cheaply and ones who seek the humanity of a well-made, artisanal product. Like how there are bargain shoppers and luxury shoppers. There will be more of the former and less of the latter--something that we already see in this industry--so if we want to survive we need to keep moving, polishing, and crafting. We give buyers ideas by being our creative selves and we are the ones who connect to the people at the end of the line whom our art is made for. Because, remember, it’s not AI buying or consuming the end product--it’s people.
It's been a whole minute and a whole half since I wrote anything more than a few sentences on the internet for the rest of the world to see. I don't know why, to be honest, the idea of blogging is so alien to me, considering I write almost every single day. Maybe I felt no one would read it.
Maybe they won't! But that's okay, because I want to now and what I say goes, nya-ha-ha!
Weirdly enough, I always felt (and frankly still do) like my diaries aren't fully personal. I can't be the only one who feels like this. It's not like I have anyone sneaking peeks at my musings, but I always felt, I dunno, like someone's eyes would eventually end up on them in a thrift shop somewhere or something.
Actually, that'd be kinda cool. The history nerd in me would like that very much.
So I write nearly every day the things that go on in my life, the trends I see, the feelings I have, and for a while now I've been doing the tedious but rewarding task of editing a manuscript I've spent the last 5? 6? years on since completing it in NaNoWriMo (that's "National Novel Writing Month" to you non-writing nerds). God, I want to be published so bad I can taste it.
Anyway! Writing isn't all I do, I'm also an actor! On the stage! *dramatic cape swoop*
And also in the booth. That's right, I'm a voice actor! I've been doing theater for over a decade now and the voice stuff for 4 years (actually 3 and some change, if I'm honest). I have a lot of feelings about art and beauty in the world, how it's learned and experienced, and I've always had a soft spot for the humanities.
Before I even begin in earnest, in case anyone makes it this far, I'd like to share some VO (that's "voice over" for you non-VO nerds) resources I've found to be helpful over the years. This is in no way a comprehensive list, but maybe it can help point some people in the right direction, if that's a direction they wish to pursue:
For everyone else?:
Va the Vo
Actor, Vocal Pro, and Writer Extraordinaire!