Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fanfic, and the Story of the Sound Engineer's Curse

I’ve been reading some posts by authors arguing for and against fanfic.

I’ve read a little fanfic; it’s not normally my thing but I don’t begrudge it. I don’t care if anyone writes fanfic of my stuff. In fact, to a certain extent, I design my stories to be fanfic playgrounds, with shippable characters and glimpses of interesting places. Also, I’m a little bit intrigued myself by whatever’s going on in the places I didn’t write about, and maybe someday a fanfic writer can fill me in on what’s happening in Nairobi and Osakabyoto (they kind of merged) and Geelong, Australia.

I don’t really like to write fanfic. When I was a kid I enjoyed thinking about Scooby Doo people hanging out with Jonny Quest people on H.R. Puffenstuf’s island, but it’s rare these days that I encounter characters I can visualize running around detatched from their author. 

I’m going to blame it on what I call the Sound Engineer’s Curse. During much of my life, I was absolutely addicted to music. It was the main thing that consumed my time and money: concerts, guitars, buying the same album over and over in eleventy versions.

Then one day I decided to learn how to record audio for real. I had a little bit of an aptitude for it from playing with bands, and applying equalizers to old Beach Boys and Rolling Stones songs to take them apart and see how they worked. But once I started getting into the serious business of dissecting and looping soundwaves, something popped. I couldn’t just hear a song without invoking all this sound engineering lore, mentally dissecting each little part of the song until it occurs to me that I forgot to tap my foot. 

Before, I’d hear a song and think “I like/hate that song!” and maybe sing along. Now, it’s more like “What kind of reverb is that? Are those drums looped? Why is that guitar so bright? What effects have they got on that bass? Why do so many lame singers leave the autotune on, it’s like micing the click track? How many tracks are they devoting to those horns, and are they real horns? Listen to that guitar, they’re trying to steal Johnny Ramone’s sound but he did it better.”

Before, I’d come home and put on a playlist, or maybe a new album. Now, it’s more like I get a song stuck in my head, so then I go find it on iTunes/YouTube/somewhere. And I listen to it eight or nine times consecutively, including the times where I stop in the middle and run it back to hear those last couple bars again. It gets thoroughly embedded in my head. I live and breathe the song for several days, repeatedly listening to it – or parts of it -- and then finally it releases me from its chokehold. Either that or I find isolated vocals (or vocal-less tracks) put together by other people and groove to them while imagining the kind of arrangement I’d do assuming I felt like reinstalling ProTools.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I refuse to have any future roommates, except possibly deaf ones who wouldn’t be driven mad by the Sound Engineer’s Curse.  And you know, I’ve saved a fortune on music ever since, so it’s actually more of a blessing.

Something similar tends to happen to me while reading, and writing, possibly because I spend so much time looking under the hood. I weigh up the protagonists like I’m judging prize sheep, admiring the shape of their personality. It’s rare that I find myself able to dive in like a gleeful fan and pretend they’re people. 

Sometimes I actually fanfic my own characters. If I’m having doubts about the plot I’ll call them in for a board meeting and go around the table, letting each one explain their state of mind at that particular moment. This is probably a mental exercise fairly similar to repeatedly skipping back to the bass riff at 2:13, but I do it anyway.  I’ve also got deleted scenes, where something went wrong and just turned the whole thing ludicrous but I kept typing just to see how it all came out.


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