Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"The Curse of Audio Recordings"

As someone who is kept from going stark raving mad on the sardine run commute to-and-from work by audio recordings (usually there's no space for a book, so listening to something is all I can do), I look at my title sitting up there on the screen and feel as though I probably shouldn't say that about something I use and appreciate on a daily basis, but the flip side of listening to a favorite song or book, is listening to something that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, and hearing the exact same irritating sound again-and-again-and-again-and-again.... and again-and-again-and-again-and-again-and-again-and... Aggggghhhhh!! Stop already!!!

What do you do when you've got a vast and complex train system with an incredible number of stations, and you want to have a recording telling people what the next station is? A coupe of options might be:

a) Have someone read through a list of stations, reading "The next stop is Tokyo Station"; "The next stop is "Yurakucho Station"; "The next stop is Shinbashi Station". The resulting recordings would differ slightly from one station to another - a shocking concept - almost like real speech!

b) Have someone make a single recording saying "The next station is....." and then give them a list of stations to read "Tokyo"; "Yurakucho"; "Shinbashi". Use the single recording for all stations; just dropping in the relevant station name at the end. A "benefit" of this is that all the recordings will be uniform. The disadvantage is that it sounds unreal, because... well... it *is* unreal! And then this Frankenstein creation gets worse; 'Frankenstein monster, meet Dr. Clone!'

The "B" route seems to be what JR has done with its English announcements, although that single template sentence may be different for different lines... (the recordings that torment me on a regular basis are the ones on the Yamanote Line and the Chuo Line).

What prompts this rant? I took a video clip of the station display screen (there's also one displaying ads, news & weather) over one of the doors (there are a pair of displays over every door), including the audio file that was playing at the time I made the clip. After ranting up a storm about the recordings, I played back the video clip, thinking "I wonder how this will sound to someone who hasn't yet been tortured with this recording..." as the clip began.

How did it sound with that mindset? Not so bad! But - and this a very large "but" - keep in mind that the announcement is likely played quite a bit more loudly on the train than you're hearing it on your computer, and also that (except for the station name part), as you ride the train and it stops at one station after another, you're forced to listen to that same recording over and over and over....

Anyway - here's a video clip (and recording) from the Yamanote Line:

And by way of contrast, here's a video clip of a Toyoko Line train, which very sensibly skips an English announcement and lets the clear bi-lingual display over the doors do the job:

It would have been nice if JR had done the same!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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