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Find more Voices in My Head
The first Odyssey Award (given for excellence in audiobook production for children and young adults) was presented to Live Oak Media in 2008 for Jazz. Two years later, Live Oak Media is again the recipient of the Odyssey Award, this time for their audio production of Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken. Curious about the Midas touch that resulted in this year’s comical award-winner, I talked to Arnie and Debra Cardillo, owners of Live Oak; Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss, author and illustrator of the book; and narrator Barbara Rosenblat, querying them about the artistic process.
BKL: Tell us a bit about this and other Live Oak projects.
ARNIE CARDILLO: We’re big fans of illustrator Harry Bliss, so when we found out he teamed up with Kate DiCamillo to create Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken, we were immediately interested in seeing the book.
DEBRA CARDILLO: While it’s Arnie’s challenge to determine if a book is “audio worthy,” my responsibility is to select titles that translate to pure joy! There’s a strong humor element in many of the books we choose, plus we want a good story, one that a child wants to hear over and over again and that won’t make an adult groan each time it’s played.
BLISS: I’ve worked with Arnie and his soundman, Rory Young, on other books, and they are terrific. Arnie has wonderful insight into what it takes to transition books to audio format and an inexplicable feel for the work and the “sound” of the manuscript and pictures.
DICAMILLO: I didn’t participate in the production so I was in the wonderful position of being able to just sit back and listen and laugh and marvel when the disc arrived.
ARNIE CARDILLO: Kate’s plot twists and Harry’s humorous illustrations presented us with the exhilarating challenge to create a production that did justice to both artists’ visions and creations. Barbara Rosenblat was our first choice to narrate. We knew she could convincingly sound like pirates, an exotic gypsy, a high-wire walker, a circus ringmaster, and even a whole flock of French chickens.
ROSENBLAT: When I learned that Louise had won the Odyssey, I went online to read the award criteria and immediately thought, “That’s what Live Oak does.” Audiobooks are a young industry, still a bit like the Wild West, and awards like the Odyssey provide standards for excellence. Meticulous attention to authentic dialects (even for chickens!), clean sound, mood-setting music—it is Arnie’s clear artistic vision and collaborative magic that make a high-quality production.
BKL: Tell us more about the collaborative process.
DEBRA CARDILLO: Our vision is to select books we think children want to hear. Over the years, we’ve nurtured relationships with authors, illustrators, and narrators whose work we admire and who appreciate the time and care we put into our productions and our willingness to include them in the process. It sounds clichéd, but it is truly a labor of love.
ROSENBLAT: Arnie and Debra respect an actor’s or author’s work. For example, Kate had the final say on the voice choice after listening to my audition recording. Once I enter the studio, Arnie welcomes me into the process with trust, allowing my interpretation while prodding me with, “Try this! Or that!” I’m there to offer as many choices and readings as possible, from pirate to chicken to inanimate object. Arnie and his team create what I call “audio cinemascope,” layering track upon track, painting pictures through sound, as though there’s a cast of thousands.
BLISS: I know what I’m talking about when I say Arnie will drive you nuts with his attention to detail. He’s a perfectionist in the best sense of the word. I am pretty sure when recording A Fine, Fine School, by Sharon Creech, I said the word fine 8,000 times.
ARNIE CARDILLO: Although the narrators change from book to book, we have been the same production team for 13 years. We’ve developed a technique through many studio hours and much gnashing of teeth for our audios. I am the producer; Rory Young is the engineer who coproduces every aspect of the postproduction; and Chris Kubie writes and creates the original orchestral music. It is truly a collaborative effort.
BKL: What is unique about Live Oak Media productions?
ARNIE CARDILLO: One essential aspect is “spotting of the book.” Rory, Chris, and I sit down and go through the book page by page to plan the emotional content of the story and characters and to see where the music should enter and how long it should last. In Louise, Chris had the challenge of creating music for pirates, stormy and calm seas, the circus, and Louise’s accordion theme. Chris moved nimbly from one musical style to the next and created an exceptional score. Next, Rory and I discuss sound effects and where they should be placed. Although we have artistic differences, we know when to fight for our particular vision and when to concede. Next, Rory and I hunker down, add or take away components, and finally mix them (sometimes 50-plus tracks at any one time), so that they blend into a production that acknowledges the lead character and the narrator’s central place in the mix, but at the same time ensure the supporting cast of music and sound effects enhances the overall auditory experience.
BKL: And the end result?
DICAMILLO: This read-along is, from beginning to end, a pure laugh-out-loud delight. One of those wonderful things where somebody gets what you are trying to do and then takes it and makes it better than you ever could. Barbara is amazing, and the music and sound effects make it a carnival ride of joy.
ROSENBLAT: In an Arnie Cardillo project, you’re guaranteed that you will not be bored. His productions help children understand what to expect from literature. They settle the child in the lap of literature, drawing the eye to each detail in the book’s illustrations through sound effects and music. Kate is such a masterful writer; we were able to add that wry twist to her words that keeps adults engaged in the story. I’m especially aware when I perform for children of the impact of a first impression. Louise might be the first children’s audiobook that a mother finds on the library shelf. This production might be just 19 minutes, but those 19 minutes can change a child’s life.
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