E-Books Get a Soundtrack | Innovation | Smithsonian
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E-Books Get a Soundtrack

A company called Booktrack Introduces a new kind of e-book. It plays music or sound effects to accompany your reading

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Your book, now with sound. Image courtesy of Booktracks

Curl up with your iPad and start reading Gone with the Wind—go with me on this for a minute—and as you visualize Scarlett O’ Hara gliding across the room, you actually can hear the swish of her petticoats.

Or you’re plowing through The Da Vinci Code and suddenly you’re jolted by the two-note whine of Paris police sirens.

As disorienting as it may seem, the experience of reading to a soundtrack took a big leap forward last week with the launch of a new software application called Booktrack. The company, with a U.S. office in New York City, is about to start rolling out versions of e-books that come not only with music but also sound effects synched to the story line—a ticking clock here, a gunshot there and just like that, you’re multi-sensing. Booktrack files currently work on Apple devices and should be available on Android devices soon.

How does the book know when to fire the gun? It reads your mind. Almost. By calculating your reading speed from when you turn the page, it gauges when you’ll reach the word or group of words that trips a sound effect. For slow readers, the background music plays on a loop, idling euphoniously, until you get to one of the trigger words.

To show this isn’t some forever-in-beta bagatelle, Salman Rushdie, the Pulitzer Prize winner himself, was at the Booktrack launch party in New York. His short story “In the South” will be available with a soundtrack this fall. So will Jay McInerney’s “Solace.”

Plenty of classics will be getting the Booktrack treatment, perhaps with the notion that people will give the golden oldies another go if this time they come with music. Coming soon are sound-spiced versions of Huckleberry FinnPeter Pan, The Three Musketeers, Pride and Prejudice, even Romeo and Juliet. (Hear those swords clanging? )

Let’s face it, though—this is not a product for those for whom a book is an experience in quiet immersion. Most likely Booktrack ultimately will be popular with the generation of people who can read/listen to a book while texting friends, watching “The Office” on Hulu and hacking into the Pentagon.

It’s no accident the first title available on Booktrack is a young adult, science fiction novelThe Power of Six by Pittacus Lore (aka James Frey). iTunes sells the Booktrack version for $12.99 and the ordinary e-book for $9.99.

Actually, a lot of innovative things are happening with sound these days. Here are a few of the latest:

Video bonus: A little old-school sound show featuring the lyrebird, which not only can mimic other birds, but also new sounds in the jungle, including a camera with a motor drive and strangely enough, a chainsaw.

What book do you think would be better with Booktrack treatment? Personally, I think the pitter-patter of hobbit feet would add a little something to Lord of the Rings.

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