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20 August 2020

Beyond The Blinks: Bedtime Biographies

Oh boy, it’s finally time to write about it. 

Beyond my usual activities as a composer and music producer, I have been a proud member of the Blinkist family for more than 3 years in the role of audio editor.

Founded in 2012 in Berlin by four friends, Blinkist now connects 6-million readers worldwide to the biggest ideas from bestselling nonfiction via 15-minute audio and text.

A real mission to spread culture, history, science, self-improvement, technology, economy, and much more. A learning revolution trough an archive of inestimable value that I contributed little by little to expand with around 250 of their Book-In-Blinks edited so far!

I consider working for them a privilege of mine because besides being an opportunity to extend my general culture beyond imagination, it is also a chance to live in a high-profile professional work context made of people who are humanly joyful and empathic.

A new project has come to life

During its 8 years of activity, the company has grown exponentially and its catalog has done the same. In addition to the growing number, more and more engaging and stimulating new content has been made available.

Today, a new project is coming to light. “Bedtime Biographies” is the first format in which Blinkist introduces what could be called “background music” that more times than not has the same function as a real soundtrack.

When the people in charge of the project approached me to take care of both the editing of the narration and the musical composition of the pilot episode, it was a fulminating event. I wasn’t expecting it and I was flattered even if I didn’t know what to await. I had been given reference tracks to orient me on the kind of sound they were looking for (something as Jon Hopkins‘ “Asleep Versions” has been mentioned), as well as indications of the kind of sensations they wanted to convey. They told me it should have been be a similar format to Books-in-Blinks, but with slower pacing and music designed to help the listener relax or even fall asleep to put under the narration.

Some time ago I’ve worked on a project aimed to create an ambient music live performance that could last up to 4 consecutive hours, without ever repeating any of the elements contained in it. At the time I shelved it for a number of reasons, but fate seemed to have precise plans for the future. The music contained in that project turned out to be exactly what Blinkist was looking for. So I dug deep into that old project-session and came up with a series of tracks each representing different moods. They were made by a few instruments on purpose. It was a real compositional exercise to create many different atmospheres with essential elements. Its original name was “Lying on Emotions“.

How I approached the work

I thought I had enough material to work with, so as soon as I got the narrator’s file, I started working on it. Since I normally use Ableton Live 10 for editing normal Book-In-Blinks, I created a new working template while remaining faithful to the DAW.

It included an audio track that would host the narrator’s voice to be edited, mixed, and mastered. Since the content of a biography deals with both good and difficult moments in a person’s life, I first created a group of two audio tracks that would host the music. Each of these tracks was related to the positive and negative mood respectively. In that way, I could manage the transitions between the two moods in accordance with the content of the text while ensuring uniformity of tone in the compositions since the instruments used were always the same.

To begin with, I used a compressor on the music group in sidechain with the voice. Automation on the volume in combos with the “Autofilter” effect in low-pass mode played a key role. Not only could I manage the dynamics manually, but partly also the timbre of the music. In fact, while the volume automation allowed me to dynamically control the fluctuations of the music, the low-pass filter automation allowed me to softly close the highest and sharpest frequencies so as not to let it prevail over the voice.

In Blinkist, we have general guidelines that allow us to orient ourselves on approximate break lengths in relation to punctuation and paragraph division. In the past, I was told that my editing skills were distinguished by the rhythm I gave to listening. I explained that to my ear the voice, as well as traditional music, has its own musicality. In Bedtime Biographies this is taken to the next level: now the musicality of the narrative is supported by the music itself. Their relationship is far from independent. They are one and the same thing. I see the Bedtime Biographies as a single composition in which the voice is the solo instrument and the music is its frame.

The musicality of the narration

To each point and interruption of paragraph corresponds a musical pause (long, short, semibreve, minim, crotchet, and so on). Depending on the content of the text, the timbre of the voice, the pace of the reading, the human ear tunes into a reference listening system. Once hooked, our brain enters a listening mode so that after a certain pause time it sends us a signal that tells us “here“. That’s the moment where the voice needs to come back in. Just like our body, in fact, music, like narrative, needs to breathe.

Ensuring this bivalent organic breathing between music and narration is the keystone of Bedtime Biographies.

As a film composer, I often find myself dialoguing with directors and analyzing scripts to enter into a story. The story is the central element on which my work is based. Without it, there is no musical narrative. Music is a form of communication and without a story, there is no message to convey. I think that Bedtime Biographies will be very appreciated by users because they will be able to live an immersive experience that will help them to disconnect from the daily frenzy, relax and enjoy a relaxing trip, lying on emotions.

You can listen to and buy extracts from the music used directly from here: