Lotus – a meditative novel

Sound design for a revolutionary reading app

Lotus is a meditative novel enriched with sound, color and animation. This story can only be read in Immer, the specially developed award-winning iPhone and iPad application.

The young programmer Luc Numan is traveling through the night, coming across a supporting cast from all walks of live, drawing lessons. But that was ten years ago. Now, two game developers are immersing in Lucs experiences, and you, the reader, are going with them.
You put your headphones on, you shut yourself off from the outside world and float away into a new kind of story experience.

Lotus is made by writer Niels 't Hooft. He is curious about new opportunities for writing and reading on devices such as tablets, mobile phones and e-readers. In general, the .epub format is mostly used for this purpose. But when compared to the traditional paper book, epub hardly uses any of the additional possibilities that are available when reading on such devices. Why not use dynamic text format, color, animation, and sound, for example?

For Lotus, Niels approached a number of people to participate in the project; artist Saskia Freeke and gamestudio Codeglue.
We were asked to conceptualize and work on the sound design.
This was an extraordinary interesting process, with intriging challenges, like: how can sound contribute to the reader's experience and the story without filling in the image that you create in your head while reading ? What works and what doesn't, how far can we go?

Our work required a lot of testing and reviewing. Eventually, we've chosen to focus more on atmosphere and location, and less on specific events, dialog, and actions in a scene. This resulted in very concrete noises such as murmuring and air conditioning noises in a hotel lobby, the busy streets of L.A. in the summer, and the boisterous wind and water sound of the North Sea:

But sometimes we also took the opportunity to dive into the mind of the characters, where appropriate. To do this, we created a number of (musical) soundscapes consisting of multiple layers that can be dynamically mixed in the app. Sometimes, these soundscapes belong to a specific character and work as leitmotives that come back more often during the story. At other times, the audio is more like a sounding version of a mood or an emotion of one of the characters:

We also implemented all the audio material in the app. The story text, formatting, color schemes and the control of the audio files are all in the same text file, which is derived from the .fountain format. This format is often used to write and format movie scripts.

A sound set can be played per text block. It consists of one or more layers of sound that are played synchronously. Each one can be played at a volume that we've predefined, and each block of text can adjust these volumes to dynamically mix layers of sound.
In addition, there are "highlights". These are separate, usually short sounds that play once when a new block of text enters the screen. These were used in Lotus a number of times in flashbacks and during descriptions of thoughts of the characters and a few times during disruptive events. Here, too, it was important to strike a balance between an interesting and dynamic audio image while leaving enough room for interpretation by the reader.

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Example script, click to enlarge


It was very interesting for us to work with the other creators on Lotus and the Immer app. Although things like text formatting and, to a lesser extent, color may have a clear added value for digital versions of existing books and stories, we think that animations and certainly sound, if used well and sparingly, can also add a dimension to the activity of reading when telling (new) stories. We have worked on this project with great pleasure and are proud that we could be part of this reading-innovation!

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