Cultural Crossroads: David Ault – Giving voice to the words of Idries ShahAbout David Ault

A polymath worthy of the Renaissance Age, David Ault is the voice of ISF’s audio editions. Working with his partner, Patrick – who handles the technical side of the recordings – he has brought new life to works as short as The Book of the Book, and as lengthy as Kara Kush. But voice recording is just the tip of the iceberg, for David is an actor, astrophysicist, musician, photographer, and a story-teller as well.

Twitter: @astrotour2010

1. As the voice that’s brought Shah’s corpus of published work alive, can you give a sense of the greatest challenges you have faced with the project?

There have been two main challenges that I have encountered whilst working on Shah’s corpus of published work (so far, at least!). Both involve an attempt to accurately represent Shah’s intended emphasis and presentation of information. For instance, the first kind involves structural challenges – here long sentences might contain numerous sub-clauses, footnotes and annotations that are found in the appendix. Bringing this information together in a coherent manner, so that it can be understood in a continuous audible format, requires me to plan and re-read sections. I do this until a suitable solution arises in my mind, one that enables me to bring to the listener information that might normally only be gained by leaving the main text, and referring to footnotes or appendices.

The second kind of challenge I have found is of a more logistical nature – here I have to decide how a diagram presented in a book should be represented in an accurate manner for the listener. For instance, books such as Oriental Magic contain numerous diagrams, sigils, and interesting charts of correspondences; those presented on the page and not always referenced in the text. In such instances I have to determine how to include as much information as possible for the listener to visualise and consider. As a last resort, I will indicate that the listener will need to refer to the book, in order to fully appreciate the written and visual representation of the work.

Apart from these main challenges the other type concerns pronunciation as, alas, I do not speak Russian or Arabic or Persian!

2. Shah’s work ranges from simple stories and aphorisms to complex philosophical treatises. Have you found specific passages slipping into your mind and taking root?

So many! I certainly have very much enjoyed the Nasrudin stories, such as the tale of when he had lost his key and was in the street looking for it. Another man came up and offered to help, but after a while he asked the Mulla where he had lost the item.

‘In my house,’ responded Nasrudin.

‘Then why are we looking out here?’ cried the exasperated friend.

‘Because there’s more light out here,’ was the response.

That of course brings to mind the tale of Nasrudin throwing bread around outside to keep the tigers away. ‘It must work, he reasons, because there aren’t any tigers nearby, are there?’

Yet another story that springs to mind is that of the pomegranates, and the impatient youth who wants to become a doctor, and so enrols as a pupil. His master sees a patient approaching, and tells the student that the man requires pomegranates. Down sits the patient, and immediately the young man tells them that they need pomegranates. The patient is naturally affronted and storms off, cursing the uselessness of the advice. The older man then demonstrates with another patient, taking time to describe the cure, discovering bit by bit, then finally comes up with the answer of pomegranates. This patient is delighted, and goes off in search of the fruit. When questioned, the older man says, ‘Sometimes, they require time as well as pomegranates.’

The themes which have made themselves most evident are those of the Way being revealed at the right time, in the right place, with the right people and the right intention. When the student is ready, the Teacher appears, and that when you can distinguish the container from the content, you have progressed.

‘In respect to some, you may have advanced. In relation to others, you have not progressed at all. Neither observation is more important than the other.’ From Learning How to Learn.

I very much appreciate the Idries Shah presence on social media, and follow him there on Twitter.

3. As well as being a talented voice artist you have all kinds of other strings to your bow. Can you shine a light on your other interests?

It’s true that I have quite a number of interests. I studied Astrophysics at Cambridge and Radio Astronomy at Jodrell Bank, University of Manchester, where I went on to set up the first of my astronomy podcasts, The Jodcast, in 2006. I then decided to make a U-turn after being one of the resident planetarium presenters in Birmingham and moved to London and trained as an actor. Following this, I spent 6 months performing Shakespeare (and playing cello) in India whilst wondering whether or not to become ordained as a Methodist Minister!

I enjoy writing and have published some fiction in audio form and some poetry. I have travelled across North America several times. One time it was to delve into best practice in science communication by indulging another love of mine – science museums and planetaria. On other occasions, I toured the live show of the NoSleep Podcast. I continue to work on various podcasts, from the astronomy-based Seldom Sirius to multiple fiction and audiodrama shows, including one all about ghost stories – my favourite genre of fiction.

When at home I love puzzles, numbers and problem solving – something I encourage with my students – and can also often be found out in nature with my camera.

4. Is it true that you have brushed shoulders with the astronomers Sir Patrick Moore and Brian May?

It is indeed true! Back in 2002, I was part of a group at university that performed Moore’s musical ‘Galileo: The True Story’, produced by (the now Professor) Chris Lintott. Moore himself came up to be the narrator, and afterwards invited us down to his house in Selsey to perform the show locally. One of those performances took place in his garden, to which his friends were invited – including Brian May and his wife Anita Dobson.

In Moore’s study (next to his antique typewriter, on which he wrote everything) there was a medal cabinet, containing those that he had received for his service in the RAF, his CBE and knighthood and so forth. He told the story of how he enjoyed pointing these out to visiting journalists, before asking them to name the small medal in the centre of the cabinet. At a loss, the journalists would go on their way, puzzled and cursing their ignorance.

Patrick Moore had pulled that medal out of a Christmas cracker!