Hmm… need to work on my titles.
Anyway, as I discussed in an earlier blog, much of my time in editing Action Science Theatre is spent trying to find or create sound effects that sound as close as possible to the real thing. Sometimes, however, the reverse is true; what you want isn’t anything like the real thing, because the real thing is too nondescript, or simply inaudible. This is where stereotypical auditory cues come in, allowing the creation of what Vincent McInerney* calls ‘mindvisible images’ – instant visualisation of what is meant to be happening. While McInerney is talking about writing rather than sound effects, similar principles apply.
I alluded to this in the earlier blog:
A bamboo cane being swished through the air produces the ‘swoosh’ sound that throwing knives… probably don’t actually make, but would make if the world were a radio play
So, while throwing knives are more-or-less silent as they fly through the air, that doesn’t help the listener. We add a swoosh sound and some suitable dialogue, and the listener instantly knows what’s going on.
Episode 6, though, caused something of a problem…
Our heroes are tasked with working out how to get Santa’s replacement reindeer to fly. After a few false starts, they eventually repair to Lapland’s very own genetics lab. So, given the importance of background noise, I needed to create a genetics lab ambience. But… I spent the best part of 4 years working in genetics labs, and, from what I remember, the requisite sound effects would involve:
- Three people talking about last night’s television (these days I imagine it would be X Factor, I’m a Celebrity… or somesuch**)
- Two people talking about football, cricket or rugby
- Somebody dropping a box of glassware
- Somebody shouting at a printer
- Some guy who spends all day glued to a microscope and never says anything; and
- A microwave going ‘ping’.
Put these together, though, and I don’t think the listener would instantly think ‘laboratory’. Or, indeed, anything other than, “for the love of god make the noise stop”.
So what should a laboratory sound like? Well, you need crackling electricity; anyone who’s seen a Frankenstein movie can tell you that. Plus the humming or buzzing of strange machinery. And something bubbling – got to have something bubbling. Throw in a selection of random beeps, and, just so it’s not wildly inaccurate or anything, a microwave going ‘ping’. Voila – instant laboratory. Just add mad scientists and stand back. Well back…
Last month I posed this question:
Which of the following, suitably processed, did I use for the sound of Mr Twinkles roaring?
- A Tibetan Buddhist chant
- A drinking straw being pulled through a plastic lid
- A log fire
- A jet plane taking off
- Waves on a beach
- Some guy saying ‘roar’ into a microphone
The answer, people will be terribly disappointed to learn, was the last option: some guy saying ‘roar’ into a microphone. Bass boost, reverb, overlapping samples, yes, but essentially some guy*** saying ‘roar’ into a microphone. Sorry about that.