by Andy Capp
No, it's sort of a scratching sound, not like a record or a cat on new drapes, more of the sound when you're scratched by barbed wire...no, a wire hanger, white, bent to resemble Elvis's sideburns...the early Elvis, got it? Now the flesh is not actually ripped open, more grazed, less than mad cattle might, more than a stare from Sister Gertrude in third grade would today, a bit of a sting, but no permanent physical or mental damage. Oh yeah, it does draw blood, just a trace, adding a dampness to the sound, like a dish towel an hour after kitchen chores done by an obsessive compulsive, NOT a teenager forced to clean. I want to make that clear! There you go, just get me that sound, and the sound of dust just spared a trip to the inside of a vacuum after watching the fate of a hair ball expelled by Chelsea Clinton's cat under the bed in the Lincoln room at the White House. Those should be the only sound effects you'll need for this project.
Don't bother trying to look them up in the sound effects book or on the cross-referencing software on the computer. I already tried. Two more gaping holes in the sound effects library, along with other vitals I've discovered are absent--smiles, love, hate, cloud, worry, taco, believe, purple, tenderness, Moon, nightmare. Worse are the sounds represented, but not in the forms needed: yellow brings up a yellow bird, a yellow jacket, and something called "Yellow Sky Wind," no lemons, no sun. Hungry is listed only by whale stomach sounds, no human with an aching desire for a triple cheese pizza with extra mushrooms, or a lost love. Stars are only electronic shooting things, no twinkling, no movie idols, and the only happy sounds are made by birds and machines!
Now don't go blaming the makers of our sound effects libraries! On the contrary, without them, we'd be out chasing down door slams, traffic jams, and baaing lambs daily, wasting lots of time that these companies have been kind enough to waste in our place. For just this reason alone, I silently thank them daily (and besides, imagine actually having to explain chasing a baaing lamb to the authorities). Okay, they may be partially to blame, but it's not a sin of omission, just the curse of capturing reality. When a company goes to the trouble and expense of going on location and recording a marketplace in Italy, the catalog isn't going to list the effect as, "Some street where there's lots of yelling that you couldn't understand even if you COULD understand it," or, "Moonstruck cast reunion." Ever wonder why there are so many different car door slams in most sound effects libraries? Then you've never had a client scream at you for putting the slam of a VW Bug door under his Mercedes ad. Sound effect libraries, by and large, are reality at your fingertips. What you get is what you hear, even the "unreal " effects. Look up a cartoon head shake or a science fiction monster growl, and they sound exactly the way years of Bugs and Godzilla have taught us they should sound.
Still, I was 6 when a freight train flew over our house. Summers growing up in the Mid-West seemed like an endless stream of close calls, and this one was the closest that I recall. It all began with your average thunderstorm, but this night the roaring winds and rumbling thunder was punctuated by the Banshee wail of a severe weather siren, an invitation to scramble for cover in the basement and wait for Mother Nature to decide whether our house was in line to become toothpicks. Hiding there in the dark, I listened as the thunder became sharp explosions that shook the ground. The wind howled in two part harmony with the warning siren, finally taking the lead vocal by sheer volume. And then, just when it seemed the sound couldn't get any louder, it...didn't. Just like that, the silence was deafening, like your dad pulling the plug on your stereo during the guitar solo of "Bohemian Rhapsody" when you were a teenager. In another moment, it was clear that the storm was just clearing the track for the freight train, as it suddenly screamed overhead, car after massive car rolling through the living room above. Luckily, the iron horse didn't jump the track and turn our home into kindling, it only took a few shingles away as a memento. My parents had a hard time convincing me of what really happened that night, and to this day when I hear the word tornado, a train barreling by with an extremely loud whistle is the first thing that comes to mind.
Memories give sounds multiple personalities, turning them into aural Sybils. There may be no listing for "clouds" in the library catalog, but the word may conjure up the sounds of the breeze through the trees, bees buzzing by as you and your childhood friends tried to find faces in the sky, or the muted roar of jet engines as you flew over tantalizing mountains of whipped cream, or your Mother's scream as the cloud that looked a lot like the state of Florida was the last thing you noticed before blacking out (how many times had she told you not to climb that tree?).
Let's revisit the project at hand. If you guessed that we were looking for ways to sonically demonstrate "insult" and "relief," you win. Of course, if you thought we were searching for "sore throat" and "victory," you also win, just as if "tweezers" or "flaky skin" came to mind. If there's any point to this exercise, it's that it's easy to be literal in our choice of sound effects, but digging for sounds that mean the same thing, only different, can take a piece of production in a new creative direction.
The sound of one hand clapping is there somewhere, maybe under small appliances.