by Gautam Pemmaraju
A month or so ago, at a dinner party, my ears locked into a conversation between two men from a reasonable distance away. Drinks and hors d'oeuvres were still being served; glasses clinked in cheering, and the chinaware made all sorts of bright, transient sounds as they were picked up, put down, or met with cutlery. There was soft, unobtrusive music serving as a unifying background, festooned ever so often by exclamations, polite laughter, and other speech. On occasion a chair would be moved— possibly the only abrasive sound to this genteel soundscape. Ice cubes were dropped gingerly into my drink, not enough though for to not make the slightest of sounds (or did I imagine that?). As snatches of sentences reached me from various sources, I was able to telescopically isolate the conversation that I had quite unintentionally, unwittingly, chosen to eavesdrop upon. They spoke of a fairly prominent public figure and his current whereabouts. Perhaps it was his name that had drawn my attention. His libertine ways, peccadilloes so to speak, were the topic of conversation; in particular, there was mention of some frolicking in a bathtub filled with champagne that had apparently made quite a, well, splash. Some boisterous laughter ensued, filling the room with its force. And just like that, the sonic space had changed, and as I gathered my wits, my ears shifted focus seamlessly to a friend who sat down next to me. “Cheers!” she exclaimed and we clinked glasses. It seems now to me a sensory rupture of sorts—my eavesdropping was barely a minute, and yet, it seemed oddly long. That it was a relatively ‘hi-fi' party—marked by a more favourable signal to noise ratio—helped matters for it was easier to pick out individual, pellucid sounds that may have otherwise been masked in a different setting, In hindsight though, it all seems now a trick of the mind, a temporal illusion experienced by a disembodied double and flagged by auditory cues. Much like cinema.
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by Gautam Pemmaraju
If you have ever been set the peculiar task of imagining and creating the sound for ‘Alien Pod Embryo Expulsion' and found yourself at a loss, not to worry, a quick web search will provide an answer. One of the suggestions on this excellent resource is to use canned dog food, or more precisely, the sound of the food coming out of the can: “The chunky stuff isn't so good, but the tightly packed all-one-mass makes gushy sucking sounds when the air on the outside of the can is sucked into the can to replace the exiting glob of dog food”. This sound, suggests the writer of this delightfully descriptive entry, can be used also for all kinds of ‘monster vocalisations'. It is fairly easy then to imagine how this gloppy mass can sound dense, hyper-salivating, evilly unctuous (or comically so), and quite suitable for the desired result. Several other helpful solutions are at hand here: ‘pitched up chickens' can substitute for bat shrieks, the spout of a 70's coffee percolator can apparently do the trick for a bullet in slow motion, rotten fruit for ‘flesh squishes', and for depth charges, i.e., anti-submarine explosive weapons, the slowed down by half sound of a toilet flushing with a plate reverb effect on it could possibly be entirely satisfactory. (Renoir's 1931 talkie Un Purge Bébé is famous for the sound of a toilet flush – a first in cinema).
The art of foley sound, of creating sound effects to accompany pictures alongside dialogue and music, is a vast creative domain, not to mention, a critical tool for the sound designer. Having met numerous Hindi film sound designers and other professionals over the last several months for a soon to be published essay, it is safe to say that the world they reside in is a unique one. The constant engagement with the sounds of cities and wilderness, days and nights, bats and beasts, trees and trains; of the sounds that can be made from objects, fabrics, fluids and other materials; and the texture, tone and timbre of sounds, is a profoundly immersive world. If there is a world of sound out there, there is indeed, yet another one mirrored within the mind's eye of the designer. A ripe peach squished down on a hard surface is as enticing to the designer as the retort of an 18th century cannon. To the designer, the ecological value of sounds is of great significance, and the sonic space on the soundtrack is his playground (and battlefield on occasion).
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