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Friday, July 26, 2013

Zounds! by John von Daler

                I sometimes write music for theater productions: songs, dances, background sounds. At one point in my career I wanted to be able to recreate the sounds of everyday life. To help me on my way I bought the Danish National Radio's comprehensive #sound archive.
                 Perhaps you have never thought of this before, but almost everything you hear on television, in movies or at the theater has been recorded and worked into the soundtrack by a composer or a sound engineer. In other words what you see is not often what you hear, but something else entirely.
                I used to watch a lot of British television series. Quite a few of them take place in the country or in residential neighborhoods, where there are a lot of magpies. BBC does not send a sound expert into the country each time it needs a magpie squawk. The man in charge of sound just pulls one out of the huge archive. The fun part of it is that once you are conscious of it, you start hearing that it's the same magpie in different scenes. Ah, my magpie got itself a new job, I used to think when I heard it yet another time.
                The archive I bought, some sixty or seventy CD's, contained a selection of sounds you never thought you would need:  
A turnip truck on the road
Footsteps in a swamp
Cub Scouts hitting a barrel with a stick
A deodorant spray
A man urinating in snow
Furniture being broken
Clothes being washed in a tin tub
plus assorted ships, planes, cars, buses, scooters, bicycles, sleds, dogsleds, gliders, and whatever else that moves or transports. There were also rooms: caf├ęs in Istanbul, museums in Paris, schools, libraries, concert halls, night clubs, city squares, anywhere people gather. My personal favorite of them all was the man relieving himself in the snow, because I kept wondering how the sound guy had arranged to capture that magic moment.
                When I picked up the whole series at the archives, the man who had recorded it all told me about his favorite: the sound of six helicopters landing all at once. He had chanced by this lucky landing with only one mono microphone in his pocket. As he told his story, I saw him standing there on the landing pad, six helicopters hovering over him, his hair blowing every which way, his arm raised heroically like the statue of liberty, a microphone in one hand, his eyes focused on the dial, his other hand on the volume control, happy in this world of ear-splitting sound, putting his life on the line as it were for art and for you and me. Zounds!

My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click here to buy Pieces.  Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!


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