This past weekend, my friend Windy and I spent a good portion of Sunday watching and/or listening to various musicals. At the end of the night, she learned that I’d never heard any of the music for Rent, so before I left, she made sure I’d at least heard the song “La Vie Boheme”.
Of course, my ears particularly picked up on this snippet of the song:
…and I knew I had my next Sound and the Foley article.
This, my friends, is Axis of Awesome’s song about a standard 4-chord progression, of which Pachelbel’s Canon is a variant.
Super special thanks to Roho and Annie L., who both sent this video to me. Roho further notes that Leonard Cohen specifically draws attention to such a chord progression in his also-ubiquitous “Hallelujah”: “It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift.”
For those who don’t want to go to YouTube, here’s just the key clip. (The sound distortion is from the clip itself.) In the video, the code is for “come by”, which commands the dog to circle the livestock:
Wow, that never even crossed my mind. Wow, that’s close, too. Also, the fact that the phenomenon is called a “wolf whistle” links the call back to canines… wow.
I couldn’t find a history of herding whistles, but it seems that each dog often has a different set of whistle commands, so when multiple dogs are working together they don’t get confused. Thus, the whistle heard above isn’t necessarily the same whistle used for different dogs.
Thus, I agree with Wdononue that the sailor story is probably a more likely origin for the wolf whistle. However, this may still be part of the story.
From Steve D: “Just heard take 4 [of the Wilhelm Scream] in ‘Lockout’, about 18 minutes in. :D”
I couldn’t find a clip of it online, but I do remember catching the Wilhelm when I saw Lockout in a theater in West Virginia. According to IMDB, the scream happens when an inmate trips and falls right after coming out of stasis.
Good catch! Also, I’m sorry you watched Lockout. (/snark)
My Little Pony strikes again. (See what I did there? Heyo!)
And finally, here’s one I found. It seems that OH!3 recorded a song called “Starstrukk” that is almost entirely predicated upon the wolf whistle. Clip and full video below. Warning: Katy Perry content.
This little punch-up is known as a sting. Wikipedia describes it thusly:
Stings may take the form of a short roll followed by crash cymbal and kick drum, a flam, or a rimshot.
An example basic sting is shown below, consisting of a tom followed by a kick, a short rest and then kick, snare and choked crash together.
Many folks know this sound as a “rimshot”, but in reality a rimshot is only a component of the sting. A rimshot happens when you hit the head and the rim of a drum simultaneously, producing one sharp beat.
We know more about the rimshot than we know about the sting. Jazz drummer Gene Krupa, who played with the likes of Benny Goodman and Anita O’Day, is generally credited with the creation of the rimshot on the snare drum. The sting seems to have a long history with cabarets and circuses, but I’ve run across very little that would hint at an actual history. (Part of the difficulty comes from the general confusion between the terms sting and rimshot, and the general mess of searching things like “drum sting” on Google. Curse you, Gordon Sumner!) If you have any inkling of where the drum sting might come from, please send us a note!
The Mont Alto group also provides a number of MIDI files on their site, so you can hear what these Zamecnik pieces actually sound like (as long as you still have a MIDI player). If you don’t want to mess with MIDI, here’s an .mp3 of “Mysterious – Burglar Music 1”, which I recorded off the MIDI file. (The performance in the file is copyright (P) 1998 by Rodney Sauer.)
The music is definitely a bit different from the theme we know so well, but it is undeniably a variant. I’m not entirely sure if this means this is the “patient zero” of the Villains Theme (and later versions were variants), or if Zamecnik was doing a variant from an earlier theme that also spawned the later Villains Theme, but it definitely lands very early in the Villains Theme history.
The music and the sheet music publication are in the public domain. If you want to see Zamecnik’s entire Sam Fox Moving Picture Music, Volume 1, here it is in .pdf format.
I also found a copy of the book Silent Film Sound by Rick Altman on Google Books. A discussion about Zamecnik’s silent film work and the Sam Fox music book starts on page 259. The “Mysterioso” is referenced on the following page.
Here’s another one we all know. Here’s a clip from Howard Hawks’ amazing To Have and Have Not (1944), starring Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. The film’s most famous line happens at 0:35. Bogey’s reaction is at 0:50.
I’m pretty sure that everyone in the Western world who is of breeding age knows the Wolf Whistle. Usually, this two-tone, sliding “wheet-wheeoo” is directed from randy men toward pretty ladies, though the occasional gender swap occurs. Generally, in terms of the art of foley, it signifies hotness.
But where did it come from?
Sadly, I’ve thus far found very little that links the wolf whistle directly to an origin, but a few ideas are floating around.
From Mandydax: “I think [the Wilhelm Scream] was one of the death screams in the original Command and Conquer. Also, if I’m not mistaken, it was in at least one episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, but I’d have to track down the scene to give you a YouTube reference.”
I couldn’t find a clear sound bite from Command and Conquer online, but a lot of people on the ‘net have heard the Wilhelm in the game. From what I can gather, the game features a lot of screaming.
The Wilhelm apparently shows up all over the place in MLP:FIM. This video points out three instances.
I knew it was only a matter of time until MLP:FIM showed up in a post here.
Mandydax also found examples of the Villains Theme: “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that “sneaky music” in Looney Tunes cartoons. It probably predates those, too, but I knew I’d heard it in one of the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ songs, and I tracked it down to the title track from Bedlam Ballroom. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne0fKb_HxGI It’s the very opening of it.”
I know for certain that I’ve heard the Villains Theme in Looney Tunes, too, but I’m having a hard time finding exactly where. Surely this means I need to rewatch all the Looney Tunes cartoons. Oh, tragedy!
In this blog’s introductory post, I pondered where the “daht daht dee DAAAA yat-dat-dat-dat-da.” tune came from. You know, that ditty you hear in old haunted house movies, or in cartoons when someone is sneaking around with ill intent.
The sample I cited then was this snippet from “Existential Blues” by T-Bone Stankus:
One of the most famous of all recycled sounds is the so-called Wilhelm Scream, a sound effect found in over 225 films and counting. It first appeared in the 1951 Gary Cooper vehicle, Distant Drums, though the scream was named after the arrow-caused demise of Private Wilhelm in 1953’sThe Charge at Feather River.
The sound effect has popped up every few years since then, but it became something of a sound effect in-joke after sound editor Ben Burtt used it in Star Wars and many other films he did since then. The likes of Quentin Tarantino and Peter Jackson have further picked up the joke and carried it forward.
It is not certain who voiced the famous shriek, but research seems to point at Sheb Wooley, the man who sang “The Purple People Eater“. Wooley played an uncredited role in Distant Drums, and he frequently did such voice work.
Now that the Internet has been cataloging appearances of The Wilhelm Scream for years, many seasoned film watchers easily catch a new Wilhelm appearance. However, what most people don’t realize is that the sound most often called the “Wilhelm Scream” is only one of six screams, and that all six are referred to as “Wilhelm”. The series of six takes were recorded together as “man being eaten by alligator”, and all six crop up in films from time to time.
Take 4 is actually the shriek most often identified as the Wilhelm Scream:
But Take 1 can be heard in The Empire Strikes Back:
And Take 3 can be heard in Star Wars coming out of a falling Stormtrooper, and can also be caught in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones:
(I have yet to find standalone digital recordings of the other three shrieks. Please let me know if you find a recording.)
Yet it is undeniable that Take 4 has won the hearts of sound designers, to a point where I’ve heard folks complaining that the Wilhelm Scream is now too ubiquitous. The sound is now so easily recognizable that it can distract an eagle-eared cineast from the urgency of a film’s action scene. However, I have a deep love for the Wilhelm, because it reminds us that the art of a sound minion is usually invisible: if it is done well, you don’t notice it. The Wilhelm is a little aural stamp that reminds us that all that sound has to be created, too.