Archive for May 30, 2013

That Jungle Sound

Below is a clip from the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). The scene is set deep within the jungles of South America, and the sound department is ensuring that we know it’s a jungle. The key part starts around 2:12 in the video:

(Side note: this clip is from a pan-and-scan Laserdisc copy of the film, which simultaneously horrifies and amuses me.)

Here’s another sound clip, of the more stereotypical version of the sound heard in films:

Okay, show of hands. Who actually knows what that jungle sound is? Hint: it’s not a monkey.

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This Week’s Caught in the Wild

"Hey, Scotty! This thing just space-beeped at me!"

“Hey, Scotty! This thing just space-beeped at me!”

Our eagle-eared readers have done it again! Here are more discoveries about things we’ve discussed here at The Sound and the Foley.

RED-TAILED HAWK

Mandydax says, “I was just starting Mythbusters and there’s that sound in the opening credits just before Adam says ‘It’s SCIENTIFIC!’ They do a quick close up of his face with his hat brim pulled down and ‘screeeeee!'”

Wow, I’ll need to try to dig that one up! Some cursory searching online reveals that a) Mythbusters has a ton of different opening sequences, and b) none of them are the one you found. Looks like it’s time for me to go watch a whole bunch of Mythbusters. Oh, the humanity!

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Sound and the Foley in the Wild!

CofCThis upcoming Saturday, I will be speaking at the College of Curiosity’s Conference of Curiosity in Chicago. My subject?

(Cue the dun dun DUNNNNN!*)

I will be speaking about The Sound and the Foley project, of course!

Subjects in my talk will range from items discussed here on the blog to subjects that (gasp!) I have not yet covered. Yes, that’s right: I’ll be bringing up some new material at the conference.

If you are in the Chicago area and would like to join in the fun, tickets are a suggested donation of $60, and include things like lunch and a very curious goodie bag. One of the other speakers is a man who was once the most dangerous man in the world, so, really, you shouldn’t miss this.

* Oh hey! I should also write about the history of the dramatic music sting…

Pachelbel’s Canon

In an earlier post, I made a quick note about the ubiquitous nature of the chord progression in a piece of music called “Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo”, also known as Pachelbel’s Canon, also known as “the ‘Freebird’ of classical music.” (Thanks to TVTropes.org for that last one.)

But today, we shall look at Pachelbel’s Canon itself. For those of you who have heard this piece of music a million times at weddings but don’t know it by name, here’s a snip from a recording by the London Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear the full piece here.)

ABOUT PACHELBEL

pachelbelJohann Pachelbel (1653-1706) was a German composer from the Baroque era. He was a hugely popular composer during his life, and composed an enormous body of work.

Pachelbel was also a teacher, and wound up tutoring the Bach family, among others. Though Pachelbel did not directly tutor Johann Sebastian Bach, he did tutor Johann Chrisoph Bach, Johann Sebastian’s older brother. J.S. Bach was in turn tutored by Johann Christoph Bach, and then later turned into another Baroque megastar.

In fact, Pachelbel might have written “Canon and Gigue” for Johann Christoph Bach’s wedding, according to a theory by Hans-Joachim Schulze. (It is known that Pachelbel wrote music for the wedding, and that he attended the event.)

Pachelbel was best known in life as an organist and an organ composer, even though his choral works (like the Canon) are what are best known today. The irony of this is that most of his chamber works are lost. The “Canon and Gigue” are two rare ones that survived.

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This Week’s Caught in the Wild

I was in New Orleans last weekend, so I missed last week’s Caught in the Wild, so this is actually two weeks’ worth of catches. However, I wasn’t being lazy on my vacation. While I was in a N’Awlins jazz club, I heard a band open with… the Villains Theme!

That’s “Froggy Bottom Blues” by the Smoking Time Jazz Club. I highly recommend seeing them perform live.

Meanwhile, it seems that you guys have had busy ears, too!

First, Scott Keever has an update about the Law & Order Donk Donk sound: “For the record, Mike Post calls it the ‘Ching ching’ cuz of all the money he makes off of it – Heh heh… but don’t take my word for it… Go to 18:25 of this link – an interview with Mike Post. (I love this whole interview, by the way…When I have younger folks asking me about composing for TV and film, I send them to this interview – Mike Post is the coolest…)”

Well spied, Scott! And thanks! I was actually looking for bit of interview when I was writing the article and couldn’t find it. I love that Mike Post makes royalties off the sound because it’s technically a piece of music and not a sound effect.

Next, Daniel Taylor caught an instance of Entrance of the Gladiators: “It was used in one of the Madagascar movies, with inane lyrics attached.”

Oh boy. The culprit seems to be Madagascar 3:

Speaking of Entrance of the Gladiators, Roho had this tidbit: “Not ‘Gladiators’, but someplace pointed out that Jerry Goldsmith’s (awesome) Gremlins music was intended to be in the vein of the Circus Screamer.”

I. Love. Gremlins.

And yes, I can totally see how the theme can be a circus screamer:

And now… Red-Tailed Hawk updates. You guys caught a lot of Red-Tailed Hawks.

First, Jen Manna points out: “Pick just about any movie with a western theme, including Rango. … Also, all the Looney Tunes set in a western theme. Often times when Wile E. Coyote falls down a vast cavern, there’s a small hawk or eagle circling and that sound bite.”

Spacebug notes that: “Oh, just heard it, rewatching Cabin In the Woods! It shows up when the camper is going through the tunnel. But, as the rest of the movie, it’s making a comic nod to its ubiquitousness, so that’s kind of awesome.”

Neowolf says: “This sound shows up in World of Warcraft.  For example, if you have a hunter character and switch it to use ‘Aspect of the Hawk’, the sound effect includes a hawk cry.”

Jennifer Mencken was on a roll: “Two for two tonight, both the Eddie Izzard Treasure Island and The Eagle with Channing Tatum.”

And everyone noted that the sound shows up in the intro of the Colbert Report. (Thanks to Roger Pavelle, Sandy Darst, Mandydax, and anyone else I missed.) The sound usually shows up as the very first sound in the episode, and then at the end of the theme song (over the image of an eagle). You can see it yourself in, well, just about any episode on the show’s website.

Finally, Mandydax gets super extra credit for locating video of a real Steller’s Jay mimicking the cry of a Red-Tailed Hawk. Behold as life imitates art:

Space Beeps

Owl-eared listener Jo Brodie brought this one to my attention. Have a listen:

Buzz Aldrin descending the ladder during the Apollo 11 moon landing. Photo credit: NASA

Buzz Aldrin descending the ladder during the Apollo 11 moon landing. Photo credit: NASA

What you are hearing is an edit of audio from the first moon landing, July 21st, 1969. The first bit is Neil Armstrong’s famous quote, just after he became the first human to set foot upon the moon. The audio then cuts to a transmission from Houston a little later in the mission:

Bruce McCandless (CAPCOM): Roger. The EVA is progressing beautifully. I believe they are setting up the flag now. [BEEP] I guess you’re about the only person around that doesn’t have TV coverage of the scene. [BEEP]

Michael Collins (CMP): That’s all right. I don’t mind a bit.

During that transmission, Bruce McCandless was sitting rather firmly on Earth, serving as Capsule Communicator (aka CAPCOM, the one person who is designated to be point of verbal communication with the spacecraft). Michael Collins, on the other hand, was on the moon with Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. That’s a long distance over which to communicate via radio waves — a distance long enough to cause a three-second delay.

In fact, there were several issues to overcome in communicating to spacecraft via radio. That’s where those [BEEP]s come into our story.

Those beeps are called Quindar tones. Wikipedia has a decent description of what they do:

For Mission Control (in Houston, Texas) to stay in continuous contact with the astronauts as they traveled to and from the Moon, NASA used several tracking stations around the world, switching from one to the next as the planet turned. Each station had an Apollo Unified S-Band (USB) earth station connected to Houston with dedicated telephone lines. The USB system was full duplex but microphone switching was still needed to block local conversations and background noise from being transmitted. The astronauts needed only push-to-talk or VOX switching, but this was insufficient at Houston because the telephone lines connecting it to the tracking stations were analog and subject to noise and crosstalk when the channel was quiet. This could annoy the astronauts or disturb their sleep.

This meant that the mute switch that controlled the Houston-to-spacecraft audio had to be located at the tracking station transmitter, and the purpose of the Quindar tones was to operate this switch remotely. The same system was used in Project Gemini and were still in use with half duplex UHF Space Shuttle communications for transmitter RF switching.

In short, the Quindar tones work a bit like the button on a walkie-talkie: you push the button to speak, then release it when you are done. The difference is that the button was only on one side (Houston’s), and the button is operated by a pair of tones instead of a thumb.

There are two Quindar tones, one for “on” (a sine wave of 2,525 Hz) and one for “off” (a sine wave of 2,475 Hz). (Sound source: Wikimedia Commons)

The modules that received these tones had a notch filter that removed the tones themselves from the Earth-to-moon transmissions. Thus, we could hear the Quindar tones, but the astronauts could not. (This page on NASA’s website goes into a little more detail about that.)

Quindar tones are named after the manufacturer of the tone generation and detection equipment, Quindar Electronics, Inc. Quindar Electronics is actually still around today, under the name CG Automation, in Springfield, NJ. They currently make monitoring equipment for utility industries. If you want to see what they’ve been up to since the 1960s, there is a detailed history of the company here.

Where do Quindar tones crop up in pop culture? Well, this might not be a direct descendant of the tones, but it is the first thing I thought of:

While Star Trek‘s original TV series (1966) predates the moon landing (1969), the Quindar tones were in use during the Gemini Program, which had flights in 1965 and 1966. My guess is that the United States’ fascination with the space program in the 1960s had something to do with the fact that everything on the Enterprise bridge seems to have some sort of random beeping noise.

Where else have you heard space beeps?

DONK DONK

How many of you saw that subject header and immediately thought of this?

That distinctive noise is often called the “donk donk” or the “chung chung” or the “doink doink” or the “Dick Wolf Cash Register Sound” (that last one is thanks to Richard Belzer). It is the sound that signals scene changes in the Law & Order family of TV shows, and it is so ubiquitous that it’s even more recognizable than the theme song.

Mike Post knows he's cool.

Mike Post knows he’s cool.

The Donk Donk (as I will call it, because that amuses me) is the work of Mike Post, who also wrote the Law & Order music. According to IMDB, the Donk Donk “was created by combining close to a dozen sounds, including that of a group of monks stamping on a floor.” Wikipedia adds that two more of the sounds were an actual gavel and a slamming jail door. (I’m curious what the other nine sounds were. Does anyone out there know how to contact Mike Post?)

If you don’t at least know the name of Mike Post, you should. Mr. Post is one of the most notable composers who ever worked in TV land. Aside from Law & Order, he created the themes for The Rockford Files, L.A. Law, Magnum P.I., Quantum Leap, Hill Street Blues, The A-Team, CHiPs, Stingray, The Greatest American Hero, and many, many others. (I can personally attest that a third of the ringtones on my phone were written by this man, and that I have sung the Greatest American Hero song at karaoke.)

The Who even wrote a song about Mike Post, called the “Mike Post Theme”. Mike Post is just that cool.

For the record, Mr. Post refers to the Donk Donk as “The Clang”. [CORRECTION: eagle-eyed reader Scott Keever has pointed me to this interview of Mike Post discussing the Donk Donk and referring to it as the Ching Ching. Good stuff! Start watching at 18:25.]

Hunting Time: Red-Tailed Hawk

There is a sound effect out there that is so clichéd, so ubiquitous, that apparently nobody has bothered listing where it appears. That’s a bit shocking to me, because the Internet is usually amazing at making lists of things.

What is that sound?

That, my friends, is the shriek of a red-tailed hawk. You hear that cry in movies, TV shows, and commercials whenever the foley artist wants to convey “nature” and/or “flying raptor-bird of some sort”. Very often, the cry is used over the image of an eagle of some sort, even though eagles don’t sound much at all like hawks.

Unfortunately, I have found zip on the Internet about specific examples of this cliché, even though everyone agrees that it exists. And even though I know I’ve heard this sound on movie soundtracks for years, my brain is unable to grab any targets. (…except Ladyhawke (1985), but, well, that movie really is about a hawk.)

So I am putting out a call. You, dear reader, have a mission. Next time you hear a red-tailed hawk sound used on a soundtrack, tell us! I will post any new discoveries to the Red-Tailed Hawk category on this blog. I promise I will also keep my ears open.

Let’s do some hawk-spotting!

redtailedhawk

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Circus Music!

Calliopes - 2009-09-20 17-34-00

Circus calliope wagon as seen at a circus wagon show at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in September 2009.

Inquisitive reader Roho writes: “*doot-doot-doodeedoodee-doot-doot-doooo-doot* If it’s not already on your list, I’d love to see a look into ‘Entry of the Gladiators’.”

[Ringmaster Voice] Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, step right up and guide your ears toward this blog as the circus music is about to begin! [/Ringmaster Voice]

Most folks know this tune only as “circus music” or “merry-go-round music”. It is often heard pounded out of horn ensembles, marching bands, and calliopes, usually before clowns start running around and frightening small children. However, the original piece had nothing to do with circuses.

That is a snippet of a 1897 military march by Julius Fučík (pronounced “FOOT-sheek”). It was originally titled Grande Marche Chromatique, but was later renamed Entrance of the Gladiators because Fučík had a thing for Romans. (The clip above is from a recording by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra under Erich Kunzel. You can hear the whole thing here.)

Thirteen years later, a Canadian composer named Louis-Philippe Laurendeau came along and adapted Entrance of the Gladiators for a small band and re-titled it “Thunder and Blazes”. This adaptation of the music sold widely, and was picked up by circuses and used as a “screamer march” and as music for fairground organs and calliopes.

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This Weeks Caught in the Wild

Owl beer!

Owl beer for our owl-eared listeners!

Our owl-eared listeners this week have been good at finding new subjects for me to pounce upon.

Roho has this to say about “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”: “It’s raining / It’s pouring / The old man / Is snoring.”

*head explodes*

Amazing. I’d never realized the two rhymes had the same tune. Since it never turned up during my research of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”, apparently many others missed the same connection.

It looks like “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” predates “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”. While “Tisket” is documented in the 1800s, “It’s Raining” isn’t documented until the 20th century. Apparently, “It’s Raining” was noted in 1939 by Charles Ives… yes, that Charles Ives.

There’s enough material about “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” to make a whole article, so I’ll put it on the to-do list. Thanks, Roho!

About “Ring a Ring o’ Roses”, Mandydax notes: “I think the tune that we’re familiar with is a common taunting sing-song melody as well. Like ‘Nana nana boo-boo, stick your head in doo-doo.'”

Indeed! In fact, I think it was the ‘nana nana boo-boo’ thing that initally got me thinking about “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” in the first place, but I forgot about it once I started writing things down. Good catch!

I don’t know much more about ‘nana nana boo-boo’ in terms of history, mostly because it’s hard to Google nonsense words that have no commonly agreed spelling. Also, putting “stick your head in doo-doo” into the IMDB quote search engine disappointingly turns up only an episode of the Bernie Mac Show. I’ll keep my ears open on this one, though.

Mandydax also says, “I wonder about the ‘Shave and a haircut two bits’ thing. I’ve seen it around from Looney Tunes to a recent episode of Big Bang Theory. I have no idea where its origins lie.”

This one is also already on the to-do list for the blog. In fact, it’s one of the first things that went on the list. The song has a long and interesting history, so I just need to set aside some time to write it all down.

The lyrics “shave and a haircut, two bits” basically mean that a shave and a haircut costs fifty cents. (“Two bits” is old American slang for two quarters term for two 1/8 dollars, aka the equivalent of 25 cents. [Edited thanks to corrections from Mandydax and Kaji in the comments.]) The lyrics are sometimes altered to “six bits” ($1.50) or “five bob” (English slang for five shillings).

I’ll deliver the rest later. *wink*