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?


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!

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*

Ring a Ring o’ Roses

My previous post about “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” got me thinking about this scene from The Goonies (1985). The key part of the clip starts at about 1:08:

Francis Fratelli: Get the rope here. Slothy, Slothy, jump rope Slothy.

Jake Fratelli: What do you mean jump rope?

Francis Fratelli, Jake Fratelli: Jump rope! Jump rope.


Francis Fratelli, Jake Fratelli: Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies…

The same children’s rhyme also shows up (sans song) in The Wizard of Oz (1939) (at about 1:47 in this clip): “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of spears!”

Like “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”, if you grew up in the English-speaking world, you are probably familiar with “Ring Around the Rosie”. The version I learned goes:

Ring around the rosie,
Pocket full of posies,
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down.

…followed by everyone in the room falling on their rumps. (That was hi-lairious to me at a certain young age.)

I remember watching an episode of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” (with Jack Palance!) sometime in the mid-1980’s, and learning that this seemingly innocent children’s rhyme was apparently some sort of code for the horrors of the bubonic plague. “Rosie” referred to the boils, the posies referred to flowers placed on coffins, falling down referred to death… you know, just exactly the dark, fascinating stuff that sticks in a nerdy kid’s mind.

I remember that episode after all these years.

Too bad it’s bullshit.

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A-Tisket, A-Tasket

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.

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The Four Chord Progression

Yeah, I know I’m out-of-town doing things other than writing for this blog, but yesterday’s quick post about Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” prompted more than one person to send this video to me:

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.”

A Quick Note and Pachelbel’s Canon

Since I’ll be spending the next several days in Champaign, IL for Ebertfest, I won’t have time to do research for any major blog posts this week.

In the meantime, however, here’s a video of Rob Paravonian ranting about the ubiquitousness of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D“. In terms of Internet humor, this is an oldie, but if you are reading this blog, it is probably relevant to your interests. Enjoy!