Hello there, welcome to Parallel Worlds.
How are you doing today? How are you feeling?
Wait, don’t answer – I’d like you to write it down instead. As ever, your five minutes to reflect on the world around you, free from distractions, free from editing, free from any sort of judgement from inside or outside.
Five minutes, starting…now!
Hey, welcome back.
So we are here. It’s the day after I asked you to make a vocal version of an everyday noise. How did it go?
Today we’re going to be doing something similar. You’re going to be recreating the same sound, again, but using different techniques.
In cinema, the diegetic sounds – that is, the sounds that appear to be happening onscreen – are generally recorded in a studio after the filming. And quite often, those sounds aren’t made the way you’d expect. Think how many times you’ve heard a loud punch in a film, a sort of a cartoony whack sound. Have you ever seen someone being punched in real life? It’s normally much quieter.
That’s because the sounds recorded for films often don’t use the real objects to make the sounds. The sounds are made by foley artists, people who specialise in recreating sounds. The sound of punching is sometimes made by hitting a piece of chamois leather with a cucumber. The sound of stabbing in Psycho, that wasn’t the sound of a woman being stabbed, thankfully, but a watermelon. The sound of rain in films is generally the sound of frying bacon. The sound of a sword being pulled is sometimes really a spatula.
Sound is inherently deceptive. Today I’d like you to record some deceptive sound. You’re going to take the sound you re-recorded yesterday, using your voice, and re-record it again today, but using the most unlikely objects you can. Spend some time experimenting with sounds. If there’s a cracking sound, perhaps you could pull a sheet or some clothing. What in your immediate surroundings can you combine to sound like the elements of your original sound?
I realise here you’re probably not going to be able to make professional sounding replacement for your original sound. But what we’re going for isn’t the best, most technically accurate thing. Try to capture the feeling of the original sounds. Use whatever you can!
Once you’re done, try playing the three sounds to someone else. What do they think of them? What difference does it make if you play the sounds to someone who’s familiar with the original sound, to someone who isn’t?
There are some articles on the art of Foley, fake sound creation for films and TV, in the show notes on the website, and on the resources page of this website. If you get stuck, search YouTube for films about Foley artists. There are loads of documentaries where you’ll see a person in a darkened room watching and recreating sounds they see on a big screen in front of them.
Most of all, have fun! Feel free to send me what you record, either as a voice message or by email.
I will be back for a long episode soon.
- Self-reflection free write (5 minutes)
- Foley exercise. You are going to do the same exercise as yesterday – trying to recreate the sound you chose in multi-track audio – but today you’re going to use other objects to do it. You can’t use the original object, or anything like it. But you can choose anything else that you have to hand. Try to recreate the sound using the most opposite objects you can! For example, if your sound is wet, try to use the driest objects you have. If your sound is metallic, try using something soft like fabrics. Again, work through the elements one by one, layering the parts into a multi-track audio file.
Once you’re done, listen to the original sound, the sound you recorded yesterday, and the one you made today. What are the characteristics of each sound? How do they make you feel? Are you able to detach the making of the sound from the sound itself? Try sending the sounds to a friend and seeing what their reflection is. Can they identify the original sound without being told what it is? Could they recognise your imitations?
- “Rain is sizzling bacon, cars are lions roaring: the art of sound in movies” by Jordan Kisner, The Guardian, 2015. An excellent article giving an overview of the foley artist Skip Lievsay’s working process. You can read it here, or listen to it as a podcast here.
- Even nature documentaries use Foley! Listen to “Sounds Natural” on 99% Invisible, produced by Emmet FitzGerald, 2017.
- …or you can read about this (and watch clips) on the BBC’s Nature website.
Want to contribute? Send a voice message!