The Art of Noise
The art of
applying sound effects to film is called foleying - reportedly
after the fellow who created the Foley Board back in the days of radio.
The foley board kept the most common noisemaking apparatus close to
hand, and made the whole shebang mobile.
my younger days, I was an ardent fan of old radio shows, and made
some of my own. The process of sound I found particularly
interesting - we did a very gruesome jump-out-of-a-building impact
employing an old doll with a plastic head and cloth body, hurled from
a attic window onto concrete; the soft splat was perfect. So
when I was offered the chance to do the foley work for Forever
Evil, I gladly accepted (the extra money came in handy, too).
This involved director of photography Horacio Fernandez and myself
working in a small room for two weeks, with only a microphone, a 3/4"
tape deck, and an increasingly odd assortment of paraphernalia.
I look back
today, when I am more likely to be editing video on a non-linear computer
system with an almost infinite number of audio tracks, and see us
composing the sound tapestry of an entire movie using only two tracks
for audio, and I am inescapably reminded of sticks, stones and flint
I spent several
days recording ambient background sounds. I drove to a stretch of
woods and recorded the sound inside the car during the drive. I then
discovered how actually tough it is to get unsullied tapes of a forest
setting; the sounds of cars passing and somebody building something
traveled an unmerciful distance in the stillness.
ambient sound to get was a hospital background. Although we had spent
a couple of days in their unoccupied fourth floor, the front desk
personnel were unwilling to give me permission to roll tape. I asked
when I could speak to someone in authority, and was told that they
were at lunch. I averred that I would wait, sat down in a nearby waiting
area, picked up a magazine, and serruptitiously hit my record switch.
Twenty minutes later, I left.
to say, some sounds were more difficult to achieve than others. One
instance was the scene where the police detective, Leo Ball walks
down the street late at night to the corner mailbox. Roger definitely
wanted his footfalls on the sidewalk to emphasize that he was utterly
alone. This posed a problem because there was no concrete in our second-story
room, and taking the deck setup to some concrete was terribly impractical.
I went downstairs and walked back and forth in the parkig lot, listening
the sounds my boots made on the pavement. Then I went back upstairs
and we recorded the footsteps.
In that scene,
what you actually hear are my knuckles rapping against an empty tape
Leo was also
my nemesis in the scene immediately prior to the sidewalk scene. In
this scene, Leo walks to his desk, tosses the day's mail down, sits,
shuffles through the mail, opens one envelope, opens the letter within,
says "Son of a bitch!", opens a drawer, pulls out an envelope, stuffs
the piece of paper in the envelope, addresses it, pulls a stamp off
a roll, applies it, then seals the envelope and taps it pensively
against his hand twice. Each and every one of these motions had a
sound, and they were so close together, it was impractical to start
and stop the tape. I called it the Leo Ball symphony, and it was the
closest I came to actually building a foley board. I sat with a board
across my lap with various pieces of paper, a sealed envelope to be
cut open with a letter opener, and a roll of stamps (it's very hard
to fake that sound). If I'm recalling correctly, I was seated in an
old office chair which was easily convinced to creak in a realistic
manner upon command.
I also seem
to recall that the usual methodology was to try it a few times, fail,
get frustrated, leave the room to smoke a cigarette (yes, I was stupid
in those days), come back, and nail the timing. The only non-essential
part of that process was the cigarette.
Ah, but the
parts I am proudest of were the gruesome sound effects, the ones accompanying
the various gore scenes. How are such horrifying, nauseating noises
made? You start with a trip to the grocery store.
sound really requiring some perverse creativity was the scene where
Marc gouges one of the zombie's eyes. I seem to remember that a sound
effect was not planned for that, but I said, "No! No! I've got one!
Let me do it!" and proceeded to demonstrate. The sound you hear is
me blowing through a drinking straw into a tub of lukewarm yogurt.
two stabbings in the latter part of the film: one with Marc repeatedly
stabbing the zombie with a ritual dagger, then later transfixing the
bad guy with the same knife. Our victim for that day was a nice, fresh
watermelon that we skewered retpeatedly with a black steel tanto I
owned at the time. It produced a appropriately hollow CHUK sound when
stabbed. I had to insist on absolute freshness, too, because Red (the
actor) was really into twisting the knife - a nice, crisp rind was
needed for an appropriately icky sound, especially when Red twists
the knife sloooooooooowly in the villain.
my masterpiece, my undenied favorite sound effect was the demon baby
birth, in the movie's grossest scene.
Diane. my longtime pal and the lady playing the hero's dead girlfriend,
Holly, gives herself a caesarian by basically pulling apart he autopsy
wound. My weapon of choice: a ripe cantolope. I cut a wedge from it
- just large enough to fit the fingers of both hands into - and as
the scene progressed, pulled the melon apart. Again, it was necessary
to hit exactly the right balance between freshness and near-over-ripeness.
I needed the sound of the rind tearing apart, but I also needed a
fair amount of juiciness in the sound mix. The result was wonderfully
disgusting, and it's pity you can't hear it better in the final, botched
rest of the foley process seems rather tame and boring compared to
that, though I do recall using stalks of celery for something
in there. (It was certainly hard to knuckle down and get back to more
mundane effects, that's for sure) Of course, there was the
time that we tried to get the proper fire sounds for the scene when
the zombie is doused with gasoline and torched, and instead we wound
up with a microphone on fire...
And Did We Learn Anything? Besides not putting microphones
in fires, that is.