Home Truths: Sound

Feature in Issue 22-4 | Winter 2010

The Canny Granny is hearing things.

To accompany this column with sound effects you will need: a piece of toast, a helium balloon, a Hoover, a landline, a Nora Jones CD (I know you have one), some loose change, a hanky, your iPhone, either a dilapidated holdall or some walnuts and a nut cracker. All right then, here we go. I’ll just pop the hearing aid in, and we’re off.

Sound effects allow you to rest your eyelids if you’ve had too many gins before the show. If you closed your eyes at Forced Entertainment’s The Thrill of It All you’d be lulled by Japanese lounge music, but then you’d miss all the very entertaining and very funny dancing. And talking in a squeaky voice. (Now inhale from the helium balloon and say: I love contemporary theatre!)

Soundscapes are layers of sound effects. Soundtracks are more filmic. Please note soundcards are some kind of memory chip, not a musical birthday card. (Create a filmic soundtrack by sticking some Nora Jones on the CD player and swishing your hair about youthfully.) Lovely.

Some things are not meant to be seen but not heard. Early pioneers of ‘corporeal mime’ such as Etienne Decroux were purist about mime being without music. Now, however, watching mime without sound effects is oddly prim, like watching football without cheering: suddenly it just looks like a bunch of men with bare legs prancing up and down in front of a crowd. Except that in the world of mime, they are probably not millionaires who pay grannies for sex. (Just for the record, I have personally never accepted money to sleep with any of the Manchester United players.) Make a sound effect for this by throwing coins at an old bag. Or if you feel feminist, crack the nuts.

Devised theatre once liked to visually expose how sound effects are made. Complicite’s A Minute Too Late included their interpretation of ‘Brechtian alienation techniques’ such as treading on gravel to indicate walking in a cemetery. (Recreate this now by crushing the toast underfoot. Don’t worry, we’ll hoover it up in a minute). Lepage is equally fond of this technique, having someone on stage in Lipsynch to bang cupboard doors. Don’t do this, it’ll annoy the neighbours.

Melanie Wilson also does a fine line in dissonance: Simple Girl has sudden arrivals of music, including an addictive little riff on the words ‘my wife’ – you can see a clip of this on her website. (At my age, you don’t need a sound effect to recreate this because you repeat yourself naturally anyway.)

Some theatre pieces are almost audio installations. Rotozaza’s GuruGuru doesn’t have any actors – only a digital face on a TV and headsets. (Recreate this by texting your own landline and then laughing at the electronic woman speaking your message.) Forest Fringe’s travelling sounds library is purely audio – except if you close your eyes. Don’t do that now, or you won’t be able to see the page.

En Route, by Australian company One Step at a Time Like This, took its audience on a whole theatrical treasure hunt by audio around Edinburgh this summer. Alice Jones of the Independent remarked ‘I’m not sure how it counts as theatre’. This dilemma – an ‘interrogation of the boundaries between participant and spectator’, is also at the heart of Non Zero One’s work. Interrogate your own boundaries now by using the voicememo function on your iPhone to record yourself saying ‘Are you paying attention?’

Total theatre rarely finds its way onto radio. The onset of Radio 4 drama generally signals time to do the hoovering. (Recreate this now by vacuuming up the crumbs whilst muttering snatches of sentences like ‘Jennifer, I – I –’ and ‘NO! The cliffs!’) The exceptions are of course the odd specially commissioned Bobby Baker performance or a radio play by Chris Thorpe. The project In The Dark pioneers adventurous radio such as documentaries about the catchy pop songs played in an abattoir.

Some shows use the context of radio: for the two scientists in Longwave, the radio was their only company. Stan’s Cafe’s Tuning Out With Radio Z is currently on tour and gives you three hours of interactive improvisation (you text and email in), complete with superfast adverts and spurious news bulletins. You can listen in on their website. I said, you can listen in on their website.

What did you say? Sorry, I think I hoovered up my hearing aid by accident.

Melanie Wilson is developing a piece called Autobiographer for The Roundhouse, and is currently touring earlier show Simple Girl. See video clips/hear her audio clips on the website: www.melaniewilson.org.uk

One Step at a Time Like This have intriguingly divided their web site into ‘audience works’ and ‘theatre works’ www.onestepatatimelikethis.com

Rotozaza’s Ant Hampton’s website has links to several international audio-based projects: www.anthampton.com

Forest Fringe has a new website and you can watch a video trailer for the sounds library there: www.forestfringe.co.uk/forest-fringe-travellingsounds-library

Stan’s Cafe’s Tuning Out With Radio Z is on tour (and reviewed in this issue of Total Theatre Magazine): www.radioz.co.uk

Chris Thorpe is currently performing in Third Angel’s What I Heard About the World, touring in Portugal: www.thirdangel.co.uk

In the Dark have a great selection on their Editor’s Picks page: www.inthedarkradio.org

Bobby Baker has just published a collection of drawings charting her recovery from mental and physical illness. An exhibition of the drawings is on tour in 2011: www.bobbybakersdailylife.com

Non Zero One have some nice photos in their archive section: www.nonzeroone.com

Signal to Noise’s Longwave was created by Chris Goode with Tom Lyall and Jamie Wood: http://beescope.blogspot.com

Forced Entertainment’s The Thrill Of It All is touring: www.forcedentertainment.com

Laura Eades’ company The Society of Faster Craftswomen have been developing the audio theatre installation Yeah! I’m a Dog at Shunt and Brick Box in Brixton market: www.fastercraftswomen.com

This article in the magazine

Issue 22-4
p. 15