While listening to my local NPR station this evening, I stumbled into an interesting segment; apparently March is the 21st anniversary of Ozarks at Large, a local news show. So they decided to play, and discuss, their 21 favorite sounds.
Not their favorite stories. Their favorite sounds. The 10 minutes I caught included the expected, like babbling brooks and insects, and the unexpected, like a plumbing snake being fed through a clogged drain.
It was an enlightening moment. See, one of my favorite parts of my work week is my Thursday KUAF interview. I enjoy the process, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I like being told that I have a nice radio voice. Though I often think “Yep, I’ve got a face and a voice for radio,” I realized, while listening tonight, that I don’t have the required obsession with sounds. My first instinct when I hear something interesting is not to grab my IPhone or whatever microphone I happen to have lying around (do I have microphones lying around? I rest my case.) and record it. But I guess, if you spend your life manipulating sounds and sound wavelengths to create something, you’d have to be pretty obsessed about sound. I’d never thought of that.
Regardless, it sure is fun to try to describe your favorite sounds, even though putting them into words is tough. Here are my top five:
#5. When the surround sound kicks in at a movie theater. You’ve been suffering through tinny renditions of the latest pop sensation, and suddenly…whoosh…the sound starts from behind your head and ripples down the walls in parallel waves, crashing together in the exact center of the movie screen. I love that. Especially if the movie that follows features lots of explosions and fight scenes.
#4. Quacking. Ducks are funny. I can’t ever hear them quacking without smiling and wanting to quack back, despite the fact that they won’t understand me and people tend to look at me funny when I do.
#3. Kids in a theater. Those who have never had my job won’t get this one. When our 1200 seat auditorium is full of children, they tend to look, and sound, like popcorn in a pan: bouncing around, a steady hum of noise punctuated by the occasional screech or leap out of a seat. But you absolutely cannot beat what happens when the lights start to go down; they start to whoop and scream and holler like it’s a rock concert. Half of the students probably don’t know what they are about to see, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like plugging into an outlet for a recharge of the soul.
#2. Orchestras tuning: be it a Broadway show or a full 80 piece ensemble, the cacaphony of the pre-show tuning is just, well, awesome. It ebbs and flows, highly disciplined in each instrument’s tuning, but a completely undisciplined combined sound. Yet to me, it always sounds the same. Eerie, but beautiful.
#1. I think only theater people will get this one, but my favorite sound is actually a lack of one. It’s the silence of a perfectly timed moment on stage, when the absence of sound says more than any words or music could. I love this. Just love it. It can so easily go wrong; if the silence is too long, it’s awkward. If it’s too short, it’s not real. But when it’s perfect, it can take an audience through an emotional moment without them even knowing it.
So thanks to my friends at KUAF for the intellectual stroll down Sound Alley. I’m going to be listening more carefully in the next few days, I think.
How about you? What are your favorite sounds?