Saturday, 20 June 2009

Music and Sound Cliches


Bassoon, tuba = A fat person is funny.

Castanets, guitars, shrieks, olés = Hispanic culture even when Puertan Rican, Mexican, Argentinian etc. Accompanied by wild skirt-swirling and balletic arm gestures.

Distant dog barks whenever someone looks out of a cabin door at night.

Elgar (19th century) = Enter Elizabeth I played by Cate Blanchett (in the 16th century).

French horn solo = Tall ship sets off on journey round world, sun rises over pride of lions.

Full orchestra = We're in outer space, Yellowstone National Park or the Galapagos Islands.

FX needle scratches record as you tear it off turntable = But then they found out about the damp/rats/hole in the roof.

Glissando strings = Pompous person falls down steps and breaks femur/someone sneezes persistently in the next room when you are trying to sleep. (If this happens in any movie, stop watching now – it will be slow, plodding and full of laboured “humour” and people smiling crookedly at unfunny situations.)

Harp arpeggios = Native girls bathe in waterfall/fountains of Versailles play, water weeds wave.

Harpsichord = Series featuring elderly female detective.

Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 = Ethelred is crowned King (in the 9th century).

Musical box = Ad for practically anything (brief fad, seems to be over).

Piccolos = It’s funny.

Pizzicato strings = It’s funny.

Salsa = Home improvement show.

String orchestra = Whales hasten to their breeding grounds.

Twanging open fifths = In American movies of the 30s-50s, anything Irish, even though the sound evokes Scottish bagpipes.

Unaccompanied choral music from 1500-1800 = Presenter walks past ecclesiastical building/ruin from 900-1900. (Soundtrack monks are always singing Veni Creator Spiritus.)

Vivaldi, Handel = We’re in Cheltenham or somewhere “leafy” where upper middle class people live.

Wordless or Latin chanting, especially in parallel fifths = Satanic forces, Dalek invasion.

Three random swanee whistle notes, in descending series: we are in the Amazonian rainforest – 400,000 million years ago.

Tweety flutes and harps = We’re in Smallville, Idaho.

Upward appoggiatura on bamboo flute, long-held overblown note: we are in the Amazonian rainforest now.

Warbling tone (up a semitone, down a semitone) = Noonday sun wavers in heat haze as lone aircrash survivor staggers through desert.

Detectives enter a house. A radio is playing quietly, tuned to a MOR station. They call out “Hullo, anybody home?” Camera pans round over a) ordinary furniture, steaming cup of coffee, book, glasses and knitting or b) wrecked furniture, bookcase overturned, glass smashed, stuff smeared on counter and splattered on wall. Banal pop music continues to play as detectives gaze down at the owner’s dead body.

SOUND EFFECTS

When someone takes a knife out of a drawer, it makes a “metal on metal” sound (ksssssshhhh!).

When we zero in on a diamond it goes “ping!”.

Jewellery makes the sound of little silver bells, or chandeliers jingling. (Chandeliers also jingle when there’s an earthquake, or a nuclear test in the next valley.)

When the picture abruptly changes, we hear the clunk of an old-fashioned slide projector (TV documentaries).

When someone opens and unfolds a letter, it makes a loud crackling sound, even if it’s an airmail. If it’s a will or a document found in an old brassbound chest, the crackling is deafening.

As a joke FX men used the same recording of thunderclap and rain from Frankenstein (Castle Thunder) until the 80s, also the same scream (the Wilhelm Scream). I've just noticed the thunderclap in Ghostbusters as Sigourney Weaver walks towards her apartment (and a date with a demon).

In the Rathbone/Bruce Hound of the Baskervilles, every time they go out on the dark, fogbound moor tropical frogs croak.

A friend writes about Wallander: I don't think that I've heard modems entraining for many years...Still, it goes well with the teletype noises as text prints on the computer screen.

  • Three from filmsound.org: Rats, mice, squirrels and other vermin always make tiny little squeeky noises constantly while they are on screen. Dolphins always make that same "dolphin chatter" sound when spinning, jumping, etc. Snakes are always rattling.

And in wildlife documentaries, when you home in on the caterpillars munching the leaves of that lone tree in the far distance, you hear the chomping of many jaws. But where's the sound man with a fluffy mike on a stick? It must be someone slicing a cabbage back in the studio.

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