Magazine article The New Yorker

WICKED WIND ARTS AND CRAFTS [Middle Dot] SOUND DESIGNER

Magazine article The New Yorker

WICKED WIND ARTS AND CRAFTS [Middle Dot] SOUND DESIGNER

Article excerpt

If you want to re-create the auditory experience of being in a storm aboard a nineteenth-century British frigate, get yourself a pickup truck, some wood, a few acoustic blankets, and about a thousand feet of rope. Then drive out to the Mojave Desert and build a large wooden frame in the bed of the truck. String the rope back and forth around the frame, using a turnbuckle to make it good and taut, until all thousand feet have been spent. Face the truck head-on into a thirty-mile-an-hour wind, and lean hard on the gas pedal. Once you hit seventy, you're in business; the sound of the air meeting the lines of rope ought to approximate the shrieking of the wind in the frigate's rigging--a foretaste of what the novelist Patrick O'Brian might call "a coming dissolution of all natural bonds, an apocalyptic upheaval, a right dirty night." For added effect, try holding a barbecue grill out the window and turning it at various angles as you cruise. Muffle any peripheral truck noise, as needed, with the blankets.

This, at least, is the approach that Richard King came up with recently as the sound designer for "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," the forthcoming adaptation of O'Brian's nautical series, set aboard the Royal Navy's H.M.S. Surprise during the Napoleonic Wars. King, who is forty-nine years old and a lifelong sailor, was charged not only with the task of supervising the editing of the film's soundtrack (distinct from any musical score or accompaniment) but also with recording all the individual sounds--musket fire, sloshing bilge, creaking wood--that need to be incorporated. In some cases, this requires creating the sounds from scratch.

Thus the trip to the desert. "Nobody wants to take their ships out in a gale," King said. "I actually tried to get myself on a ship somewhere in the world that would put itself in that situation." The Mojave, it turns out, is a convenient substitute, because it gets very windy, and the wind patterns are predictable, typically blowing from the southwest. King didn't limit his Mojave recording sessions to truck work, either. "We got some sails off a big square-rigger and took them out to the desert and built a giant framework--a mast, essentially--and rigged the sails so we could get them to flap at various intensities," he said. "So we got discrete sail flaps without any sound of water in the background. …

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