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  Digital Media Insider Podcast 11: Synth Mania, Part 1
Subject:   cliche sfx, too!
Date:   2007-04-21 10:18:57
From:   pdx
excellent podcast! that the sound produced by a synth patch is subordinate to performance is an idea that resonates very well with my view of composition in a digital world. the synth sound is not *un*important; it's just *less* important than what you DO with it (or in musician speak: dude! stop twiddling your knobs and PLAY something! :)

but it's not only cliche synth patchs you hear over and over again ... it's cliche sound effects too: there's this one dolphin chirp from the Sound Ideas library that i hear *every*single*time* any dolphin is displayed on TV or in a movie (i think it may have originated with "Flipper" in the 60's). there's also a chimp ooh-ooh-aah-aah sound from that same library that gets used over and over again. and let's not even talk about the "Wilhelm scream" ...

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  • David Battino photo cliche sfx, too!
    2007-04-21 22:31:31  David Battino | O'Reilly Blogger [View]

    Great point, PDX. My original Top 20 list (reprinted at www.synthmania.com/Famous%20Sounds.htm) had a few sound effects.

    I remember sitting in a bar with a game audio programmer and seeing him suddenly wince. He explained that he'd just heard a tire screech on the TV hanging behind him and recognized it as the one everyone uses — I think it was also from the Sound Ideas sample library.

    As I was reading your examples, I was going to chime in with the Wilhelm Scream, but see you beat me to it! Here's a compilation of clips from movies featuring it:

    • cliche sfx, too!
      2007-04-22 12:20:45  pdx [View]

      the Wilhelm scream is maybe a little different than other overused sfx, in that sound editors (particularly our friends up at the ranch) are obviously using it for fun, as an "in joke", whereas that dolphin chirp gets used partly *because* it's so cliche ... it immediately communicates the idea of "dolphin" even when no marine mammal is present on screen ... which is why, when i wanted to make a "dolphin" ringtone, i used it too!

      could i have used some other dolphin effect? maybe, but a) i personally don't have access to any dolphins to record, b) even if i did, getting them to make noise on cue in a quiet environment maybe ain't as easy as it sounds, c) source material for editing is what those sample libraries are for, BUT most importantly, d) other samples i tried just sounded like wierd chirping noise, unrecognizable as "dolphin" without visual reinforcement.

      so maybe using a cliche sfx is not always a bad thing, and maybe it's only obsessive audio geeks who ever even notice it anyway. maybe it's the same kind of thing with synth patches and other musical sounds ... when the producer says "i want it to sound like the '80's", you know that means "gated reverb on the snare"; or "make it sound like ELP" = "portamento square wave with chorus". maybe _all_ new and interesting sounds evolve from innovative to stereotype to annoying to useful cliche ...

      - pdx

      p.s. i recently found another instance of the Wilhelm scream i haven't seen documented anywhere else -- mixed in with the explosion after "say hello to my little friend!" from Scarface!
      • David Battino photo cliche sfx, too!
        2007-04-22 15:38:33  David Battino | O'Reilly Blogger [View]

        Thanks for pointing out the in-joke aspect of the scream, PDX; I'd meant to mention that. The Wikipedia entry has more:


        To put this in another light, though, think about all the ads and brochures that reuse the same stock photos. Consumer Reports showed a funny pairing a while back in its "Selling It" section: the same old coot was hawking both Viagra and hearing aids. CR added the inspired headline, "Maybe if he could hear her better...."