by Willow Murton, Assistant Producer, Jungles/Oceans team
My journey as a “soundie” began in the hot, Sahara desert of Algeria. (For those of you who may be wondering, a “soundie” is the job of a sound recordist. On this shoot, Willow – who is our assistant producer on Oceans and Jungles – stepped in to help the Deserts team, who on this occasion were not able to take a professional recordist on location – from Dale Templar – Series Producer) In a melting frustration of entangled cables, dying batteries and conflicting noises, I remembered the words of a soundman from another trip some years ago. Pete was, he admitted, on a perpetual quest for silence. I understand now as I had not before. Pete, I have joined you on your quest for silence: pure, empty silence. Even the quietest moments in the Sahara have been full of sound.
I have had to learn quickly on this journey. Firstly, as you might expect, the world of sound has nothing to do with the look of things – I am all about the noise. So there I stand, like some style-less parody of a desert cowboy with my cable lassoes, gun mic on hip, dark rim of a fading sun hat and the closest thing to a trusty steed being a stubborn donkey. He looks at me with discernible mirth, flicks his long ears and lets out a bellow. I re-set my levels.
The other lessons follow: that the boldest person on screen may not speak with the most confident or eloquent voice; the quietest voice may give the most melodious song and the softest whisper can echo noisily. I learnt the hard way that children can scream very loudly on a football pitch when a goal is scored - my mixer and I are still recovering. I wouldn’t say I’ve come to love my cables but I appreciate velcro and cable ties more than I would ever have thought. I’ve developed sympathy for the soundman’s plight of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time as I dodge my own shadow, the cameraman, my trailing cables and the football back on that pitch. The look is still not a good one but I have rediscovered headscarves – headphones bulge under that hat and I hold my boom at jaunty angles. I redefine myself – at times I am On Speed and dynamic and at the flip of a switch, I transform to Off Speed and phantom powered.
My soundie guise lends me a proximity and a pass into another world with the tune of water flowing freely from wells and the rasping breath of the wind on sand. At times, you wish for greater distance. Roads many miles away rumble into uninhabited landscapes and people’s voices appear over an empty horizon. There is also definitely something rather uncomfortable in the intimate sound of a stranger heavily breathing into your ears.
There may be times when I wish for silence but with my headphones on, I have discovered a secret world of unimaginable sound – the orchestra of the garden with its palm percussion and insect chatter, the varying pitches of a simple stringed instrument, waterfalls of pouring tea and the subtleties of the dawn song.
And by the way, whoever burped during morning prayers, you know who you are and so do I.