Archive for December 27, 2019

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Now that I’ve burned the ships behind me on the Trojan beach, it’s perhaps high time to inventory what I can actually do to get started, not counting, of course, the actual process of Ass Flopped on Couch, Stare at iPad Music App Until Something Makes Me Tap Keys. Most composers should have a basic idea of what their work might sound like before starting. And arbitrary as hell, I will start with the sounds that might be everywhere just under the surface of all of our lives, environmental sounds (or noise from the perspective of the people below me).


One benefit of starting my journey as a wordsmith arrogantly porting over the voices from his muse (I facetiously assert mine as Calliope and note that she gets stereotypically PMS when I don’t work for more than 24 hours) to the currently frightening world of untapped musical possibilities, typewriters. I have four, including two manuals, because in my ongoing appeasement and propitiation of Sweet Callie as a novelist there just ain’t no excuses for not pounding keys, Baby! Not even a failure to pay the electric bill or the end of Post-Industrial Civilization as we know it.

Not all typewriters are created equal. I don’t mean this the way I might get snobby nostalgic about my harmonicas, bell kit, recorder, Chinese flute, or even the out of tune banjo atop a key bookcase (all stories for a later post). Depending on how the factory gnomes put it together hoping to assist the next Hemingway or Faulkner beat the stuffing out of the literary world; Qwerty the Office Dragon (or merely Office Ogre for those that can really type) will sound different from machine to machine.

My favorite of the quartet is my white Olympia. This manual was sold to me when I surrendered a Royal portable that had the kind of mechanical flaws that suggest put a bullet in the horse it’s the only humane thing to do. The man at the typewriter repair store said things like “built in Germany, mechanically solid and recently refurbished” and got $300 out of me. On the writing side of this equation, even not using Ollie because those newfangled ‘puters still put out a siren call, I feel reassured having her ready for either an attack of do it to prove I still know how or an actual failure of the lights. Why? Mechanically solid usually means the machine can sit patiently a decent while on a desk until you the owner figures out how to take his thumbs out of his ass.

In a musical sense, Ollie presents to her composer a deeper click-clack on those keys that most of the others in my possession. Especially, since I have tons of heavyweight (20lb and 24lb) typing paper, which also affects the sound quality for the budding composer seeking to write what he knows into a piece. I can see duets and quartets juxtaposing each machine as a slightly different voice in the story of the music with possibly my various computer keyboards throwing in their quiet by comparison tones, just because no one likes being left out of the party.

The electrics in this story also have interesting sounds to them that add something to the musical narrative (everything is story to me). The keys hit the paper with slightly different tones for which I suppose I’ll have to post some samples of all my dragons (I don’t type fast enough to demote these ladies to mere ogres) so you hear what my choices are. The cool part considering Madame Brother and her sister, Madame Selectric, is the whir between keystrokes evocative of, well, even after dethronement by the computer, the hum of the Late Industrial office to be captured in music.

And then you do the Google search to find that surprisingly not a whole lot of typewriter music immediately pops out of the ether. At the top of the page will almost always be Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter with clips of various performances. This piece neatly fits in with YouTube’s preference for short clips and sounds light and breezy…until you see the percussionist’s hands.

He’s not typing so much as playing the drums because when you don’t care about the black ink on the page you can go much faster to the typing speed close to 100WPM seen in Anderson’s work. If you actually type that fast on a manual, to my way of thinking, the monster devolves well past ogre to Russian Blue kitten seeking milk. Good to know, the composer that pokes along with two fingers thinks. A rhythmic juxtaposition for the piece to do both regular typing and high-speed percussion.

Raid the kitchen.

Since this post is all about improvised instruments that we might all have in our homes, depending on the qualities of your cookware just drop something on the tile floor and see what rings back up. I have at least one saucepan that produces a verifiably pleasing tone and have yet to drop other cookware. And – CHHHHHK! – that was my downstairs neighbors metaphorically hanging me from the nearest yardarm for any possible condo noise infractions after hours.

Bad jokes aside, it seems people have been improvising music out of their kitchen goods for a long time. Should I save money and tape two spoons together or allow myself to get rooked at the music store buying the professionally manufactured instrument that has become an occasional feature of Folk and Bluegrass music? Depends on my bank account when I decide – “Yup, needs spoons.”

So far the most interesting sound in my kitchen is my coffeemaker. Brew coffee, the same four cups nearly every day, and yank up the top to allow the pent up steam to escape. It gurgles and rattles, but never exactly the same way twice. Sometimes it’s loud. Sometimes you get ten seconds out of the throaty noise. And other times you just have to whine – “is that all there is?” I’m thinking it will go well with the typewriter…or not.

Raid the big drawer in your desk and/or tool cabinet.

Rubber bands, an even poorer man’s jaw harp? Capture the squeak of dry erase pens? We’ll see once I start having to face the silent iPad app and blank score page. And with that, we’ll resume our previously scheduled procrastinations…

Update: the electric typewriters have since been unloaded upon the Salvation Army

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

A typical Jacobs Special fistfight…

Punch. Kick. Hard elbow. POW-POW-POW! Side kick. TH-WHAACK! Punch. Punch. Triangle block. KA-POW!

Of course, I do sometimes drop in a sentence or two about who’s winning, or if the hero might just gas out (fights are mini stories and John Steed needing a breath and cornerman to keep going kind of covers the internal All Is Lost Moment). Pretty much though I just do the moves and the vicious sound effects to go with ‘em.

The influences always come back to two things: Adam West Batman and the average Popeye dust cloud fight with Bluto. Seems to me that stripping out the subjects and objects from what would otherwise be complete sentences like – Popeye switched open the other eye and thrust his knuckle sandwich right at Bluto’s kisser – creates confusion. A natural state in many fights.

When I do go against my base style seen in Paragraph Two in favor of the turgid Mike Hammer inspired prose, I guarantee you my next sentence is ALWAYS about flying canine teeth. I get to be that vicariously bloodthirsty in my work, the way Popeye animators facing studio Hays Code censors couldn’t. It isn’t lost on me that a probable emergency creative solution to an arbitrary restriction, I’ve elevated to high order art.

Anyway, my personal predilections for equal helpings of confusing fight prose juxtaposed with turgid aren’t really the point of this post. Except as a hook to talk about how sound effects can affect how we write across all the many media.

Where to start? Ben Burtt tapping steel tension cables that held up telephone poles getting a sound onomatopoeically transcribed as – PEEEEW? Puh-lease, forty-year-old Star Wars solutions, while brilliant, should be a jumping off point to other sounds, not the landing place. Besides, I’m partial to – ZZZT! – or ZAP! – for all things laser, taser and Joker’s hyped up joy buzzer. I’m guessing I associate a fairly classic visual here, that of the lightning revealing the victim’s skeleton. Okay, maybe lasers realistically work with a much different onomatopoeia, but in my books…nope, don’t actually like landing on the Writer as God theory, not out loud.

Yes, I have had Sound Effects as an academic subject in film class. We clapped when someone figured out a key sound to go over a breezy desert-scape on the Avid box: microphone, cover with paper, rub it on the wall. And when I still regularly watched DVD/BLU-RAY extras I learned about celery sticks as a key tool on the Foley stage…and wet T-shirts.

I’ve also held the mic on shows and have that Executive Producer moment with the earphones on, “now, if we could only get her to sound like that in real life.” That one earned two clicks on the mic from the boom guy, Audio/Radio for “Yep, but I can’t say it at the moment.”

I suppose all of this is the longwinded way of saying sound is such a HUGE part of the world I experience and therefore write about. I blame the Adam West Batman show…not really. But, with every – POW! KAPOW! SOCK-O! & OOOF! – I was done. Well, there was also Speed Racer with all those cool crash sound effects, but they weren’t printed on screen…they barely count for the purpose of this post. Though I find it odd that I had to fight harder to watch Speed than Batsie, but I digress.

And then I learned to read with comic books being a key way station between the books Mommy reads to you and George Smiley metaphorically suplexing Karla the Evil Russian. Sergeant Ernie Rock busted out quite a bit of – BUDDA-BUDDA! – for going full Rock N Roll on the Tommygun. Still trying to figure the .50-caliber machine gun belts that never came off his shoulders, except when captured. That and the whole thing about walking out of the Battalion Aid Station thirty-six hours after taking a sucking chest wound to lead Easy to victory dressed in mummy bandages. But, I digress…

You write like you read. With all of the above, of course, I’ll put a protagonist through the windshield of a yellow Lamborghini (one of many 18-scale toy…uh, inspiration aids in my living room). As I remember that moment, I went for it with – SCREEEEECH! CRUUUNCH! – and maybe described the falling glass with an actual sentence.

How did my protagonist walk away from that one? I went with It Was All a Dream, but honestly by letting the reader know in the first sentence. Further proof, Ducky, that I have perpetrated just about every cliché under the sun without remorse.

In addition to reading comics for other reasons like that even as a mostly educated fifty-cough gent, reading is easier with pictures. I have cool sound effects to greedily anticipate. My favorites – SNIKT! – for Wolverine’s claws. KTANG! – for banging metal together (haven’t used it, yet. Coming soon!). Maybe I’ll bust out a few – THROOOOOMS! – on a just because basis. And maybe I’ll make something up that gets copied by the next bloodthirsty honorary Teenaged Mutant Ninja Scribe to come after.

One caveat, just as you will only see printed sound effects in comics panels covering big moments, prose will always run home to Mama in favor of either complete sentences or fragments that mimic sentences (like stripping out the verb To Be for overuse). I think I bust out my sound effects because I’m bored with the previous three paragraphs. Insight…I think.

Anyway, I’ve just adroitly blasted off a lot of words perhaps about nothing, or even deceptively about lots of things writing related. Things like, “it’s okay to take two left turns away from The Way Things Must Be Done.” Or stop reading this blog long enough to invent your own style, methods and proclivities. I won’t tell.