Saturday, May 11, 2019

Sounds That I'd Recognize Anywhere.


I'm hanging out at staging with my fellow lamp operators when I hear a faint thump mixed with a slight metallic rattle coming from the direction of the set. Knowing exactly that causes that sound, I turn the corner and find the Gaffer setting a light by himself.

I give him a hand, and he walks away to look at the monitor so he can direct me on how to focus it.

"Pan it to the left a little bit...," he calls over the radio, "Stop. That's good right there. Thank's A.J."

The other guys, hearing the talk over the walkie talkie, decide to get up off their butts from staging to see what's going on. Seeing as how they all arrived "just in time," all but one of them turn right back around so they can go back to paying attention to their phones. The guy that stays behind gestures to his ear-piece.

"Did he call for that light over the radio?"
"No," I reply.
"Then how did you know he needed a hand?"
I give him a little shrug and say, "I heard a baby stand moving around."

Some cats recognize the sound of a can opener being used. Some dogs recognize the jingle of car keys. A mother might be able to recognize their baby's cry in a full nursery. Some people can recognize a lover's laugh from three rooms away. I, as someone who is forever single and alone, can recognize certain sounds from anywhere on a sound stage.

In the bustle of a set, I can identify the sound of the brake on a Roadrunner stand being released.
I can identify the unmistakable cranking sound of a Roadrunner going up (or down).
... Or anything involving a Roadrunner, really.
I know exactly what it sounds like when the handle of a lunch box falls over as it settles.
I know the distinct "buzz" that a surge of electricity brings to a BFL* that was just fired up.
And the distinct "buzz" an 18K makes when it fails to strike.
I know the rhythmic "click" of a Joker ballast that's about to go bad.
And the rattle a loose globe in a Par Can makes.
Or worse, the rattle a broken lens makes in a fresnel head.
I know when a dolly is charging even when I'm all the way over at Crafty.
Even the "plop" of a wrapped stinger hitting the ground or milk crate is something that I can pick out in a busy room.

I may not be able to recognize a baby's cry, but I sure can recognize the sound a baby stand makes.

I don't need to wait for a call over the radio to know that a light needs to be adjusted/added/moved. I know something's happening because I hear a stinger being dropped on the ground or the unmistakable squeak of a lunch box handle moving. I don't need to see that the light is moving before I rush over to help. I'm already there before it moves because I heard the creak and click of the brake being released.

I'll admit, it is a little weird to pick up on things like that. I don't expect my co-workers to recognize the sound a stinger makes and come running,** but I can't tell you how many times I've had to stop a conversation because of something I heard in the background and know I had to go back to set. Despite what I'd imagine to be eventual hearing loss due to people shouting in my ear-piece all day, my ears automatically perk up to any sounds of work related activity. I'm honestly not sure if it's a gift, a burden or an obsession. Or maybe it's all three.

It's like having eyes in the back of my head or a tingling Spidey sense. I can't help it. I mean, you can't exactly tell yourself to stop hearing things. But what I do know is that it seems to make me a better set lighting tech. The Gaffer may not have needed help with that light (or else he would've called for it over the radio) but I'm sure he appreciated me being there.






* Big Fucking Light.
** Also, let's acknowledge that there's a difference between recognizing and registering. I'm sure every SLT worth their salt knows what a crank stand sounds like, but not everyone registers that the sound means work is being done when they're distracted by Facebook and the sound becomes nothing more than background noise.




2 comments :

Michael Taylor said...

When I was starting out - before the days when every juicer and grip wore a walkie on their belt - I marveled at the "set ears" of the veteran crew members. They'd hear things I didn't, and would immediately run to deal with whatever the issue was on set. It took me a while to develop my own set-ears, but when I did, it made me a lot more valuable on set. I wonder if the ubiquity of radios in modern times keeps on-set techs from hearing anything that doesn't come over those radios... and of course, cell phones are probably the worst thing to happen in terms of distracting the crew's attention from the business at hand.

Of course, I fully understand saying this makes me Grampa Simpson waving my cane while yelling at the clouds...

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