For about an hour I recorded short musical phrases by rubbing leaves against the turntable (the type of leaf, angle, pressure and fold determined the sound), then I combined the different takes together.Every element comes from those recordings, including the bass, kick and snare sounds (shaped with EQ, compression and resonators).
If you’ve read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you have probably also listened to the radio show that spawned it. But have you ever read the original radio show scripts? You’ll find interesting plot and character notes, along with facts about the making of each episode.
There are a few gems among the sound effects notes as well. Here are a dozen of my favorites:
From Fit the Sixth, where the Bugblatter Beast attacks:
HUGE ARM SWEEPS DOWN AND PICKS THEM UP. THE MONSTER ROLLS HIS EYES WHICH TURN RED, GREEN, THEN A SORT OF MAUVY PINK. IT RUNS ITS TONGUE ROUND ITS LIPS, BLINKS A COUPLE OF TIMES AND THEN MENTALLY REGISTERS THAT IT HAS JUST REMEMBERED WHAT 10 ACROSS IN THE GALACTIC TIMES CROSSWORD WAS TODAY, MAKES A MENTAL NOTE TO WRITE IT IN WHEN IT’S NEXT GOT A COUPLE OF MINUTES
From Fit the First, where the Earth is destroyed:
A LOW THROBBING HUM WHICH BUILDS QUICKLY IN INTENSITY AND PITCH. WIND & THUNDER, RENDING, GRINDING CRASHES. ALL THE NIGGLING LITTLE FRUSTRATIONS THAT THE BBC SOUND EFFECTS ENGINEERS HAVE EVER HAD CAN ALL COME OUT IN A FINAL DEVASTATING EXPLOSION WHICH THEN DIES AWAY INTO SILENCE
Some are a bit more straightforward but perhaps not any more helpful for the common sound engineer.
THE SOUND OF LIGHT GOING ON IN A VOGON SPACESHIP
The Vogon voice gets a bit more detail:
A RATHER EXTRAORDINARY NOISE STARTS UP. IT SOUNDS LIKE A COMBINATION OF GARGLING, HOWLING, SNIFFING AND FIGHTING OFF A PACK OF WOLVES
Others make sense only to the author or Monty Python fans:
DRAMATIC CHORD (SHRUBBERY)
While others give helpful reminders about the nature of space:
CLICK HUM WHHHOOOOOSHHHHHHH AS THE AIRLOCK DOOR OPENS AND THEY ARE EXPELLED. THE SOUND DOESN’T SO MUCH FADE AS ‘EMPTY’ BECAUSE SOUND DOESN’T CARRY INA VACUUM AND SO IT GETS DISPERSED WITH THE ESCAPING AIR
Then there is this:
THIS IS REALLY A WILD FLURRY OF SOUND WHICH QUICKLY DIES AWAY INTO THE BACKGROUND, AS THE DIALOGUE BEGINS. SOON AFTERWARDS A SLOW QUIET WASH OF SOUND BUILDS UP BEHIND THE VOICES, PARTLY REFLECTING WHAT THEY SAY THEY CAN SEE AROUND THEM, BUT ALSO WITH MANY RANDOM ELEMENTS WITH AN UNREAL DREAMLIKE QUALITY, NOT UNLIKE PARTS OF REVOLUTION NO. NINE FROM THE BEATLES WHITE ALBUM. ALL THE SOUNDS CHANGE IMPERCEPTIBLY BEFORE IT’S REALLY POSSIBLE TO HEAR EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE, SO FOR INSTANCE THE SOUND OF THE WASHING OF THE SEA WAVES COULD ALMOST BE ASTHMATIC BREATHING INSTEAD, AND THE SOUND OF TRAFFIC IN THE STREET COULD ALMOST BE GALLOPING HOOVES BUT ISN’T.
Adams notes that it is worth the time and effort to get this right because it will be useful in the future; the endnote of the chapter indicates they never used it again.
From the leave it to your imagination department:
POP AS OF WHALE SUDDENLY COMING INTO EXISTENCE SOME MILES ABOVE THE SURFACE OF AN ALEN PLANET. INCREASING WIND
From the “timey wimey” school of explanation:
ZAPPY BURSTY SOUND WHICH IS ALSO A BIT SCREAMY AS THE CHAIR BURSTS INTO A TERRIBLE MONSTER
There are also quite a few retroactive notes:
THE SLIGHT HUM WHICH THE SPACESHIP HAS HITHERTO BEEN EMANATING BUT WHICH I FORGOT TO MENTION SUDDENLY PICKS UP IN INTENSITY
Of course, it’s not only the sound engineers who have challenges:
THICK SWIRLING SMOKE. A FEW VAGUE LIGHTS VISIBLE AND SOME MENACING BUT ILL DEFINE SHAPES. THIS IS SIGNALLED BY A FEW COUGHS FROM ARTHUR, WHO IS PLAYED BY A REMARKABLE TALENTED AND ABLE ACTOR
No matter that deadlines are looming, sometimes you have to get in the important bits:
THE THREE LINTILLAS (WHO ARE NOT AN ITALIAN HIGH WIRE ACT, THOUGH I’M SURE WE DON’T ACTUALLY NEED TO MENTION THIS FACT, ONLY PERHAPS, WELL I DON’T KNOW, PUT IT IN ANYWAY) THE THREE LINTELLAS AND MARVIN RUN TOWARDS THEM. MARVIN IS FIRING HARD
Lots of thinking out loud:
WIND. (IT’S ALWAYS WIND ISN’T IT? I THINK WE’LL HAVE SOME THUNDER AND RAIN AS WELL)
Finally, there is the sheer excitement over things like two million robots singing their company’s theme song:
ONCE A TUNE HAS BEEN WORKED OUT, THE ACCOMPANIMENT SHOULD BE PLAYED ON A VERY ECHOEY SYNTHESIZER WHILST THE TWO MILLION ROBOTS SING EXACTLY A FLATTENED FIFTH OUT OF TUNE. IT WILL SOUND MORE GHASTLY THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE
Listen to the final product. Lacking two million robots, they made do with a couple of dozen confused people from adjacent offices.