Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sound Effects Skill: Wolf Howls

In "Leila," Deborah Hyatt's chilling contribution to Chatterbox's 2011 Halloween Show, a man fights to save his marriage to the werewolf he loves. Ultimately, our hero finds himself in the woods, amid the most unfortunate of family reunions -- surrounded by a pack of angry wolves. The script, as you can imagine, called for lots of howling.

Though we mixed in some recordings of real wolf howls, I wanted to supplement them with howls from the cast. In general, recorded (or "canned") sound effects tend to be more realistic, and are the only way to go with very large or very specific sounds. But live (or "spot") effects often fit into a scene more naturally, sounding both more immediate and more coherent. For sounds that require both realism and immediacy, we've found that a blending of recorded and spot effects works best.

So, how to howl? We wanted to stay as accurate as possible, which meant moving past the oversimplified arooo sound you'll hear on cheesy Halloween records. Here are some links Deborah and I sent to the cast during rehearsal.

Recordings of actual wolves:

How to mimic a wolf howl:

(Obviously some folks get really into this.)

There's an arc to the pitch that is crucial to a realistic howl. Up quickly, then down more slowly -- almost like a siren warming up and winding down -- with a kind of vocal break near the end. I also love the shorter "yipping" sounds, which Megan incorporated into the wife character's final strangled howl, described in the script as "a terrible mix of human and animal, pleasure and grief."

So how did we do? Judge for yourself, but I was certainly happy with the end result. Any effect that doesn't draw attention to itself, that the listener accepts as part of the story, is successful. Meanwhile, explore the above links to perfect your own howl, for use in your own spooky performance or just a wild night on the town.

1 comment:

  1. Nice little look into the process. It's always interesting, the things that go into making a show.