Friday, June 26, 2009

Asparagus = Cigarettes

My job at Marketing Messages calls for a vast number of differing skills. I do voice-overs, of course, but I also produce and engineer recording sessions involving other voice-over professionals; I edit recordings; I mix recorded voice with music for our Messages-On-Hold; I put together music-only (Music-On-Hold) productions; and a few other more peripheral duties (shipping, drinking coffee, swearing.)

I mentioned editing and mixing. Those are the two jobs that occupy the greatest amount of time on our schedule, and everybody on the production team performs these tasks at one time or another. We use more than one editing platform (for instance, ProTools, Adobe Audition and Sound Forge, to name a few of those most often used) and, of course, it pays for us to know as much as possible about what can be done within each editing platform. So, we sometimes play around with different functions in order to familiarize ourselves with them, in case we should need that knowledge for a future job.

One of the cooler - or, at least, odder - functions available is the ability to reverse a recording.

Some of you are old enough to remember the furor over reversed recordings during the 1960's. Rumors of Paul McCartney's death came about because of "evidence" heard in some Beatles recordings. Supposedly, such things as "Paul is a dead man" and "Turn me on, dead man" could be heard when certain song segments were played backwards. More recently, performers as diverse as Pink Floyd, Judas Priest, Queen, and Slayer have been accused of using "backmasking" as a way of promoting unseemly and anti-social behaviors on the part of their fans.

(For more on backmasking in popular music, please see the excellent Wikipedia article on same.)

However, for our purposes here, let's put aside conjecture about the passing of quite-obviously-alive British musicians and other such nonsense. We experimented with backwards recordings because it was a way to familiarize ourselves with our recording tools, and because it presented us with interesting vocal exercises that might increase our proficiency as script readers.

Also, it was great fun.

Let me give you some examples. To begin, I've written a short pithy play about the eternal struggle of feline and canine in regards to man, entitled "Cat Dog".


Setting: The South Of France During The Time Of Napoleon

Cast (in order of appearance)

Cat ................................ Sarah Colvin
Man ................................ Jim Sullivan
Dog ................................ John Hutchinson

[forward recording - Cat Dog]

Now, I'll reverse the recording.

[reverse of previous recording]

What we would then do was practice saying the reversed versions of the words until we felt we had them as close as possible to what we had been hearing on the reversed playback. Then, we would record ourselves saying those reversed words, such as we've done here...

[forwardly-recorded reverse of Cat Dog]

... and, finally, we would reverse that recording to see how close we got to the originals.

[reversed recording of forwardly-recorded reverse Cat Dog]

As you might imagine, it was not only a learning experience, but also involved us cracking up quite a bit. There's just always something comically askew with the final product, no matter how good a job is done in mimicking the backwards speech.

Now that you know the process involved, I'll play you a longer example, entitled "I Like Chinese Food". Along with my co-workers, Sarah and Hutch, I've voiced some words and whole sentences, reversed those, practiced saying them backwards, then recorded the backwards pronunciations, reversed those... well, here's an example of the entire process strung together in one continuous piece.

[I Like Chinese Food!]

We indulged in this sort of silliness quite often for a short while. As I say, it really helped us to learn more about the recording processes and it also trained us, as speakers, to verbalize odd constructions, which in turn made us less likely to stumble on unusual words or local pronunciations that appeared in actual scripts.

The weirdest thing we ever encountered while doing this was finding out that asparagus equals cigarettes. That is, when you record someone saying "asparagus", and then reverse it, the person is then saying "cigarettes". And if you record someone saying "cigarettes", then reverse that, the person says "asparagus".

Don't believe me? Take a listen.

[Asparagus? Cigarettes! Cigarettes? Asparagus!]

We all found it incredibly odd that something so healthy for you, when spoken and then reversed, could become something so hideously bad for you. It literally was an example of the reverse of a word being an actual reverse of it, healthwise.

When we discovered this, we all thought it would be incredibly funny if we found out that a whole bunch of other words, when reversed, would also be the reverse of the original word in a moral or health sense, but, alas, we've never come up with another that is so startlingly clear (although the fact that "spare ribs" is the same backwards and forwards is pretty interesting.)

If you have the ability to do reverse recordings, and you come up with a funny one, please send it my way. I'd love to hear it.

And that's all I've got for you today. Having completed this, I'm now going to do what I usually do after I finish writing. I'm going to go outside and smoke asparagus.

See you soon.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Locked In

I've got to tell you a short funny story. Since it happened at work, I figure it's fodder for this blog. First, though...

Marketing Messages!


Excellent Digital Announcers!

(That should keep our marketing guru satisfied. He told me, when I started this thing, that having links to our website was important. Usually, the links I include are legit, in that they're pertinent to the story I'm telling, but I can't figure out any other way to jam them into this, so there you go, Anthony.)

OK, the story.

I'm usually the first person into the office each morning. And the first thing I do each morning is disarm our alarm system. It's controlled by a keypad, and there are motion detectors throughout the office. As soon as anybody enters the office, it starts beeping - if it's armed. You then have about 15 seconds to enter the correct code. If you fail to do so, the alarm will go off in earnest, the alarm company will be notified of an intruder, police will come screeching up to our door, and all hell will generally break loose (but you won't, if you're a burglar.)

Now, as the first person into the office each morning, I'm generally among the first to leave, too. On occasion, however, I'll have a dinner date with MY WIFE later in the evening, or perhaps I'll be going to a Sox game with my cousin, or maybe even a concert with my good buddy and softball teammate, Fast Freddy Goodman (our faves are AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, just in case you have any extras.) On those nights, I might hang around the office after 5pm and do some extra work or (more likely) write a blog post, such as I'm doing now.

My boss, Rich Snider, tends to arrive to the office a half-hour or so following me, and will usually still be working hard when I say my good-byes.

Once, perhaps four or five years ago, I was in my studio around 6pm, an hour after my usual quitting time - actually doing some work, too, I might add - and the only other person remaining in the office was Rich. Unfortunately, he was unaware of my presence. He left for the evening. Thinking he was the last one out the door, he shut out the lights, locked the door behind him, and armed the alarm.

Now, my memory is a bit fuzzy as to how that situation resolved itself, but I seem to remember that what happened was that Rich got down the stairs and outside, but then saw my car in the parking lot. He returned upstairs, unlocked the door, disarmed the alarm, and we both had a good laugh. In any case, during the intervening years, every so often he's joked around about locking me in - pretending I've already gone home and then saying out loud, "I guess Jim isn't here! I'll lock up now!", at which point my part in the play is to give out with mock indignation and sputtering, and tell him "Hey! Don't do that again! I'm still here!" (or, perhaps, say, "I'm not dead!" like the guy in Monty Python's Holy Grail.)

Good clean office fun; we both laugh and then go about our business. Except...

This past Tuesday, I'm meeting MY WIFE in Coolidge Corner, Brookline, to attend a book reading by an author. The reading won't start until 7pm, so I'm hanging out at the office until 6:15 or so. By 5:30, Rich and I are the only two left in the office. I'm sitting in my studio, at the computer, and I hear the unmistakable sound of our front door lock clicking. I turn around and see that all of the office lights are out. He did it again, for real.

The thought came to mind, though, that perhaps he was just playing the joke again, this time adding the sound effects and lighting to really get me. So, I waited a few seconds, then said, "Hello?"

No answer. No giggle at my expense.

So, now I know it's not a joke. The next thing I think is, "Rich will see my car in the parking lot and come back up, unlock the door, disarm the alarm, and we'll both have a good laugh."

I waited a minute, then two. Nope. He's gone. Now what do I do?

Well, as I said, there's about a fifteen second delay between the motion detector sensing your presence and the alarm actually signaling the authorities, so I know I have that amount of time to go from my office, to the keypad, and then enter the security code to deactivate the alarm. My office is maybe 25 or 30 feet from the keypad, so I think I can cover that distance within 15 seconds! Just to be on the safe side, I run as quickly as my old catcher's knees will carry me. No problem. The alarm started beeping, but I entered the code, it was then no longer armed, and I returned to my office.

The next morning, I told Rich what had happened. He was shocked that he had done it again, but we had a decent laugh about it. And he thought that was that.

However, our office manager, Kim, had other ideas. She made the following poster and plastered it on our front door so that Rich would be sure to see it next time he went outside.

Rich saw it, he laughed, everybody else had a good laugh when they saw it, and that was the end of the ribbing we gave to Rich about the incident.

Except, of course, for broadcasting it to the world via this blog.

See you soon.