Projecting Sound (Daily Post Challenge)

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

(This week’s writing challenge was to craft a story about sound.  So blame The Daily Post for what follows.)

Projecting Sound

If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.” -Alfred Hitchcock

There are mechanical beasts in the world that should not be trifled with.  Sometimes they are monster trucks that drive over any obstacle in their paths.  Other times they are a massive train followed by a seemingly endless row of cars that could flatten a person in a second.  However, the best of the by-gone machines is the film projector.

Specifically, an IMAX projector from the late seventies is a prime piece of entertainment.  The metal panels are held on by screws which have been loosened and tightened many times over the decades in order to allow access to the inner-workings.  The two-by-two foot panels warble and warp, sending eerie reverberations as they try to maintain their shape when removed.  Even the fasteners that hold the metal to their bracing bars screech with protest when they are wrenched on as tightly as can be.

The separate sound reel adds to the fun.  With forty pounds of analog soundtrack, the long spoke turns and revolves the magnetic tape.  When it rewinds, the revolutions send out a low “whurrrr” until it reaches its peak speed.  Then the noise shifts to a whine as high-pitched emanations come from the metal disc whizzing along fast enough to knick one’s skin.  However, the real (or is that reel?) joy comes when the projector is in full operation.

It starts off quietly enough.  As the massive motor beneath the rotor starts to pick up speed, the sound echoes throughout the booth louder and louder.  “Chung chung chung”.  The film moves horizontally through the behemoth as it goes faster and faster.  Within seconds, the rhythm of the projector is joined by the almost-inaudible cry of the film as it accelerates to twenty-four frames per second.  A mile and a half of film zooms through in a brief forty minutes, the entire time the flashing pictures are accompanied by the comforting “thrumb” and chugging of the analog relic.

In theory, all goes just as it should.  The squawk of a walkie talkie produces an incomprehensible “skkrttch” from the usher below.  Quiet murmurings from the audience are heard through the booth walls and panes of glass.  The projectionist calls back down to the usher in his own voice.  That response also becomes distorted and muffled through the static as the electronic devices try to transmit across the short distance.

Suddenly the vexing and headache-inducing hum buzz of the overhead lights is cut short with a sharp snap as the breaker sends the world into darkness.  A lone thumb pushes against the starting button.  It responds with a satisfying “chunk”.  The audience falls into silence just before the screen grabs their attention and the speakers on all sides come alive with an increasingly majestic soundtrack.  That is, assuming everything goes as planned.

Every once in a while another sound or two might be heard.  Sometimes the film refuses to turn or speed up as smoothly as it should.  In that case, the horrifying sound of “CRRRRCKKKK” is bellowed across the room as the film rips itself in half.  Of course, one such noise wouldn’t be enough.  The platters that contain the film still want to keep turning, so there is the drone of those motors in motion while the loose ends dangle off the end, producing a “ka-flap, ka-flap, ka-flap”.  The rotor, used to being the star of the show, cries out louder than anything else, “KHKHKHKHKKKKKKKK” as it tries to chew through the film.  The existing perforations are soon joined by new, more ragged ones created by the sharp teeth indiscriminately piercing random spots on the film.

As the projectionist is brought to attention by the “crrrrrrckkkkk”, the “khkhkhkhkhkhkkkk”, and to a lesser degree, the “ka-flap, ka-flap, ka-flap”, he rushes forward and pushes several buttons.  The three previous noises slow as one or two “thunk” and “chck” sounds stop all operations.  Then the resonances of a projectionist’s cursing can be heard through the booth.  (We’ll let you imagine those words without any help.)  Hopefully it is confined to the booth, but the afore-mentioned windows sometimes allow the crowd to hear the hard consonants, which cause the younger attendees to giggle and squeal in delight.  Finally, as the projectionist surveys the sight before him, he uncontrollably lets out a whimpering sound.

There is much to be said for digital technology.  Yet it lacks the richness of sound that only an analog projector can provide.  With the newer generation of projectors, all one can hear is the constant, boring, droning noise of a fan cooling of the lamp.  But with an analog projector, a lonely projection booth can come alive with an endless array of sounds.  Even if those sounds are quite what the audience expected to hear.


About Cosand
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

4 Responses to Projecting Sound (Daily Post Challenge)

  1. Kimberly says:

    Re: digital technology. Nothing beats that little hum and crackle millisecond as the needle hits a record just before the music plays. Those are the real sounds of old movies, music, entertainment. Great post. I could hear the whrrrr.

  2. Pingback: Musings: The Messengers… | Mirth and Motivation

  3. Pingback: Feeling Emp-T « Anecdotal Tales

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