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Favorite Foleys

Ele Matelan is the director of public outreach at WildClaw Theatre. On February 11, she gave an Artist Talk to Northwestern’s Sound Arts and Industries students about Foley—the art of reproducing everyday sound effects that are added to film, video, TV and radio in post-production to enhance audio quality.

Matelan’s talk included some basic history about the field, including how it got its name—Jack Donovan Foley is credited with developing a method for performing sound effects live and in synch with pictures during post-production.

Matelan also spoke with students about her own specialty, Foley application in live theater and her focus on onstage audio drama design and performance techniques.

We recently caught up with Matlean and played a game of “Favorite Things” to discover her top picks for Foley techniques and why. From the practical to the surprising and the downright strange, here are the props and effects she says she couldn’t do without:

  1. “Big Hinge: One of the most versatile actors in my stable, and a great example of the Foley concept, ‘Context as casting.’ Depending on the story, this squeaky hinge has played an asylum door, a rusty swing set, a weather vane, and I’m sure it will continue to add to its résumé.
  2. Bird Warblers: A wise man once told me, ‘Birdies mean daytime, crickets mean night time.’ Audiences always get a kick out of the chirps these whistles provide when filled with a little water. I have also used them dry for the sound of a shrieking tea-kettle.
  3. Plastic Unicorn Squeak Toys: The newest members of my team. I don’t think many artists ever fully turn off their ‘hunter-gatherer’ brains between projects. I constantly squeeze, tweak, or flutter random items in any store I enter just to see what kind of sounds they make. I’m pretty much always guaranteed to be greeted by a politely curious (if not outright harried) customer service rep in any hardware store, grocery store, or toy store within 4 minutes of entering. Sure enough, I was in a Party City last August and randomly squeezed a unicorn’s flanks and it gave me the most delightful seagull cry! I immediately went through the entire bin to make sure it wasn’t a fluke (it kinda was) and that I’d gotten the best of the bunch (totally did). They ended up being prominently featured in the script that won Best of the Fest for Deathscribe 2018, “Whisper Trigger,” by Dan E. Finnen and Sarah Gise, directed by Tara Branham.
  4. Alka Seltzer in Soda: We’d used this in shows for the sound of frying bacon. After learning that bacon is also famously used in film Foley for the sound of rain, one of my favorite tricks for sustained rainfall has become flipping a rain stick to *start* rainfall, and transitioning to a cup of soda (sugar-free, so if it spills you don’t have sticky props) with Alka Seltzer tablets in it to effervesce under the mic.
  5. Chamois: One of the most reliable sources for gross. A soaked chamois can give you vomit sounds or squishy gore sounds, depending on how you squish, squeeze, or flop it. Dry and pulled taut, it can also make awesome heartbeats.”

You can read more about Ele and her work with WildClaw Theatre here. Script submissions for WildClaw’s twelfth Deathscribe, the annual international festival of live short horror audio drama, will open on May 1st.

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