Whooping monkeys to Siri – the dream podcast for lovers of surprising sounds

Hannah Verdier
Listen up … a female howler monkey prepares to meet its voice coach.
Photograph: Mark Newman/Getty/Lonely Planet

‘You may not think about the sounds you hear every day, but somebody has,” says Dallas Taylor, host of Twenty Thousand Hertz (Defacto Sound, iTunes). Each 15-minute podcast delves into a different kind of noise, from cars to film soundtracks, showing how familiarity can make listeners take it for granted.

It’s the tiny nuances that count, as Taylor notes when he laments the move away from vinyl records in the episode From Analog to Digital. “It’s completely a matter of taste,” he reasons. “But was there something we lost when we went to digital? Absolutely. We lost the rituals that prepared us to listen: spending hours at a record store, ready and eager to discover something new. We lost the excitement of flipping through bins of albums, pulling one out and deciding if it was worth the commitment.” Sound is one thing, but if you get misty-eyed over your old 45s you know the smell, dust and artwork of a record all add up to the full experience.

If there is a voice of this digital age, it is Siri. In another episode Taylor talks to one of the people who voices it, Susan Bennett. She only realised she had been chosen to speak for Apple’s personal assistant when friends told her they had encountered her soothing tones while messing about with a new iPhone. (Ironically, Bennett admits to being technologically illiterate.)

Taylor also examines the reassuring, powerful and sometimes fun sounds of a car and in doing so makes the listener stop to think about the blink of an indicator, the click of a door and the roar of an engine.

An episode about movie soundtracks is particularly fascinating. Ann Kroeber, the sound designer for 80s wilderness drama The Mosquito Coast, explains how talking a group of San Francisco Zoo monkeys through how she was going to record their sound paid off. As she played them noises of other monkeys and cajoled them into doing better, she got the result she wanted. “They all jumped up and started hooting and hollering, making this amazing racket,” she laughs, thrilled at the memory. It’s a sound to be appreciated, just like Big Ben’s bongs, a dot-matrix printer’s whizz and a CD tray opening. Twenty Thousand Hertz is not just a place to listen to whooping monkeys; it is a place that shows love for these everyday noises that are in danger of becoming extinct.

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