Don’t believe everything you hear

The first time I visited Marrakech was in the spring of 2003, in the company of my friend Dan, who’s full moniker, Daniel Moresco Pierce, I’ve envied since the day we met in Malaga a few years earlier. So much more distinguished than the mundane Derek Workman.

Dan is an illustrator, (and to my mind his series The Fridge is the definitive cartoon series featuring cheese and vegetables), and a short time before we met, he and his missus, Amanda Innes, had just finished overseeing the restoration of Riad Maizie, a delightful oasis of calm in the Medina, before there became an abundance of oases of calm in the ancient heart of the city. Amanda, amongst her many skills, is a top-hole style and design writer (author, as she depricatingly describes herself, of twenty-seven books about cushions), and in a couple of years hence her book Cinnamon City – Falling for the magical city of Marrakech would be named as one of the top ten yarns of the year by the Daily Mail.

But this story isn’t about Dan and Miranda, although I could chat forever about them, given the chance. No, this is about a totally different animal than an illustrator or a writer.

On a morning warm in the sun, although still a little cool in the shade of the narrow souk streets, I wandered off to the outskirts of the Medina, away from the early tourist bustle of Jemaa el Fnaa. There’s nothing quite like sitting and gawping at the passing parade, and as I sat outside a crowded café having a cafe au laite – you need to take a break from mint tea sometime – an English voice asked if they could take the empty seat at my table. After years of living in Spain I was a bit startled; you don’t do that sort of thing here, a table in a cafe or restaurant is the gastronomical equivalent of an Englishman’s castle. But this being in the Arab world, I politely acquiesced.

Inevitably, my coffee companion and I got into conversation. The chat followed the usual lines of where are you from, been here before, are you on holiday, etc. but it was his answer to the last question that brought me up short. My answer had been simple; a bit of a break and to see somewhere new, but Tom (as was his name) was in Marrakech to record his feet. I kid you not, but to be fair, it was the sound of his feet that was being recorded, not his feet themselves. He was a Foley artist, which to me didn’t mean a thing, but if Tom and his fellow artists didn’t exist, almost any movie, radio and TV programme or advert would loose half the impact our ears absorb.

When you see Colin Firth walking across his voice coach’s floor in The King’s Speech, Meryl Streep beating eggs into a bowl in Julie and Julia, the story of TV cook Julia Child, or the rustle of silken robes just before the heroine of a blood-lust horror movie succumbs to the hacking and slashing of a Freddie Kruger-like character, the actions are theirs, but the sounds are those of an un-named Foley artist. Pages being turned, squeaky doors opening and closing, a cup placed on saucer when The Queen finishes a cup of tea, (or in the case of our dearly departed Queen Mother, an empty G&T glass being placed on a table), all those sounds are the work of the Foley artist. Their work helps to create a sense of reality within a scene. Without these crucial background noises movies feel unnaturally quiet and uncomfortable.

It would be very easy to dismiss the Foley artist as a wannabe actor who never quite cut the mustard, but that’s far from the truth, and the top Foley artists are highly regarded specialists in their field.

It began in 1927, when Jack Foley, who had been working for Universal Studios since 1914, the heyday of silent movies, was asked to be part of the sound crew of Show Boat, Universal’s answer to The Jazz Singer, the first ‘talkie’ ever made. The microphones of the time could only pick up dialogue, so Foley and his crew projected the film onto a screen and recorded a second audio track of the actions to capture the live sounds. Their timing had to be perfect so that footsteps and closing doors would sync with the actors’ motions in the film.

My new-found friend Tom was recording the sound of a man walking through Arab streets for a film about Egypt (as with many productions, a scene is never quite where you think it is), and it was a lot cheaper to send him and a crew to Marrakech than to Cairo.

So when you watch Sex in the City or any other movie purporting to be either about or filmed in Morocco, don’t assume that the sounds of jangling bracelets or swishing curtains you hear are being made by Sarah Jessica Parker or Kim Catrall. They could be a colleague of Tom’s shut away in a dark studio somewhere in downtown L.A.

Find out more about Riad Maizie

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.

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3 Responses to “Don’t believe everything you hear”

  1. Olga Fedina Says:

    This is really interesting, and a fantastic photo. Here is a real journalist – all he needs to do just sit at a cafe table, and the stories come to him!

  2. valpaparazzi Says:

    Gosh…Thank you. would you like to be my agent?

  3. Olga Fedina Says:

    🙂

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