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We hear a lot about the work that goes into getting the eye-grabbing visuals Hollywood blockbusters… but how much work goes into getting the sounds? You may be surprised to learn that behind, not just the explosions and fight scenes, but behind every door creaking, every clothing rustle, behind every footstep is the careful work of a foley artist, a sound designer whose job it is to make sure you hear the sounds you expect to hear, when you expect to hear them.

How do they do it? What does it take to be the people behind the sounds behind the biggest stars in cinema? Today we’re looking at the performance behind the performance. It’s foley artists, on Sounds Familiar.

David Rakoff, 1964-2012

Personal favorites:
This American Life:
"Stiff as a Feather, Light as a Board" (from the recent live performance) 
"Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace"
"The Christmas Freud" 

"Into America" (@13:22)
"Buzz, Pick Up the Phone!" (@9:00)
"Rainy Day Blues" (@10:15) 

David Rakoff’s radio work contains some of the most memorable, and poignant (and sometimes just plain weird) moments I’ve ever heard. His storytelling is on par with David Sedaris, and his delivery was always unique and unmistakable.

I’ve included links to a few of my favorite performances of his from This American Life and Wiretap. His “Christmas Freud” piece from TAL is every bit as bizarre and interesting as Sedaris’ famous “Santaland Diaries” (and was featured on the same episode). His Wiretap bits are particularly unique. My favorite is “Rainy Day Blues,” where Jonathan calls customer service to complain about his new hair trimmer only to find that the customer service center, corporate office and manufacturing plant are all… David Rakoff. I also enjoyed his segment, featured on “Buzz, Pick Up the Phone!” where he demonstrates how he’s better at job interviews after having a few drinks.

Rakoff died this week after a long battle with cancer. If you’ve never heard his work, take the opportunity at some point to give him a chance. You won’t be disappointed. 

This week I’m interviewing remix/mashup pioneer and hip hop legend Steve Stein (aka Steinski). Over the course of a weekend in 1983, using turntables and 2-track tape, Steinski (and production partner Double Dee) mixed dozens of songs together into a five-minute piece called “The Payoff,” which would go on to win a remix contest judged by hip hop legend Afrika Bambaataa, and then become a prized bootleg, international underground radio hit and huge influence on contemporary mashup artists like Girl Talk.

My Steinski interview will be featured in an upcoming piece about the history of sampling in music and the current state of copyright law.

A screenshot from a Pro Tools session for the show Radiolab.

Jad Abumrad’s Transom manifesto is the most inspiring thing ever, really.

Today I’ve got an interview with Philo T. Farnsworth, the mysterious, pseudonym-toting head of Illegal Art, a record label devoted to promoting artists who use samples and appropriation in their work (most notably Girl Talk, above). 

The podcast returns 9/7!


Currently listening… to an early retort of hiphop detractors (relevant to an upcoming episode).

You see, you misunderstood: a sample is a tactic
A portion of my method, a tool
In fact it’s only of importance when I make it a priority
And what we sample is of the majority”


Talkin All That Jazz by Stetsasonic

Stetsasonic was formed in 1979 in Brooklyn, New York City, New York and is remembered as one of the first hip hop crews to use a live band, and the group’s positive, uplifting lyrics made it forerunners of alternative hip hop and jazz hip hop.

The “wall of fame” at Footsteps recording studios. I did a bunch of documenting there last week and it will become a show in the near future.

Did you know? Almost every footstep, every chair creak and every rustle of clothing—really all the non-musical, non-dialogue sounds you hear in a mainstream, notable box-office movie are painstakingly re-recorded, in sync with the video, by a ‘foley artist’ in a recording studio.

On the new season of Sounds Familiar (starting 9/7) we’re going into the studio with the foley team behind The Life Aquatic, The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Cloverfield, to find out what it takes to be the discreet (and not-so-discreet) sounds of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Join us!
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Currently listening…

This might be my favorite album artwork ever. The music’s pretty good too.