As It Happens

Scream choir, record-shattering opera and the most annoying car alarm: The best sounds of 2017

As It Happens’ list of the coolest, weirdest and most memorable sounds of the year

By: Craig Desson, Sheena Goodyear, Richa Syal, Haydn Watters

It's December, and that means it's list season.  

All over the Internet, you'll find lists of everything from the year's best films and albums to the top shortwave radios and luxury SUVs.

But we at As It Happens have discovered one glaring omission — sounds.

Grab your earbuds, because As It Happens was listening and we've compiled the best sounds of 2017.

When Tadhg Fleming saw his dad in the kitchen of their Ballymacelligott, Ireland home sporting a soccer uniform and chasing a bat with a tea towel, he knew he had to film it.

The resulting footage of the Derry Fleming frantically chasing the winged creature while all hell breaks loose around him is hilarious — but it's the cacophony of thick Irish accents and utter mayhem that makes the audio unforgettable.

"It was just pure chaos," Tadhg told As It Happens host Carol Off in September.  

Somehow, Vancouver composer Bob Smart was able to take a ragtag choir of screamers and turn their shrieks into what he calls "intelligible music."

Just one scream takes a lot out of you. Screaming a full song requires talent. On top of that, the screamers are in tune, so it's easy to recognize the song they are screaming: Strauss's famed Blue Danube Waltz.

The project was commissioned by the Pacific National Exhibition's Playland, as part of an ad campaign to encourage more people to scream while on their rides. It may not be pleasant to listen to, but it's memorable.

George Mason University psychologist Carryl Baldwin and her team engineered a car alarm that has been dubbed "The Most Annoying Sound Ever."

The researchers spent years testing our perceptions of sound in order to develop the most effective alarm to warn drivers of head-on collisions. The result is high-pitched, quick-paced and, most of all, original.

"We certainly don't want it to be perceived as a cellphone ring or a text message or something like that coming in, so it needs to be kind of unique," Baldwin told As It Happens host Carol Off in March.

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Without the video, it sounds like it could be a distant jackhammer or a malfunctioning computer program.

But it's actually music — Portuguese pianist Domingos-Antonio Gomes hitting the B7 key 824 times in 60 seconds to bust the world record for the most piano key hits in a minute. At 824 times, that's a hefty 13 keys a second.

"It is a little like dribbling a basketball," he told CBC Radio. "You have to do it in good rhythm, otherwise you might inadvertently quelch the momentum and stop it."

Audrey Luna hit the highest note ever recorded in the New York City Metropolitan Opera's 137-year history during her performance in The Exterminating Angel, by Thomas Adès.

Evocative of laughter, the A above High C lasts a split second — but that was long enough to frighten As It Happens listeners' dogs when we played it over CBC Radio's airwaves in November.

"It's unlike anything I've ever heard or seen written," Luna told As It Happens "It definitely pushes me to my limit."

This is what the northern lights sound like — sort of.

This gorgeous audio was recorded 250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle last Christmas by Oliver Wright, a photographer who works for the Swedish tour company Lights over Lapland.

What sounds like Star Wars blaster fire is, in fact, power lines shaking from the force of electromagnetic energy from sun's solar flares ripping through Earth's atmosphere.

It's an incredible soundtrack to an incredible sight.

Toronto duo Mark Korven and Tony Duggan-Smith created a beautiful, hand-crafted wooden instrument that can be used to generate original horror movie soundtracks, no digital tools required.

The Apprehension Engine makes spooky harmonics and ominous high-pitched whines using strings, rulers, and other assorted bits and bobs.

"It was a lot of just emptying out cabinets and seeing what junk I'd collected over the years," Duggan-Smith told As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch in June.

Every grunt, yell or death scream you hear while playing a high-octane action video game was originally recorded multiple times, in sessions that may last hours. Actors have described serious injuries, some even requiring throat surgery, as a result.

It's why members of the SAG-AFTRA union in the U.S. went on strike this year against the biggest video game companies in the world, to fight for safer working conditions and residual payments that are standard for voice actors who work in film and television.

Veteran Canadian voice actor Jennifer Hale, best known for playing Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect games, demonstrated one blood-curdling death cry for As It Happens this fall.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe had just announced his resignation, ending his 37 years in power. And as word got out, many people flooded Harare's streets.

CBC's Margaret Evans followed the crowd in the country's capital to report on their jubilation. But every time her camera operator turned on his camera light to shoot, the crowds flocked to it — dancing, smiling and shrieking.

The audio was completely distorted and not of word of Evans' TV hit could be heard. It didn't matter though. The shrieks told the story.  

"They just kind of enveloped us," Evans said, reflecting on the moment. "You can't fight it, you've got to join it."

It's an instrument like no other — more than 300 years old, close to 90 kilograms and made of whale bones, oyster shells and a yak's bladder. It sounds like a cross between a wheezy bagpipe and a constantly deflating balloon.

Yet the tenor sarangi bowed dorma is a completely made up instrument, fabricated by the folks at CBC Radio's parody program This is That.

The sound was made using a trumpet mouthpiece, a bagpipe, a piano and a kid's toy. As show producer Chris Kelly explains, the piece was meant to be just "one large fart joke."


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