A Man of Sound Principles

The titular character of Pixar’s upcoming film, WALL•E — which, incidentally, keeps looking more promising with every new trailer released — is voiced by a fellow named Ben Burtt, whom you’ve probably never heard of. I hadn’t, until about a year ago. But I guarantee that, unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 30 years, you’ve heard his work:

Yep, that’s right. Ben Burtt is the former USC physics graduate student who came up with the sounds for Star Wars, more or less inventing the role of “sound designer” in the process.

Here he describes the serendipitous genesis of his crowning creation — the warm yet menacing hum of “an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age”:

FilmSound.org has a rundown of some of his other creations; the frequently workaday nature of their basis only serves to highlight his gift for making the ordinary seem wondrous and alien. (My personal favorite: the twanging report of the blaster rifle began as the sound of an antenna guy wire hit with a rock, something Burtt discovered while hiking with his father.)

Wikipedia has additional information on Burtt, including the fact that when he’s not busy collecting and cataloguing the raw materials of his trade, laying out the acoustic canvas of the popular imagination, and voicing small but plucky robots, he’s perpetuating little sonic in-jokes, in particular the Wilhelm Scream.

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