Bob was just another studio bassist working in the early 1980s. Then one day Bob had a client, "a really attractive women a few years older than me," he remembered, ask if he could help sweeten the audio for a new program she was producing.
The program, "Electric Blue," was a British soft core porn series that ran on the Playboy Channel.
"For some reason I will never understand," Bob told me, "she had fully edited soft core porn episodes with no sound."
So, Bob got to work. His challenge was to bring "Electric Blue" to life in post production (watch the NSFW show theme here). To make the show sing, or rather moan. With the first multitrack audio sweetening studio in the state of Connecticut at his disposal, Bob, who asked that I give him a pseudonym, flung himself into the Foley tradition of recreating ambient and natural noise that match a film's visuals, recording the sounds of everything from gun shots to running water, crickets, birds, and cars, and of course "groans, moans, and anything else you might hear when having sex."
What made this particularly hard for Bob was that he had to do all this work with a pretty woman seated beside him: "I was twenty something and it didn't take much to distract me," Bob told me.
He's gone on to do jingle work with big name clients like Pepsi to Gillette, and has done studio work with Deep Purple and multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson, of Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, and Yes fame. These days, Bob owns a creative agency with offices in New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco, that helps global brands, tech start-ups, and non-profits "craft their brand stories."
But audio is, and always has been his first love. I had a chance to catch up with Bob, who told me about the enduring art of Foley sound work, the perfect stairwell for creating towers of reverb, and "groaners."
MOTHERBOARD: Before we get to "Electric Blue," how did you first get started in Foley?
I was a studio bassist and I would always plug into the console next to the engineer while the rest of the musicians were in the booths. I started asking the engineer what he was doing and, in my spare time, I started to come by and assistant engineer sessions. Pretty soon, I started engineering my own sessions and before long was recording 40-piece orchestras.
Along the way I learned audio sweetening and talked my boss into buying the first 16 track synod to 1" videotape sweetening studios. I started designing sound for films and TV shows and loved the art of sound design. Creating worlds that weren't there before using Foley, original SFX, and SFX libraries was fascinating to me.
"What makes audio sweetening so amazing is how rich and powerful the sounds from nature are"
Has Foley changed much since then?
I don't think Foley has changed that much, at least in my perception. Obviously the digital manipulation of audio has made it much easier to capture and alter organic sounds, but what makes audio sweetening so amazing is how rich and powerful the sounds from nature are. That's not to take away from the amazing sounds you can get when you completely manipulate sound.
Eddie Jobson was telling me about the time we was working on a national AmTrak commercial with Richie Havens and he needed the sound of the wheel on a train stringing down the tracks at night. He tried a number of sounds but eventually tried recording the sound of a quarter rolling around on its edges, slowed down an incredible amount using a Fairlight computer. The grooves on the edge of the quarter created an eerie metallic sound that was just perfect. Brilliant.
That's great. But back to soft core porn: What sort of gear were you working with during the "Electric Blue" sessions?
I play bass. But we also had a [hard-wired analog mixing] Neve Console from Bearsville Studio in Woodstock, as well as an array of amazing microphones like pre-Hitler Neumann mics, and 1980s synthesizers, and a LinnDrum.
Was there a specific sound you had to replicate or enhance more than others?
80s music relied on very heavy drum sounds so we were always trying make the coolest drum sounds. We had a huge stairwell in our building. We used to place a mic on one end of the stairs, and a huge speaker on the other where we would pump the snare or tom-toms through to track the biggest reverb sound you can imagine.
OK, but what about sexy sounds?
I had female "groaners" who came into the studio and basically acted like Meg Ryan in that scene with Billy Crystal. I don't recall any squeaking bed frames or anything like that.
This story is part of Motherboard's Sex Ed Week, a series of sex-focused science and technology stories. Check out more stories here.