On the track of the true sound of Mosfilm

Faina Ianpolskaia immitating the sound of horses on Red Square

Faina Ianpolskaia immitating the sound of horses on Red Square

The soundtracks for most Russian films are recorded separately. The actors re-tape their dialogue in studio, while ambient noise is fully recreated by foley artists (sound-effects technicians).

A sound sequence corresponds to each filmed image. Fast or slow steps in the forest or on gravel, the rubbing of fabric, a slap, the hooves of the horse on Red Square, a poorly lubricated door… Recreating these noises is the job of Mosfilm’s sound effects studio, where all the ambient sounds are separately recorded. In the corridors, one speaks with admiration for the “magicians” who are on site. “We have been working here for more than 40 years” confides Irina Kislova.

For decades, they have worked in the darkness of their “noise box”: a large room filled with accessories and equipped with a giant screen. During the projection, the foley artists, in synchronisation with the image, “make the noise”. On the ground: pavement, different wood and tile flooring, metal sheet, pebbles, gravel, earth; on the walls: doors of differing sizes and from various time periods, windows, latches, taps, a bath, curtains. The closets are filled with shoes, fabrics, and unlikely objects gathered from some attic or dump. “A genuine Kalashnikov will never make the right noise,” explains Faina Ianpolskaia, while hitting a landing and a big lock to imitate the machine-gun.

“Have you tried to record while filming the faint sounds of a butterfly’s wings or the rustling of silk?”

The sound of a squeaking door

Behind coloured glass, the sound engineers mix these creations, without ever knowing with which object or part of the body the foley artists have imitated the sound of ice cracking or a punch.

“To recreate the noise of a door, sometimes you have to superimpose 10 sounds, and do so without using a door, but only a gate, a piece of wood and an old chair,” says Ms Ianpolskaia: Tarkovsky wanted to redo 20 takes just to record a slap.

In the digital age, foley artists rival any computer system: “The sound produced by a machine will never be as real as the one we can extract from our objects.”

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