The Sound Engineer

He takes her breath away. With a slide of his hand and a tap of his finger the breaths escape, punctuating the silence and marching into the air one after the other like hard booted soldiers. With every click of the mouse the shiny silver knobs on the mixer glide down on their own, bowing as the next breath steals away.

With whimsy on my tongue, I tell him,

You take her breath away’

Quietly, seriously, he responds,

‘It makes her sound like a machine. But it’s cleaner that way.’

He returns to watching the three screens in front. They display a language I don’t understand; an alphabet made up of colours and lines of varying length. Everything is immaculate. From the large desk with spotless equipment, to his brown leather shoes that show no sign of journey, to the stylish perfectly distressed vintage denim jacket draped over what must be the Jaguar of computer chairs. He is in the business of perfection. Of removing the pauses, the gasps, the inhalations that muddy a sound clip. Of stitching together words till they are seamless and uninterrupted by unintended sound.

We sit in a din of breaths.

I don’t remember his face, only the back of his head. For the last few hours I have been sitting in the corner of a padded zebra print walled studio, timidly pretending that I know what I am talking about when I say things like,

How do we get the ad to work harder for radio?’

That’s what I have heard them say in this advertising world. The font could work harder. The logo could work harder. The script could work harder. That dot could work harder. I am an amateur. I have no idea what all this working harder business is about. When they say these things, I can’t help but picture the poor offending item as a red faced big cheeked white man with a sweat drenched t-shirt screaming ‘Just Do It’, knee length shorts on, sweatbands around his wrists and forehead, shiny Pumas made for the Basketball court, gasping for air as he runs up a hill panting ‘I am working as hard as I ca..’ and then unceremoniously dropping dead.

Every time I open my mouth to offer a useless suggestion, I expect him to turn and give me the same withering look I want to give people who ask me to make the copy ‘punchier’. I ask questions, many questions. But I get the sense my curiosity is ruining his flow, so I resign myself to feeling stupid and instead sit back to watch one of my favourite things; a craftsman at work.

My mind wanders. What does he hear in these breaths? This expert of human sound? After so many years of concentrating on the human voice, can he tell when sadness hides in the spaces of familiar words? Or when excitement sucks the air out of the lungs. Or when irritation pushes through the tongue stuttering in its hurry to get out? Or when mischief bounces and winks through the pauses between words? Or when distress holds the tongue hostage refusing to release the rest of the sentence? Does he hear humanity screaming through the inaudible whisper of lungs filling up with air?

I wonder where these breaths go when he snips them away. I imagine them fluttering about in a mist of concentrated human emotion, every now and then landing onto your heart with a sudden thud and gripping your soul with their translucent tentacles. You feel a sudden solid tumour of whatever emotion they carried grow in the pit of your stomach. Anxiety. Joy. Melancholy. Anticipation. Exhilaration. These undiluted unwelcome feelings taking over your body, as you struggle to understand their source. Sometimes the feelings stay for hours. Sometimes days. Then they get bored, release their hold, and you shake off the emotion, wondering what came over you in the first place.

He takes her breath away. Sanitises the track. Removes unnecessary human emotion. Cleans it up. He and I are at odds with each other. I try to infuse every word I write with a deliberate delicacy in the hope that it will elicit a feeling. A feeling so strong that it travels straight from the heart and out of the mouth in a puff, a gasp, a breath.

And then he removes them.

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