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Michael Wagg

The Fahrenheit diaries - sound effects and ukuleles

As the tour nears Nuremberg, there are problems with the sound and a ukulele quartet is formed.

February 21, 2007 08:46 AM | Printable version

I'm on stage as Captain Beatty playing to a packed house in the stunningly beautiful Theater Furth, near Nuremburg. I'm coming to the pivotal moment of the lecture scene, where I demonstrate to a terrified Montag and an hysterical Mildred the essence of thoughtlessness and speed-obsessed mass culture. I'm on a roll as I hit the moment when I turn on the Montags' video wall with an onstage remote control in order to clarify my thesis... "Mrs Montag, Mrs Montag, someone here, someone here. Mrs, Montag, Mrs Montag, someone here". It's the door bell. The wrong cue.

The distorted electronic sound of our composer's voice is not what I was expecting. A long embarrassing silence later and Gehane has thankfully rectified the situation offstage and on we plough, me with the wind somewhat taken out of my sails. One slip of the finger in the show and you're seriously wayward.

For the two hour performance we have about one hour of recorded sound - brilliantly composed by Paul Flush, who when not making sound for ensemble European touring theatre is Tony Christie 's piano player and MD. A Geordie who now finds himself living in a small village in Belgium, Flushie is a great man.

I play two characters (Beatty and Faber) who appear in the same scene - Beatty on stage and Faber a voice in Montag's ear. I do Faber's voice live on a microphone in the wings while changing into Beatty, then enter as Beatty, with me and Montag timing our lines against a pre-recorded me as Faber's voice. It's a tricky business. Sometimes we get it right.

The last 10 minutes or so of the show involves one continuous sound cue with periods of silence, which needs to be timed so that Montag's final lines, the final words of the story, are punctuated by a specific musical flourish. The button for the cue has been pressed eight minutes earlier. We hit it perfectly every time. An audience would never know the collective timing required to get it right, nor how horribly wrong it could go, but Tony Christie would be proud.

To further the musical theme we've decided as a cast to liven up long drives, use our time constructively and probably drive Oli (now back with us as road manager) to insanity, by all learning to play a musical instrument. After great deliberation we've all chosen our instruments. Four ukuleles it is - bought from Musik Muller in Ludwigshafen to the bemusement of Herr Muller who can't seem to work out for the life of him why four tired-looking Englishers would all want a ukulele on the same day. Three of us play a bit of guitar and the fourth is an all-rounder so we should be okay. Our plan is to be able to give a small concert of pop ukulele by the end of the tour. Who knows, maybe by the time we reach Saarbrucken we might be seriously considering a four-part uke version of Road to Amarillo to close the show. Or perhaps The Prodigy 's Firestarter.

So far though we haven't made much progress. Does anyone know how to tune a ukulele?

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I'm delighted to hear about your new venture as a Ukulele player - i think it's one of the world's most underrated instruments. If you and your group do get a set together I'd love to come and hear you. Might I suggest ACDC's Back in Black? Good luck with the rest of your tour. I look forward to your next installment.

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