Charlie the Noise Guy is Always Listening

Jun 13, 2012

Charlie the Noise Guy imitates everyday life sounds using his mouth. (Tegan Wendland/WRKF)

What does going to the airport really sound like? Charlie Williams says it sounds like - joy. He's a southern-born foley artist visiting Baton Rouge's libraries this week. He specializes in replicating the sounds of our everyday lives. WRKF's Tegan Wendland talked with him about how we all have the talent as children, but lose it as we grow up.

Charlie the Noise Guy has eight more performances coming up at East Baton Rouge Parish Libraries. View the full calendar here.


WENDLAND: At one moment did this go from being just a funny talent that you had to being a career for you?

WILSON: The moment I got my first paycheck!

WENDLAND: And when was that?

WILSON: That was at the library. When they started saying ‘Do more of the noises, we like the noises, put the noises on the radio show. Get crazy with it!' Because the story time that used to be going on, and this was going out in Wyoming you know, the middle of nowhere. And it was like, (monotone) "War of the worlds, boys and girls, war of the worlds. An alien ship came out of the sky and landed on the ground and the alien came out and used his melt ray gun."

WENDLAND: Not a lot of action.

WILSON: Right. And the kids were going, "Okay, let's snap it up!" so I started doing sounds in it and making it crazy! Like "The alien ship came out of the sky (makes whirring sound) and landed on the ground (burning sound,) the door opened up (winding metal sound) and an alien came out (crazy screaming sound) and used his melt ray gun on everyone (futuristic ray gun sound) and they all screamed!"

WENDLAND: So this was a library radio show?

WILSON: Yeah. It was a library radio show. We had story time on Saturday morning because the outlying communities are a good forty, fifty miles away - just like in Australia - the radio of the air. So they'd tune in on their radio station and hear story time. We did everything - we did classics, we did "The Secret Life of Walter Minion," then we did standard stuff like "Go Dog, Go."

WENDLAND: But you're originally from the south.

WILSON: Yeah, I'm originally from the "Flori-bama" region.

WENDLAND: How has that influenced or inspired you in your work?

WILSON: Just the rowdiness, I think, the overall rowdiness. I remember my friends, my relatives, they were all just really rowdy and the way they would tell a story was very animated and they'd use lots of sound effects. I always like coming back down south because I think I relate better to people here. I love Seattle but they're very quiet up there and I have to scale it way back for them.

WENDLAND: Do you think kids ever have a deeper experience through your performances - like that they have a voice of their own, or it's okay to play, or that you don't need fancy toys to have fun?

WILSON: Yeah, I think all of that. I think the kids see that you can retain your imagination and still be an adult. You know, I'm in my forties and I know sometimes kids think "Oh no, grownups! Grownups are boring!" So I'm representing the adults, showing them we're cool. I show them my journals, I say I'm always sketching, I'm recording sounds, I get an idea I write it down, I develop it, I try it out on the kids and they respond to that. And they respond to that and I hope that that gives them the confidence to try it out on their own, because, you know, that's what artists do, that's what performers do, that's what musicians do - I think if you're an artist, everybody does that.

WENDLAND: Do you think that we could all have a lot more fun if we paid a little more attention to the sounds around us?

WILSON: I think so. I was doing some studying on this, our vocal chords are amazing! If you have a parrot, a pet parrot will play with sound effects but their vocal chords are so simple. We, you know, we have the best communication skills on the planet and we should be using it to our fullest potential, but you don't hear a lot of people going (purring cat sound) in their everyday speech, or not without getting slapped anyway! Or using it to describe something that happened to you, "My cat woke me up this morning and he went meeeooow!" It really takes you there, we should use it more often!

WENDLAND: What strikes me is that you're always listening. Most people don't really do that. I think I pay a little more attention to my surroundings because I'm always going out with my microphone so I'm kind of paying attention to ambient sounds, but not really directly.

WILSON: Well sure, I mean, it's also your passion because you have to get audio for what you do, so I think you're going to have a special ear for it, and kids are like that as well, because it's still new to them. Whereas adults are just like "Meh." For example, when you go to the airport. Adults are miserable, but kids are so excited - "We're going to go on an airplane today?!" and they love the sounds. They're listening and they're trying to imitate where the adults don't even see it anymore. All the different noises and the intercom stuff - just all of the noises that the adults take for granted, the kids have a sense of wonder.