Phone rings revisited
A little while ago I posted a few thoughts about using phone rings in theatre sound design, and I posed some questions about the nature of ring tones, and how to communicate to the audience that a musical ringtone was actually a phone ringing and not just some song playing on a radio somewhere.
Here’s what I said at the time:
However, there’s a further issue in that most pop-song ringtones these days are mp3 snippets of the actual recording. This is a dicey thing when you’re dealing with diegetic sounds and scoring, because if the audience hears a short piece of music in a play or film, they’re not going to automatically think “telephone.” They might first think “radio” or “soundtrack.” You could make sure the song is filtered and sounds like a low-quality mp3 through a tiny speaker, but it still may not communicate “telephone” as quickly and directly as the electronic chirps.
Since then I’ve worked on a couple more shows that required celphone rings (including a production of Hamlet in which Ophelia sends and receives texts throughout the show), and I found a simple and –on reflection– pretty obvious solution to the issue. I recorded the distinctive brr-brr sound of a celphone vibrating, added that to the sound of the ringtone music, and voila. No question what that sound is, to a contemporary audience.
So simple it’s silly. Funny how the obvious solutions can escape us sometimes.