Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sound Effects

I had to laugh the other day when I saw the trailer for the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

You see, back when my kids first started fencing, I was vaguely disappointed watching their classes, and it took me a while to figure out what the problem was. When Kate moved up from her tiny intro class into the larger intermediate classes, I finally got it.

The noise was all wrong.

All those fencers with all those swords. None of that cool steel-on-steel scrape, that ringing clang of blade hitting blade. None of it sounded like swords were supposed to sound.

All those fencers, and all those sabers, and the sounds were clack, thud, click, with an occasional smack to the chest. Had there been épées, there might have been the occasional bell guard clang like the bell they used to use for boxing matches ("saved by the bell"), but that's the only noise in fencing that even remotely approaches what we've all been trained by the movies to expect swords to sound like.

After nearly a decade around fencing tournaments, though, I've come to love the genuine sounds—the weapons, the yelling (even the screams), the buzzers and beeps of the scoring machines, the general cacaphony of fencing competitions.

I'm as willing as anyone to suspend my disbelief in order to have fun watching good Bob Armstrong or Ralph Faulkner swordplay choreography, but I still have to laugh at the concept of Johnny Depp and Bill Nighy fencing on that spar high in the rigging—in the midst of a storm!—with every inauthentic sword clang audible.

Can you imagine how it would play if the Foley editors went for authentic sword sounds?

Fission

fis-sion (fish•on) n. 1. splitting of the nucleus of certain atoms, with release of energy. 2. splitting or division of biological cells as a method of reproduction.—Oxford American Dictionary

Pick any city with more than one fencing club, and it's not too unlikely that one formed when a coach left one club, with more than a few fencers in tow, to create a new one. The coach who leaves feels misunderstood and underappreciated, and therefore justified in setting out independently. Everybody at the old club feels betrayed and abandoned. It happens all the time, all over. It's even happened in my own area, more than once.

It just hasn't happened to my own club before.

It's a peculiar combination of both of the definitions of "fission" above. Obviously, there's the biological effect of reproduction: where there was one club, there are now two clubs, which is essentially a positive effect—the area can support multiple clubs and local fencers now have more choices than they had before.

There's that other aspect, though—all that excess energy floating around, mostly in the form of heat.

At least I'm out of the direct line of fire, with my fencing daughter off at college. But that means, unfortunately, that everybody feels free to tell me all the depressing details about Those Other People at That Other Club We Will Not Name.

Both sides feel utterly justified in their actions. Interestingly enough, both sides believe that the atmosphere at their own clubs is much improved, that the fencers at each club are more focused and less distracted now that they don't have to deal directly with Those Other People any longer.

I suspect both sides are mostly right, that there were serious problems developing that nobody recognized until they couldn't tolerate them at all any longer, and that this fission was in fact a good and necessary process. Once the heat dissipates a bit, they might even begin to realize it.