Everything Is a Remix: The Sound of Horses Racing on TV Is Actually a Sample of Buffaloes Charging

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Another made-for-television sonic fiction.

You know when you're watching a horse race and you hear the thunder of the horses' hooves down the backstretch?

Well, it turns out no one actually recorded that sound with a microphone. It is, technically speaking, not real. As with the Olympics events I discussed yesterday, the sound of horse racing is a sonic fiction. As the former BBC producer, Bill Whiston, related it on a 99% Invisible podcast, here's the story:

When we do our horseracing, you're not going to get somebody running around the course after the horses. There is no way. And occasionally you'll come across very close up pictures of the horses of the far side, which is done off one of our roving cameras. But you have engine noise in that case, so therefore you wouldn't want a microphone on that, because all you would hear is a car revving up and a cameraman cursing.

So, basically, the way you cover all of that sort of stuff is to run a tape which has the sound of horses hooves galloping, which is actually, if I remember correctly, a slowed down buffalo charge. That's pretty much a standard thing, and I think it's probably the same recording that they've used for years.

I've now watched about a dozen horse races on YouTube and the sound of the horses' hooves on the far side is always roughly identical. Although, I should note that it is difficult to hear much environmental sound over the commentators hyperventilating.

As noted, this snippet comes from Roman Mars' 99% Invisible podcast, which may be the best thing for your ears since Radiolab. Incidentally, Mars is running a Kickstarter, which is worth backing.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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