Here's How Nature Sounds Actually Get Into Documentaries, And We Feel Scammed

Nothing is sacred.

If there’s one thing I can count on to make me feel better, it’s a good ol’ nature documentary (ideally narrated by David Attenborough).

The visuals are astounding; the voiceovers are reassuring; and yes, the sounds of a tiny warbler gently crunching over faraway grounds are mesmerising, too.

At least, they were. Because having found out about how nature documentary sounds really work, I’m not sure I can even fully lose myself in an episode again.

At an event to promote Sky’s Secret World of Sound, Sky Nature’s Director of Documentaries and Factual Poppy Dixon told Metro that when we think we’re hearing exotic nature sounds in docs, we’re actually listening to the common or garden LIE. (Kind of, anyway).

The sound is added in post

“Not a lot of people know that many natural history programmes don’t actually record sound on location. It’s all done in post,” she shared (what?!).

Sharmila Choudhury, the Series Producer of Secret World of Sound, said of most nature docs, “There is always some element of sound – like we’d always have a guide track the environment sounds that we’re filming in, but many of the actual sounds of the animals come from existing sound libraries or recordings.”

“Most of the sound is traditionally added by a very talented sound team who know exactly what each animal sounds like,” she added.

In other words, that reedy trill you hear in your beloved documentary probably comes from a button on some producer’s desk, not the throat of an exotic bird.

It’s like finding out that not only is Santa not real, but he’s also been played by a nursing home burglar who’s been having an affair with your mum your entire life (I really like documentaries, OK?).

Turns out, there are exceptions

Though the usual procedure involves what we’ll kindly call a bit of telly magic, Choudhury revealed that the tech in David Attenborough-narrated World of Sound is sensitive enough to offer real-deal noises in the doc.

The “challenging” mission involved minute mics and laser vibrometers which allow us to record animal noises like never before.

To celebrate the rare true-to-life sound,Choudhury says the documentary crew used music “very sparingly.”

The glorious sounds will allow us to hear worms tunneling through soil, unhached chicks clamouring in their eggs, and late-night lion fights.

Which is thrilling and all, but in the meantime, I’ll be busy trying to forget this insider fact as soon as I can...

Secret World of Sound comes out on Sky Nature and NOW on the 25th of February.


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