September 12, 2019

#147 The Woman in the Air Conditioner

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All
Halen had just moved in to his apartment when one night he hears footsteps coming into his room. Alex investigates. 


[Reply All Theme]

ALEX: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Alex Goldman

PJ: And I’m PJ Vogt. 

Alex Goldman.

ALEX: PJ Vogt.

PJ: We’re back.

ALEX: We are.

PJ: Did you kind of miss me? I feel like I could see the point in the break where you started to miss me.

ALEX: How, how could you tell?


PJ: You just started to tweet at me more, there were some text messages.

ALEX: I actually said I miss you a lot buddy or something like that

PJ: Oh yeah there was also that (laughing)

ALEX: So that might have been a giveaway.

PJ: I missed you too. Ok so you have a story.

ALEX: Yes I do.

PJ VOGT: Alright, what have we got? 

ALEX GOLDMAN: This week we have a Super Tech Support.


ALEX: Super Tech Support is the segment on our show where listeners come to us with tech problems that seem totally intractable and unsolvable, and I do my best to solve them. So, this week, we got an email from a gentleman named Halen. 

PJ: Okay. 

ALEX: His mom was a big fan of Van Halen. 

PJ: Oh, that's cool. That's funny. There's this van in Brooklyn for like a plumbing company that's H-A-L-L-E-N. And every time I see it, my brain is like van Halen (ALEX: van Halen?) every single time. 

ALEX: Your brain is pretty clever. 

PJ: I want a new brain. 

ALEX: (laughs) So let me tell you what happened to Halen. Halen has what I would call a strange passion, which is that ever since he was young, he loved air conditioners. 

HALEN: I was always obsessed with cold weather when I was a kid and being in, you know, Louisiana, we didn't get it a lot. 

ALEX: Okay.

HALEN: I grew up in a trailer and we always had like, uh, window units. So I would just sit in front of the window unit and just let it like, blow in my face and just think about like skiing. I would pretend that I was like skiing or something, like, something in the cold weather. 

ALEX: Oh my God that’s so cute!

ALEX: So a couple months ago, Halen, who’s now in his early 30s, moved to Colorado Springs. And he’s super stoked because he’s no longer in like, humid Louisiana weather. He’s in like, cool Colorado weather.

PJ: Okay. 

ALEX: So Halen moves in with some people he knew from Louisiana, and he takes a room in the basement. It’s unfinished. It’s all tile.  And one night, not long after he moves in, his roommates have all gone to sleep, and he’s just like downstairs by himself in this big echoey, totally bare room.


HALEN: I had nothing down there. It was literally just a mattress, a blanket and a pillow. There's literally nothing down there.

PJ: Uh huh.

And then, when he’s ready to go to sleep, he has his Google home set up and he's like looking for like white noise to help him sleep and he finds one that comforting sound says “air conditioner” and he's like, “Oh, the comforting sound of my youth. That’s perfect. This is exactly what I want.”

PJ: That's wonderful. 

ALEX: And he lays down in bed, closes his eyes. 

HALEN: And you know, I’m drifting off. And then I hear what I believe to be the jingling of keys and a door opening. 

The back door leads directly down the stairs of my room. 

And my first thought was, “Oh, my roommates,” which they go to sleep at like 9pm. So I’m like, “That’s weird that they’re up and coming in.” You know, I was sure everyone was home for the night. 

And then I hear footsteps, like they’re coming downstairs. This can’t be them. So then I just start wondering, I’m like, “Wait, who is this?”

“Did I lock the door?”

I kind of start panicking heart immediately began to palpitate and my hands kinda went numb.

The footsteps get closer and closer and I was, you know, basically just paralyzed. 

ALEX: It’s pitch black. He can’t see anything. 

HALEN: And I thought my best bet was to just basically hide under the covers. (laughs)

Yeah, I didn’t think there was any escape at this point.

ALEX: And then, he hears a woman say something he can’t understand. It sounds like it’s in a foreign language, and the footsteps stop. All he can hear is the air conditioner. But then, he hears the footsteps again and he hears the woman speak again somewhere in the room. 

And he realizes she’s saying the exact same thing she’d just said. And when he finally peeks out from under his covers, the basement is empty.

PJ: Okay, I have a theory about what's going on. 

ALEX: (laughs) Yes. 

PJ: The footsteps and the woman talking are on the artificial air conditioner track? 

ALEX: Yeah. 

PJ: So he's hearing it loop. 

ALEX: Yeah. 

PJ: Okay. 


PJ: He must have felt somewhat embarrassed. 

ALEX: Yeah, he was- he was–he was pretty embarrassed. But he became–he was like, “Why would an app that’s meant to calm you down (PJ: Include–) have like this serial killer sound of like a woman jingling her keys with approaching footsteps?”

PJ: Yeah, it feels a little weird.

ALEX: So he wakes up the next morning and starts trying to figure out what’s going on.


HALEN: So I've listened to this a lot, like probably upwards of like 30 to 40 times. 

ALEX: (laughs)

HALEN: Um, I'll just, the other night I just kind of sat in front of it on the floor and just listened on repeat a bunch.

ALEX: That sounds like an activity I would do if I was a super high.

HALEN: Yeah. Yeah. Well it's Colorado.

ALEX: (laughing)

ALEX: So- so this is–this is the sound. 


[Air conditioner app sound]

TAPE TAPE FOOTSTEPS (repeats drops underneath)

PJ: Did she just–she just said “moshi moshi?” 

ALEX: Yeah.

PJ: So she said “hello” in Japanese.

[Air conditioner app sound]

So, so it sounds like somewhere in Japan  a woman is walking down a long hallway while jangling her keys and then she sees someone and says hello.

ALEX: Yeah, and then at the end there’s like a–the sound of a door opening?

[Hear door opening]

It sounds to me like she’s like saying hello to the security guard at a–at the front desk of a place and being like, “Hello, I’m going to my office now”

[Air conditioner app sound]

PJ: In my head, it’s like she’s walking down the hallway of her apartment, and then it’s like when you go to let yourself in and someone’s already there.

ALEX: Ohh.

PJ: Yeah.

[Tape ends here]

PJ: It's so weird. It gives me more feelings than I thought it would. 

ALEX: What kind of feelings does it give you? 

PJ: Um, did you ever get the feeling like when you meet somebody and you wonder how many times you like crossed paths with them in the world before you met them? 

ALEX: This is a real PJ thought. 

PJ: You never think that? I thought everybody thought that. 


PJ: Like just how many times you incidentally were like at the same bar or on the same street or at the same show?

ALEX: I'm only ever in my basement, so I don't know what other–

PJ: Well, I mean, you must feel that way about your victims then. Um, I dunno–

ALEX: You know, this new runner that you've got going that I'm a serial killer.

PJ: Uh huh?

ALEX: It's not true. (laughs) I just want to get that out there and on the record, I don't–I've never killed anyone. 

PJ: Okay. Your denial is noted. Um, I dunno, I guess you don't feel this with the people in your basement, but like, just the weird, like there's a slightly like weird, sweet, lonely feeling to just like someone out in the world doing something. Do you know what I mean? Just like getting a glimpse of a human being is what I feel–

ALEX: Yeah, totally. I do understand that.

PJ: Before you snuff their lives out. 

ALEX: Yeah. Before I watch the light go out of their eyes. 

PJ: Okay. So anyway.

ALEX: So Halen wanted to figure out, like, first of all, who is this woman? And second of all, how did she end up on this white noise app?

PJ: Right.

ALEX: Okay. So I actually heard the clip when I was talking to Halen over the phone. But I wanted to do was recreate the bug for myself, which I thought would be very simple.

GOOGLE HOME: Please login through the Google Home app.

AG: I don’t know how to log in

ALEX: But it turned out to be really hard

ALEX: Hey google play the sound of an air conditioner

GOOGLE: To get help with that, you’ll need to give me more information 

PJ: Uh, don't you just have to be like, “Google, play me air conditioner sound”? 

ALEX: That is what I thought. It was Sruthi and I in the studio.

ALEX: Maybe. Hey Google, play the sound of an air conditioner.

GOOGLE HOME: To get help with that, you'll need to give more information–

ALEX: You son of a bitch! (laughter) 


ALEX: Google, play sleep sounds. 


ALEX: No. Damn it. That’s not what I want. [“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”] (laughter)

ALEX: So I actually gave up on the Google Home.

PJ: Uh uh.

ALEX: And I had to install the Google Assistant on my phone to get the sound. But I did get the sound.

PJ: You gave up on, you were just like, I can't use a Google Home?

ALEX: I don't think I can. 

PJ: That's a thing that children use. 

ALEX: But, in the process of trying to make this sound play on the Google Home, I figured out that it actually came from a third party app that you have to install on Google Home that’s made by a little company from Melbourne, Australia, called Healing.FM. 


PJ: Okay.

ALEX: And all they traffic in is like meditation and relaxation apps, that’s all they make.

PJ: There’s–they make more than one?

ALEX: Yeah they make sleep sounds, healing sounds, storm sounds. Just anything and everything to help you relax

ALEX: So I reached out to cofounder of Healing.FM. This guy named Adrian Risch. And he told me that he got into the relaxation app game because he himself was trying to be a more relaxed person. 

ADRIAN: At the time, you know, I was going through, a personal I guess journey I can call it. I’ve quit smoking, I quit drinking and I was also looking for ways I could actually relax and meditate myself, which is something, you know, I wasn’t really used to at the time and looking for a way to solve that problem. 

ALEX: So Adrian starts pulling together all these sounds for this app that he wants to build. 

PJ: Mhm

ALEX: And I was like really surprised at the level of thought that goes into picking sounds for a relaxation app.

PJ: So like what? I can tell you how I would think about it.

ALEX: Go ahead.

PJ: You want your rain, you want your beach with waves and woods with sort of like humming sound in it.

ALEX: What does that mean, humming sounds?

PJ: You know, just like, the like hum of the wilderness, where it's just like crickets, and cicadas--

ALEX: Okay, your lack of thought is astounding. I'm really astounded by it. 

PJ: What else is there?

ADRIAN: I think one key thing people really want is to be able to mix up a sound. Like, they might have a wave, uh, sound, and then they might want to rain on top of that, or–


ADRIAN: Yeah. But, but some people don't like seagulls on the beach. (laugh) Okay.

ALEX: (laughing)

ADRIAN: Some people have a different idea of what a beach is. You know, some people can imagine a, a stormy beach with, uh, noisy gulls. And the waves really crushing the sand.

ALEX: It's funny, I, you know, when I play like a beach sound (laughing) on, on a relaxation app, it never occurred to me to be like, “I don't like these waves. They're crashing too hard.”

ADRIAN: (laughs)

PJ: So what did it–what does that mean? Like, do French people need to hear the sounds of French beaches?

ALEX: He was like–

PJ: And does that mean there has to be, like, there has to be like a French man selling like French, uh, punch and like–

ALEX: (laughing) French punch.

PJ: Famous French punch!

ALEX: (in a French accent) French punch!

PJ: And like a surfer? Like do you need everybody’s beach in the beach sound?

ALEX: Basically, you need several different beach sounds. Anyway I asked him about the air conditioner sound.


ALEX: The reason that I'm calling, the specific sound that I'm calling about is the air conditioner sound.

ADRIAN: Okay. Uh, we had to change it, uh, recently, it has some talking in the background of it, I think it was, uh, someone was talking in the background or saying hello in some other language.

ALEX: Yeah, see...

ALEX: So Adrian, he was like, “That is a mistake.”

PJ: Makes sense

ALEX: We did not mean to put that on the app. 

ADRIAN: We’ve fixed that actually now. And if you went on there right now, it- it–you hear no footsteps and no, no talking and we apologize for that. I mean we do, you know, more than 50 sounds and um, but that, that's no longer there.

ALEX: So Adrian was very apologetic about the sound. But I just wanted to know what Halen wanted to know, which was like how did this snippet, this like slice of this Japanese woman's life end up on this sleep sounds app?

Which seemed like it would be pretty easy to answer. But it was not easy to answer. 

Like for starters, Adrian told me, “Well, we didn’t make that recording. We get our sounds from other companies.” And I was like, “I thought that’s exactly what you guys did. You made recordings for your sleep sounds app.” And he was like, “Oh, no, no, no. There is this other company that has a whole library of sounds and that is where we get our sounds from.”

PJ: Nobody does anything in this world.

ALEX: It’s crazy! But like the whole game is like, you try and get the best possible sounds. 

PJ: And so there's like a market for, “hey, you want to buy an air conditioner sound”? 

ALEX: Basically.

ALEX: Do you, do you know where you guys got that sound?

ADRIAN: Uh, we got that from Pro Sound Effects.

ALEX: Pro Sound Effects is a company?

ADRIAN: Yes. One, one of the biggest, yes.

[Music in]

ALEX: One of the biggest companies that records these?


ALEX: Interesting. 


ALEX: Pro sound effects is a company…

PJ: Based?

ALEX: In Brooklyn.


[Sound up]

ALEX: We are rolling we are rolling. 


ALEX: We are on the corner of Kent Avenue and what, North First? In Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We are about to go to meet Douglas Price, the owner of Pro Sound He is going to hopefully shed some light on the mysterious recording of the air conditioner.


DOUGLAS PRICE: Hello gentlemen.


DOUGLAS: How ya doing?


ALEX: So my producer Damiano and I met Douglas in the lobby of his office. And he is a very physically imposing guy, he’s really big, but he was super friendly.

DOUGLAS: Um, so we're in a second floor office room.

ALEX: Great.

ALEX: Should I sit over here? 


ALEX: This is like our field kit. I assume that you also have opinions about recording.

DOUGLASS: We do. We- I’m- uh–I mean I’m much more on the business end of things, but we have a bunch of audio nerds. A lot of them came from NYU Music Tech and uh, I’m the boring business guy. 

ALEX: So, Pro Sound Effects' whole business model is like, if you are in need of any sound effect for any situation, they want to be the ones that can provide it for you. And what Douglas told me was like every time you hear a video game sound, a lot of times when you're hearing like a notification sound in an app, a lot of sounds from sound effects in movies, they will source them from companies like his. 

PJ: Right. 


PJ: That–you're saying that like it's more surprising than I think it is. 

ALEX: It was surprising to me. 

PJ: So before that, did you think that when you hear, like use an IM program on your phone that the company hires a wind chime or something? 

ALEX: No, I don't, I just figured that they made the sound in-house. I mean, you know, the Windows 95 song was by Brian Eno. 

PJ: Uh huh?

ALEX: So I'm just like, oh- my- my–my understanding–

PJ: You think Brian Eno, just is constantly getting phone calls from somebody who's like, (laughing) “Oh, we’ve got a banking app and we need a cash register sound, Brian Eno!”

ALEX: Obviously not, but I figured they're like, I want a–think about the refreshing sounds from, uh, like the sound you use to refresh your like Facebook feed. It's like this really cool, like woop! I assumed that like Fa–

PJ: That Brian Eno.

ALEX: No! You’re being ru–you’re being purposefully–

PJ: Different? Lou Reed?

ALEX: Obtuse. 

PJ: What? (laughs) Nerd. 

ALEX: Ugh.

PJ: Okay. So it's shocking. This is shocking news. 

ALEX: So they have, and um–

PJ: Do you feel betrayed now? 

ALEX: Yeah. Furious. Well, I, I just, I guess that I'd never really thought about where–

PJ: Where it comes from.

ALEX: Where it comes from. 

PJ: It's weird that everything in the world is somebody’s job.

ALEX: Right.  

ALEX: I’m curious, what are some of the weirder sounds that you have?

DOUGLAS: We have animals, rare animals, like we have this one called the Juper Mogolo and then we have another one called a Xaryh, which is X-A-R-Y-H. Then getting to, you know, more, uh, bleak things. Like we have 9/11, the ambiance of 9/11, on 9/11, before 9/11 happened. We have, you know, NASA spacecrafts taking off. You know, these are things that cannot be recreated.

ALEX: They have some pretty out there sounds like um, here. Let me play this one for you. Tell me if you can figure out what it is.

[Sound plays]

PJ: Dog having nightmare. 

ALEX: This is called–

PJ: Wolf having nightmare. 

ALEX: This is called–

PJ: Wolf eating wolf having nightmare. 

ALEX: The title of this–

PJ: Lion having nightmare.

ALEX: The title of this, this file is “tiger copulation”.

PJ: Oh no. 

ALEX: 76 180.

PJ: Why do they record that? 

ALEX: They–

PJ: In case someone has a new app and they want like a really unique notification sound?

ALEX: They work with–

PJ: Like tiger mail?

ALEX: (laughs) They work with people, uh–

PJ: Oh sorry, I should've silenced my phone. Sorry, it's making the sounds of two tigers having sex. 

ALEX: (makes animal sound) They work with people who record animals and someone recorded that and they were like, “Hey, I've got this catalog of animal sounds,” and this was just among them and they took the whole thing. 

PJ: Huh. 

ALEX: So like, at this point I get that Pro Sound Effects is trying to have a sound effect for like every occasion but I’m really puzzled as to like what use there would be for air conditioner with Japanese woman talking faintly behind it. But first I wanted to play  the sound for Douglas, just to see what he heard. 

DOUGLAS: Like a jail, swamp? 

DAMIANO: Can you break, you said swampy?

ALEX: What does swampy mean?

DOUGLAS: It’s just the reverberant tones especially that I noticed from like, the footsteps just brought like swampy and also like jaily type, it was like, I couldn’t tell if it was outdoor or indoor but it kept, those were the two thoughts that, uh, that came up.


PJ: So some kind of swamp jail?

ALEX: Yeah it’s one of the the swampiest jails. Um so I asked Douglas like ok why would you guys have recorded something like this. And he said, we didn’t record this (laughing)


PJ: He also got his sound from somebody else.

ALEX: Yeah. So ProSound Effects does record sound, but they also license sounds from other companies.  


PJ: And this is one of those.


ALEX: Yes. But Douglas was really eager to help us figure out where it came from.



DOUGLAS: Whatever we can do to support our neighbors just let us know. Like, if you want to shoot me an email and you wanna see what we can do to like track down the recordist to see what was really going on. I’m happy to do that so.

ALEX: That would be great.

ALEX: So two days after we went to meet Douglas, he sent me an email. And he said, “I don’t know who exactly recorded this, but I do know two things. One, it was recorded before 2004. And two, it is part of a library of sounds that we license from a company called Soundstorm.

PJ: Okay.

ALEX: So I looked up Soundstorm and they're this company that records sounds for movies and they did like–they've done like a lot of very prestigious movies. They did like The Fugitive and, do you remember that Steven Seagal movie Under Siege?


PJ: You said very prestigious movies.


ALEX: (laughs) Fine! They did LA Confidential.


PJ: Oh, okay. That's a good one.


ALEX: Dude Where's My Car.

PJ: You can’t make it more than one movie in a list without (laughing) screwing it up.


ALEX: I'm doing my best here. And so all of a sudden I started to think like, "Oh, maybe the sound was recorded as part of a movie. Like, maybe this Japanese woman is from a scene in a movie."


PJ: Oh, like they like they like put that down and then there's like two character–like that's like background noise for a movie.


ALEX: Maybe. And so I'm like "Cool all I have to do is contact SoundStorm."


PJ: Yeah–


ALEX: The only problem is Soundstorm shut down 15 years ago. 

After the break… 

After the break… the person who recorded our mysterious sound and the fall of the Berlin wall.


ALEX: Welcome back to the show. So Soundstorm, the company that’s responsible for the weird air conditioner recording, they shut down in 2004.

[Phone ringing]

But I got in touch with a guy who used to be a sound editor there. 

JAY: Hello?

ALEX: Hi, is this Jay? 

JAY: Yes, it is. 

ALEX: His name is Jay Nierenberg, and I told him all about this air conditioner recording.

ALEX: It came from a library of sounds that was created by Soundstorm, which as I understand it from–

JAY: (laughs) That’s a blast from the past!

ALEX: Jay Nierenberg still does sound editing for movies and tv. And he has a very sharp ear, he is very good at what he does because I played him that recording and he could hear all kinds of stuff that I couldn’t hear.

JAY: Here's the sound. I don't know if you can hear it.

ALEX: I can

JAY: So, so there's a little bit of a bang. I hear a little clunk. It sounds like a door. And then I hear some footsteps. They’re, they're wet footsteps. So it–somebody is walking through uh, an alley that is wet either from rain or has puddles for whatever reason–

ALEX: How can you tell that they’re wet? 

JAY: Well, it's either, it's, it’s either wet or it's incredibly gritty. Um, the, the reason is that they–I can hear the grit and,  I'm pretty sure I hear a little, tiny little bit of splashing–

ALEX: Huh.

JAY: On each footstep.

JAY: And I also hear the–I also hear a dog collar jingling, so to- and–and I can hear some additional movement from something else. 

PJ: Oh, wow.

ALEX: And I was like, “Whoa, that's wild.” And he said, “Also, the way that it's echoing, it seems really narrow. So it's either a court–like a hallway or more likely, it's like an alley.”

PJ: Oh, my brain was making it a hallway. But that makes sense if it's wet, that it’s an alley. 

ALEX: Right, it like totally changed the image I had in my head of what was going on here.  But the problem is, not only did Jay not remember this particular sound, Sound storm, the company that it was made for -- had shut down a decade and a half ago. The good news is 


Jay told me that when he quit Soundstorm, he copied their library onto a hard drive which he still has. which meant that he could go into that library of sounds, find this original file, 

and tell me...ONCE AND for all

ALEX: Hi, Michael


who recorded the air conditioner sound.

ALEX: This is Alex Goldman. Um, I was trying to get in touch with you because, uh, 

I got your, um, your contact info from Jay. I work for that radio show. I was asking you 

about that sound in the background.

MICHAEL: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

ALEX: How’re you doing? 

MICHAEL: Good. How are you? 

ALEX: Good. Do you have a moment to chat? 

MICHAEL: Yeah. How long do you need? I'm kind of doing something, but, uh.

ALEX: If you're in the middle of something I'd be happy to call back. Is there a better time to call back today or tomorrow?

MICHAEL: No, I mean, let's just do it. I mean, I, you know.

ALEX: Alright.

MICHAEL: So what, you're doing a--a podcast? 

ALEX: So, this is Michael Dressel. He’s  primarily a photographer now, but he used to be a sound recordist at Soundstorm. And I have to say he’s honestly unlike anyone i’ve ever interviewed before. 

And he told us that when he recorded this particular sound, the air conditioner sound that Halen heard in his Google Home, it was while he was working on a movie based in Prague. And that movie is the 2002 Vin Diesel action thriller: XXX.

PJ: Really? 

ALEX: Yes. 

PJ: That does not sound like a sound that belongs in XXX

ALEX: Um I know, it doesn’t. 

MICHAEL: What happened was I was working on the editing crew for XXX. We were basically doing the, the soundtrack for it. And in order to do that, you usually, um, do some specific recordings of sound effects or, or atmospheric sounds, and, um, all the big wigs at the company were too scared to fly. It was a year after 9/11. 

ALEX: Got it.

MICHAEL: So, uh, since  I'm German and I was gonna visit my mom for Christmas, They were going like, “Oh, you're going anyway? Why, why don't you go to Czechoslovakia or, or the Czech Republic and, uh, and record some sounds for us?” So I did.

ALEX: So you grew up in Germany?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I grew up in East Germany and, and, uh, you know, then when I was in my twenties, I climbed the wall and, uh, got out of there and then–

ALEX: Whoa, really?

MICHAEL: And then I lived in West Berlin for a little while. And, uh–

ALEX: Did you climb the wall before it came down or–?

MICHAEL: Oh yeah. Obviously! There would be no point in climbing it after it was gone.

ALEX: I don't know, maybe you climbed it to, you know, to knock it down. I’ve seen some iconic images. 

MICHAEL: For fun? For sport?

ALEX: (laughs)


AG: So Michael told me that when he tried to climb the wall he got arrested, he ended up spending two years in a Stasi prison. And the second time he climbed the Berlin wall he was successful but he left his whole family behind, and for six years, it was almost impossible to see them. 

MICHAEL: we would occasionally meet like in Czechoslovakia or in Hungary where they could travel. It was always like some big production.

ALEX: God, that sounds really hard.

MICHAEL: (laughs) It was. But you know, that’s like what I always think, like, I'm so glad I had all this hardship.  It's like I say, you know, that–when they go, "Oh, how terrible, you know, you were in prison, and, you know, and all that." And, and I go, I go like, "You know, to me, it's kind of like I inherited a real big bunch of money, and it's in the bank, and I'm living off the interest. And the interest is appreciation that I get every day."

And I still have it, you know, I sometimes go to the supermarket and, and this kind of happiness rushes through me, where I go, "Hey, I'm such a lucky dog. I can, I can buy anything I want to. (ALEX laughs) If I want to eat a lobster today, I can just buy one. (ALEX laughs) What a great thing. You know? Isn't that great?" 

ALEX: The reason I was laughing is because I–you really passed that rush of appreciation onto someone who had never been able to experience it before just now. That was really incredible.

MICHAEL: Yup. Yeah, exactly. I mean, I feel like that's- I've–I've been exceptionally lucky.


ALEX: A couple years after he got out of East Germany, Michael took a trip to the United States. And while he was in LA, he met some people in the film industry and he just kind of stayed there. That's how he ended up becoming a sound recordist and that's how he ended up working on XXX

MICHAEL: You know, so what happened was I, I basically hooked up with an old friend of mine in Germany and we made a road trip out of it. He, uh, you know, he still had his car, so I said like, “Hey, you want to be my assistant for a week? We got to go and record some sounds.” And um, he was happy to do it. So we took a little trip and uh, stayed in Prague. It was very cold. I remember that. And uh, yeah, we, we kind of moved around, went to different places, you know, hunted for sound. 

ALEX: Why do you have to go to the Czech Republic as opposed to just recording a sound in say, Jersey City? Spoken language like what–?

MICHAEL: Oh, every place–every place is completely unique. And if there's a scene in a restaurant, and it's in the Czech Republic, then, uh, it will sound different from a restaurant in LA or New York or Berlin. Because A) the language is different. The background, you know, it’s, that’s a really unique signature thing that people are usually not aware of, but it makes for things being real or not real. 

You know, like a quiet forest, you drive somewhere and it's snowy and, and you stop and it's super quiet. That's a rare thing. It doesn't matter that much where that is recorded, unless there's birds or something that might be identifiable. You know?

ALEX: Oh. Because–

MICHAEL: You know, people go like, “That bird can't be there!” You know, that–there's always somebody you know–

ALEX: Do people really do that?

MICHAEL: Oh sure. There’s always nitpickers and uh, you know, and nerds who are really into it.

ALEX: (laughs)

PJ: I have a question.

ALEX: Okay.

PJ: He went to Prague to get Prague sound.

ALEX: Mhm.

PJ: But the sound is a woman saying "moshi moshi".

ALEX: Yeah and like michael just couldn’t remember recording this specific sound, but i spoke to a couple people that speak czech and they told me that what we're hearing as "moshi moshi" is actually someone saying "Počkejte! Počkejte!” which is Czech for, “Wait! Wait!” like "Wait up!” 

PJ: Oh.

ALEX: Yeah. And if you listen to it again, like I could not hear the plosive sound at the beginning of the words, but I listened to it again and you can definitely hear "Počkejte! Počkejte!” once you know that that's what it is.

PJ: Weird.

ALEX: And also, she might be saying like, "Wait! Wait, Phillip!"

PJ: Wait, really?

ALEX: Yeah.

PJ: Okay, so now we have woman walking down dingy alleyway in Prague asking someone to wait up, possibly a Phillip.

ALEX: And also, there is one more thing that we got wrong about this recording. 

PJ: Which is what?

MICHAEL: By the way, I was thinking about this, you know, I don't really remember 

recording it, but I can tell you it was not an air conditioning–

ALEX: (gasps)

MICHAEL: It cannot have been an air conditioner. I mean, because it was winter and it was in Prague. 

ALEX: Of course! 

MICHAEL: This was some kind of a vent of, from a kitchen or something like that, in a back alley. 

ALEX: (laughs) Of course! 

MICHAEL: That’s what it was.

ALEX: Right!


ALEX: I- I just–I have to say I love talking to you. It makes me feel (MICHAEL laughs) really happy. And I really appreciate–

MICHAEL: Oh, good. That's a–that's a nice thing. I like to hear that. You know, it's fun to tell some old stories. Hey, if you ever come to LA give me a buzz, you know, then we can hook up. 

ALEX: That sounds great. Alright.

MICHAEL: Okay. Good.

ALEX: Take care, Michael. Thanks again.

MICHAEL: Alright. Okay. 

ALEX: Bye.

MICHAEL: Bye bye, Alex. Bye.


Post ALEX: So I watched xXx to see if I could hear the air conditioner sound in it, and I did not hear it. Michael told me it could be layered under 20 different sounds, or he could have just recorded it and never ended up using it. 

PJ: Got it. 

What would your–if you had like a custom Alex Goldman–

ALEX: Relaxation app?

PJ: Yeah. What sound would be the most relaxing for you? The sound of me about to insult you? 

ALEX: It would be–

PJ: Like the pregnant pause before you get burned?

ALEX: It would be uh, um…

PJ: A swimming hole in Michigan?

ALEX: A synthesizer drone. With like a filter sweep. (Synthesizer noise)

PJ: You would really want an endless filter sweep?

ALEX: Yeah that would be great.

PJ: Man. Okay. I’m a simple man. Beach sounds, not that you asked. 

Synthesizer sounds continue for about five minutes at the end.

Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and me Alex Goldman. We’re produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung, and Emmanuel Dzotsi. Our editor is Tim Howard. We’re mixed by Rick Kwan. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Emily Rostek.