Summer 2008
(Off-Kilter is updated every once in a blue moon.)





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Not The L.A. Times
Our sister site.

Ship-of-Fools
Gadgets for God
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The Edge
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Dental Distortions
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Urban Legend Almanac
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Separated at Birth?

By Roy Rivenburg

Scientists have detected an alarming similarity between Phil Spector and a Bichon Frise canine:

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(Editor's Note: We interrupt this website to set the record straight about "linguist to the stars" Michel Thomas and his bogus World War II claims.)

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What Would Jesus Drive?: Here's the column that got ripped off and circulated all over the Internet. From Sept. 6, 2000.

Medi-California Girls: Rock oldies get updated for aging baby-boomers. Click here.

A Politically Correct Oz: What would happen if the classic film were made today?
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A Moment of Silence for Vanishing Sounds: From the Dec. 19, 2004, Los Angeles Times:

Back in the prehistoric 1970s, one of life's little pleasures was the ability to slam down a telephone on annoying callers. Now, thanks to the rise of cordless phones, the best you can do is fiercely poke the off button — or, if money is no object, throw the receiver into a wall.

The slamming phone, like dozens of once-familiar sounds, is headed for extinction. As technology advances, more and more noises — the pop of flashbulbs, the gurgle of coffee percolators, the clatter of home-movie projectors — are fading into oblivion.

While audio junkies scramble to preserve samples for future generations, psychologists debate the consequences of this noise exodus. Some foresee a sonic revolution — one that could launch a surprising wave of silence and perhaps force Hollywood studios to rethink the way they tell stories.

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Inside a bombproof vault a few blocks from the White House, Dan Sheehy is surrounded by audio ghosts: the clicketyclack of typewriters, the tumble of glass bottles inside a soda machine, a 1960s-era telephone ring.

Here, sonic blasts from the past are entombed in a hodgepodge of vinyl records, compact discs and reel-to-reel tapes. "We are a museum of sound," said Sheehy, whose job is to preserve America's acoustic heritage for an obscure branch of the Smithsonian Institution.

Sounds are like smells, he says. They can transport the listener to another time and place. The buzz of an airplane propeller sends Sheehy's mind back to hot afternoons in 1950s Bakersfield, playing in the yard while aircraft sputtered overhead. "The sound immediately triggers memories of time and temperature," he said.

A handful of obsolete noises are so ingrained in our consciousness that filmmakers and advertisers still use them to evoke audience reactions. In the 2002 movie "Undercover Brother," for instance, a phonograph needle scraping across a vinyl record signaled an abrupt halt to the action.

The emotional power of vintage sounds might explain the popularity of cellphone ring tones that mimic rotary telephone bells. "It's one of the biggest ring tones we sell," said Tom Valentino, president of Valentino Production Music, the nation's oldest sound-effects warehouse. In a similar vein, slot machines that pay out vouchers instead of cash often play a recording of cascading coins because research found customers missed the jackpot noise.

To keep reading, click here.

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Copyright 2000-2008 by Roy Rivenburg