Beginning with David Lynch’s early short The Grandmother, Alan Splet became a long-time collaborator with the director on the complex and imaginative sound design of all the features up to Blue Velvet.
December 17, 1981 (by phone)
(First of all, I’d like to know how you first met David Lynch?)
We met at Calvin Productions back in Philadelphia in 1970, and David had come to Calvin with THE GRANDMOTHER, which he had done on a grant from the AFI. And he came to Calvin to put sound on the film – it was a thirty-five minute film but he had – it was just totally silent. And initially he was going to work with a friend of mine who was actually running the department there, and through some quirk in fate he wound up with me. And we got along real well and the film turned out really well. AFI was really pleased and David and I formed a lasting friendship.
(When you were doing the sound for THE GRANDMOTHER, how did you arrive at what you arrived at? It’s very distinctive.)
How did we arrive at that?
(How did you build it up?)
Wait a minute now. You’re talking about something we did eleven years ago.
(Yeah. I realize –)
How did we build it up?
(Yeah. What did you start with because – although a lot of the sounds are natural, there’s sort of distortion and – altered quite a bit?)
Well we – and maybe I’m not answering the question right – but we started with – most of the things, most of the sounds are from normal everyday things that we found around the company. David and I would talk about the sound, and David usually had ideas about what he wanted to do but they were very abstract. And then we’d talk about actually getting it down to concrete terms, and then we’d start scouring the company for things to make sounds with – you know, like crushing a plastic box, or in one case we used a pencil sharpener, and in another case we used a staple gun. We didn’t have a lot of stuff available. We didn’t even have a lot of equipment available there, not like we do now, because it was industrial film producers so they weren’t – it wasn’t like they had a lot of equipment around. So we often had to make do with what was there. One time we wanted to – there’s the grandmother’s whistle in the film, and we wanted that little reverb to it, and we didn’t have a reverb device – I mean, that was just beyond our means. And so we got the sound basically by rerecording the whistle through a piece of aluminum heat ducting which we just happened to find in the shop. We re-recorded it, you know, maybe fifteen times through this piece of ducting to get the sort of little bit of echo on it that we wanted. So I mean that was the way we sort of worked. Everything was improvised from the materials we had on hand.
(So they were all natural sounds you started with – you didn’t create anything electronically?)
No, no. We’ve never done that on any of David’s films. I’ve never done it on any films I’ve worked on, I’ve never used a synthesizer. You know, they’re all basically original sounds – some of the sounds of course are just from sound effects records, like there’s the sound of a babbling brook in, this is THE GRANDMOTHER. And there’s some other sounds that we – you know, thunder and things like that – that are just from a library. But a lot of the other, more unusual sounds, we made, you know, just from things laying about.