Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Sound of Onions Frying

I've become interested in sounds, thanks to Felix at her PhD blogsite.  She is studying sounds in Oxford, England.  She says, in part:
I am studying for my PhD at Oxford Brookes University. My PhD title is ‘The Domestic Soundscape and presenting everyday sounds to audiences,’ and my major interest is in our imaginative relationship with everyday sounds. I think of sound in a very material way, as a substance which is around us all the time, and a texture which can be played with, deliberately listened-to, framed, and celebrated.
I think the world would feel completely different without the constant wash of traffic, the chorus of birdsong, the snap of twigs when one walks in the woods, the happy pops that emanate from an open fire, the comforting drone of a boiler heating the house in Winter, the bubble of a stew when one is hungry, and the rasp of toast as it is being buttered. I love the busy murmur of the streets on a Saturday morning, the aggressive banging and hissing of a really good espresso machine in a coffee house, the pinging of pedestrian light-systems signalling that it is safe to cross a road, the strange noise my car makes when I drive over a cattle-grid, and the sizzle of pylons in a rainstorm.
Saturday nights are a favorite radio listening date night for my husband and me since we listen to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion (PHC).  And this sound is one which makes me happy (click on arrow to listen):

Why does it make me smile?  Because the opening song for many productions of PHC contains the lyric "I smell the onions, I look around for you."  It is a familiar phrase, and I have been known to sing along with it as my husband often sautes some onions for a dinner sauce.

Go to the London Favorite Sounds website for more information about sounds.  (The project is also being carried out in Chicago, USA, Berlin, Germany and Bejing, China).


  1. Hi Nancy:

    Garrison Keillor often changes that word in his version of "Tishomingo Blues" to reflect the location where the show is being broadcast from. He'll often substitute "coffee" or "roses" with something else, such as "jumbo" (as he did in Pittsburgh once), or "pine trees" in the APHC movie. When he does the show in Nebraska or South Dakota, I'd like him to just once use "feedlot".  

    For me, it would be best if he reverted to the opening song that he used from the time the show began until he ended it in 1987 to get married and move to Denmark; Hank Williams' "Hello Love".

    Hope all is well..John

  2. I've not listened to Mr. Keillor before, but I was thinking that sounded like rain to me, and lots of it!

  3. Hi Nancy I could almost smell those onions-very strange!

  4. Funny thing, if I am sauteing onions... MY Husband ALWAYS says... something smells good!  It doesn't matter what I am cooking :)   Have a blessed day and thanks for making me hungry!

  5. Hey Nancy! I love this post. The sound of Onions Frying is one of the sounds I wrote about in my PhD thesis, as it features in Peter Cusack's 'Your Favourite London Sounds' project, and was one of the first sound-recordings I came across which really piqued my interested in The Domestic Soundscape!

    Thanks for linking to me and for sharing my blog with your readers... I am always happy to hear more about what sounds other people enjoy. I love Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion too - it is one of the many wondrous things that Brenda has introduced me to!

    Onions frying is the start of so many good meals and the sound brings the joyous, comforting knowledge of imminent Dinner! Yum!

    ...and I agree with one of your other commentors, that often the sound of onions frying is similar to the sound of rain. Like gentle rain on a tin roof.

    Thanks for posting this.


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