The Art of Noise: Michael Winslow, the Man of 10,000 Sound Effects

Michael Winslow is a comedian, film actor, voice-over artist, and beatboxer, but he is best known for his wicked arsenal of impressions. Branded “the man of 10,000 sound effects” Winslow can imitate anything from a leaky faucet to an Air Force jet, but to call him an impressionist is a gross understatement. He’s an anomaly that you must hear to believe.

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Winslow will perform two shows at the Comedy Club of Jacksonville. He hosts the first annual Black Friday Black Ball on Nov 24 and a second show Nov 25. EU Jacksonville had the chance to chat with the funny man and “voicetramentalist” who sounds off on the art of noise.

“I have something specific in mind for this show. I have some new music noises I’ll be sneaking in a piece at a time. You can really paint a tapestry with sound. If I want an orchestra, there will be one,” says Winslow, who will encourage audience participation. “It’s fun to watch folks make noises on their own. Some people have a real knack for strange things. It gives them something to take home with them, and they don’t need a bag to put it in.”

Winslow grew up at Fairchild and surrounded himself with a symphony of sounds that served as imaginary friends. He imitated the sounds of engines, animals, anything that made noise, many times to the detriment of his teachers. “It was entirely her choice to believe there is a talking squirrel in her desk,” says Winslow, who would also prank shoppers at the grocery store by powering up the “engine” of a shopping cart and putting it into gear as he walked away.

His vocal skills kept him from feeling lonely as a kid, and they also saved him from a few schoolyard beatings by confusing his would-be bullies. “(In the bully’s voice) I can’t beat his ass. He thinks he’s a car,” says Winslow. “I have always had an odd sense of humor. I can’t help it. It’s all about perspective. I always knew that sometime in the future, sooner or later, I could make a difference with it. When you put noises to things, it makes things completely different.”

Like many other young comedians, Winslow worked his way through the club circuit where he established his act and developed a loyal following. His first television performance was on “The Gong Show” where he stunned the crowd with sonic replicas of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ and Led Zeppelin.

“I can’t wait to finally try ‘Kashmir,’” Winslow says of his aptitude for his Zeppelin impressions, from the electrifying riffs of Jimmy Page to Robert Plant’s banshee howl. “It’s a rough one. Almost as hard as Stevie Wonder. Don’t let Stevie fool you.”

Winslow won the show and gained the exposure he needed to move on to film, starring in Police Academy in 1984 as Sgt. Larvelle “Motor Mouth” Jones. He went on to become one of the most memorable cast members of the movie franchise, appearing in all seven–yes, seven–films. Winslow also appeared as a radar operator in the movie Spaceballs and saved the film money by doing all of the sound effects himself.

His unique vocal abilities have opened doors to a host of interesting career opportunities. Recently, Winslow worked on a project with the Berlin Orchestra, adding noises, sound effects and even a beat boxer to a Charlie Chaplin film while the orchestra provided the score. “It was such a fun experience. I can reach people in so many different ways,” he says.

Winslow parlayed his status as an 80s film icon into a regular hosting gig with “Way Back Wednesday with Winslow” on the WGN network. He is also embracing technology, lending his voice to iPhone and iPod Touch apps featuring his sound effects. ThatsKungFu generates Winslow’s kung fu fighting sounds when the device is swung in a fighting motion. NoizeyMan, billed as the “World’s Noiziest App,” contains video, ringtones, sound effects, and mini games, all created by Michael Winslow.

Winslow worked with Orlando-based game development studio Phyken Media on a mobile game for iOS and Android platforms entitled Wizard Ops Chapter 1, providing all the sound effects for the game. He also lent his voice on Wizard Ops Tactics, a turn-based tactical game and spiritual successor to the previous game.

He also has a podcast and YouTube channel that he says contains enough bizarre material to keep people confused and wanting more. “Technology finally caught up,” says the comedian who once tested out voices and accents by prank calling unsuspecting victims. “Of course, now people have caller ID, so I don’t do that anymore.”

Winslow is currently focused on creating his own original music and plans to release a full-length album in 2018. He has collaborated on projects with Run the Jewels, Jon Anderson of Yes and Grammy-Award winner Victor Wooten and is playing around with ideas for electronic dance music using water and an electrical socket, Finnish death metal and country music, only backwards.

“If I do it right, I get my dog back, my truck back, the house won’t burn down and Mama don’t die,” he says.“It’s time for me to break out and do some strange things. I’m trying to make sure the cross-over into music is effective enough, so I’m playing with models now and trying to figure out how to put this out. I’m slowly inching my way into strange music projects that will keep people scratching their heads. (Makes the sound of the Doppler effect trailing off) I’m just now starting to understand the parameters, and it’s paying off in really interesting ways.”


About Liza Mitchell