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Interview: World War 2 Sound Effects Archive Tomahawk Films

Tomahawk Films has established itself as one of the leading archives of original World War 2 sound effects and Third Reich music tracks and is usually the first stop for professional documentary makers, film, television and post production suites around the world. FreeSFX.co.uk’s Alan McKinney speaks exclusively to Brian Matthews, founder and owner of the archive about why and how he has managed to build such a successful archive.

Brian, can you tell us when and why you first became interested in sound recordings from the World War 2 era?

Well, I was studying history at college, I had always been heavily involved in Third Reich military history, both from a research point of view and as an avid collector, and when I entered the film and TV industry in the early 80s I was able to convert that serious-but-amateur interest into a professional WW-II documentary production and archival career!

How did the archive come about? Was it built from necessity or was it initially just a hobby?

The archival side of things certainly wasn't planned that's for sure. From the SFX point of view I was producing a TV documentary on the German occupation of the Channel Islands and needed a Stuka sound effect so went up to a well-known London sound archive only to be presented with a cassette of somebody blowing through a comb and paper. Unbelievable! So I left the somewhat embarrassed archive employee, and without my vital effect, and resolved to try to build up my own WW-II combat sound effects archive, using all my military contacts and expertise, if I could!

The period German music, again not something ever thought of or planned, developed from my tracking down original recordings in Germany for our own work that other producers and music collectors also began to want and so over the 22 years that Tomahawk Films has been in existence, I have also been able to produce in excess of 40 albums of Third Reich marching music and 1940s German radio 'hits of the day' that we now also licence to other productions around the world and with very great success, I am proud to say!!

I have heard that you recorded some of the sound effects yourself. How did you go about this and did you employ any techniques to keep the recordings sounding faithful to that era? 

Luckily enough I was able to acquire a number of original single effects from individual military and audio enthusiasts along the way and also bought up a small audio company some years back that had a number of good, usable combat SFX in its inventory. However as a keen WW-II Warbirds enthusiast alongside my German interests, I was able to record a number of original fighter and bomber aircraft in action here in the UK and also whilst working on a series on the Luftwaffe in the US. In addition, having several military friends who were highly experienced and fully licensed armourers specialising in WW-II German weaponry, I was also able to record original period machine-guns, hand pistols and explosions in the field.

Sadly, or perhaps  happily, nothing special was used to record our effects (a combination of an old ex-BBC Radio Nagra and a domestic portable tape deck), as I wanted them to go down on tape  'as is' and exactly how they would have been recorded during WW-II,  however all effects used on our Sounds of War CD were subsequently digitally re-mastered in the studio via SADE to offer  a unique collection containing both numerous single spot-effects alongside some much longer and totally accurate scenarios that we were able to build up into highly realistic and somewhat 'energetic' battle sequences!

Can you tell us what kind of projects your sound effects archive gets used for?

Though we use them a lot in our own work, it was very helpful to us when the BBC removed their original combat SFX CD from the commercial market place some years back as it left a large number of producers and audio engineers struggling to find the correct sound effects for their documentary work. So as well as a large number of documentary production companies now using our SFX collection, many sound suites around the globe have our CD 'on tap'.  Schools and colleges also like to use them in their teaching of the Second World War, plus a number of live stage productions and military museum-diorama designers around the world have also benefitted from our SFX.

As such I'm pleased to say that, down the years we have garnered numerous credits for both our combat SFX and Third Reich military music striped across the many satellite documentary and terrestrial TV channels and now have a long and distinguished professional client list around the globe, ranging from Hollywood movie companies in the US to the BBC here in the UK and all points in between.

Will the Tomahawk sound effect archive be expanding anytime soon?

It took us many years to build up this somewhat unique collection of 75 single and multiple-scenario effects which is actually very comprehensive and happily seems to fulfil 99% of the needs of WW-II documentary producers, though of course there will always be somebody wanting something we don't have!  However I reckon that by now I must have called in all my favours from my military contacts so as we speak there is nothing new on the horizon; in addition the German music side of Tomahawk Films is more than a full time job, however if I ever lay my hands on anything new and exciting in the Combat SFX line that I feel would enhance this collection, then I'd be daft to say no!

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About Tomahawk Films
Tomahawk Films World War 2 Sound Effects and Third Reich Military Music can be purchased from Tomahawk Films website.

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