Waaaah-wuuuuh sound?
August 3, 2007 11:11 AM   Subscribe

There is a sound often played when a character in a comedy does something stupid. I don't know what this is called and am hoping someone can tell me. Here's an example: In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer attempts to expose a plot to move the Isotopes to Alberquerque. He brings the media in to show them the closet full of merchandise that will reveal the conspiracy. When they walk in, they see a man dressed like a beatnik with a trumpet and some kind of cover. He plays the trumpet and it produces a ... waaaaah-wuuuuuh I've always wanted to know the name of that sound. I'd love to find examples online. It is perhaps my favorite sound ever. ;-)
posted by tcv to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I know exactly what you're talking about, but it's apparently a difficult thing to google (I just keep turning up stuff about adverts for Axe). Regardless, I'll be following this one.
posted by boreddusty at 11:18 AM on August 3, 2007

It's called the "wah-wah". No, really.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:20 AM on August 3, 2007

You could ask sutt, his most excellent Valentine Crush game (via Projects) uses that exact sound when you crash and burn. Oh if I had a penny for every time I'd heard that sound... :-)
posted by ceri richard at 11:21 AM on August 3, 2007

Like this?
posted by doctor_negative at 11:21 AM on August 3, 2007

The general category is Trumpet Mutes, this is specifically a plunger (yes, as in toilet) mute.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:24 AM on August 3, 2007

I have seen it referred as the "sad trombone" in various capacities, although I think that's kind of stupid as "wah wah" more than suffices.
posted by prostyle at 11:29 AM on August 3, 2007

I kept finding stuff about "wah-wah pedals."
posted by tcv at 11:35 AM on August 3, 2007

"Wa Wa Wa," Savannah Syncopators, 1926
posted by kirkaracha at 11:40 AM on August 3, 2007

I always thought it came from vaudeville where there was always a live band. The musicians would lend their own musical opinions to the comedy on stage. Tues, the rim shot became traditional for a snappy punchline and the trumpet or trombone wah-wah became synonymous with dying. I was doing standup one time in a variety show and when I got live rim shot. I was so moved I froze and had to regather myself .. I felt like I had been honored by a long long comedy tradition.
posted by lpsguy at 11:43 AM on August 3, 2007

I think "wah-wah" is about as official and universal as you're going to find -- although as you've found, googling that will give you a lot of results relating to guitar pedals that produce the same effect. "Sad trombone" isn't it, because the sound isn't made with a trombone -- as has already been mentioned, it's produced with a trumpet mute, which is the cover the guy on The Simpsons was using.
posted by Acetylene at 11:46 AM on August 3, 2007

I make this noise all the time in social settings and a lot of people have referred to it as the "sad trombone" when I do, sot that's the name I've always attached to it in my head.

I think "wah-wah" is a bad term since it, at least to me, evokes the wah-wah pedal which, contrary to the previous post, makes a sound nothing like a sad trombone/muted trumpet.
posted by atomly at 12:23 PM on August 3, 2007

Yep, I've always heard it called the "sad trombone" as well.
posted by Gamblor at 12:30 PM on August 3, 2007

that's actually the punchline to my favorite dead baby joke:

what did the two babies say when they got thrown off the cliff?

my apologies for that. carry on.

posted by prophetsearcher at 12:47 PM on August 3, 2007

See Debbie Downer for an excellent implementation of this sound.
posted by SBMike at 12:48 PM on August 3, 2007

We must denote the difference between the "wah-wah" and the "wah-wah-waaaaahhhhhhhh..."

The muted trombone-produced "wah-wah" is a little more peppy...it denotes a mistake or a loser, but maybe the loser in question realizes and accepts it.

The wah-wah-waaaahhhhhhhh, though...that's usually produced in higher tones and denotes a real jerk who has sunk into a deep mire of stupid.

posted by Bud Dickman at 1:07 PM on August 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

This is kind of off-topic but... Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA baseball team, named by fans because of that Simpson's episode)
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:26 PM on August 3, 2007

There's also the sign off

Wah Wah Wah Wah Waaaaaah
posted by A189Nut at 2:11 PM on August 3, 2007

Here's some support for the term "wah-wah." I'll accept that a lot of people call it the "sad trombone," but it seems inaccurate to me because although it can be performed on a trombone, most of the examples I can think of (including the poster's own Simpsons example) were performed on a trumpet. I assume the "sad trombone" phrase has stuck because of the trombone's association with glissando, but that's not what produces this particular sound.
posted by Acetylene at 5:59 PM on August 3, 2007

A plunger mute is only one way to do this. You can also do it with your hand, or most comically with a harmon mute with the stem in and hand-wahing over that. This is also how they do the voice of Miss Othmeyer in the Peanuts cartoons.
posted by plinth at 7:17 PM on August 3, 2007

The effect is produced by using a mute on a brass instrument. There are many different types of mutes that produce different kinds of sounds.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:17 PM on August 3, 2007

The wah-wah-waaaahhhhhhhh, though...that's usually produced in higher tones and denotes a real jerk who has sunk into a deep mire of stupid.

Fans of MST3K know this one well.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:52 PM on November 22, 2007

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