Your Favourite Prop Store

There is one resource every sound designer & sound effects editor needs and thats a favourite props store. I don’t mean a hardware store, (although they can be invaluable as well) I mean a straight up junk store – preferably large scale with everything from recycled building parts through to strange little antique props…

Here in Wellington my favourite is Brennan Building Recyclers in Lyall Bay, who are super helpful. Every time I visit they remember my name & share funny stories about what the art department from certain films are hunting for… Half my resonant metal library (soon come on HISSandaROAR) is sourced from here, for $5 a prop, although I’ll happily pay ten or twenty times that for a prop that gives me a sonic-OMFG-moment! The owners of Brennans, god/jah/buddha bless them, don’t mind me walking around hitting things & listening to them… picking things up and hitting them on the concrete floor etc… Its all part of the job!


Another favourite for me, although visited less often, is a big junk store in Picton. I can’t remember their name but its on the corner about 2 blocks from the waterfront. Down south is way less populated & accordingly rent is cheaper and a junk store has room to expand. My last visit was on the way back from New Year at Mistletoe Bay, I had a few hours to wait for the ferry back to Wellington & thoroughly enjoyed collecting up such things as a 20kg solid metal crowbar ($25) which rings like a bell, but could smash open pretty much anything… And a dozen spanners, wrenches etc… When the owner asked what I wanted them for and I started to explain, he interrupted me “Like Rolf Harris?” Yes, exactly like Rolf Harris… except crowbar, meet piano….


Weird old books & records they have lots of, but its usually the more physical props I am searching for. But when I say I am searching for something, really it is the props that find me. Its a lot like having a hunt through the jazz section of a secondhand record store. The gems are all there, waiting to be found; the onus is on you to be both well informed and open minded enough to acknowledge the potential in things that 90% of the population might describe as ‘junk’.

Anyway two points to be made. Firstly, if you are a sound effects editor or sound designer and you cannot instantly name me your favourite local junk store then shame on you. You owe yourself an hour or two this weekend to go make friends with some dusty geezer who eeks out a living and would really appreciate you buying a few cheap sound props every other week. And in the process you can give him your business card with the advice “call me if anything that sounds interesting comes your way… i’ll pay good money…..” You will undoubtedly have an interesting conversation in the process…

The other point was this: ask and you shall receive. You probably know I’ve been working on this Cirque De Soilel 3D film for the last few months, and some aspects of it have been particularly challenging eg I spent three quarters of a frustrating day on 20 seconds of footage that is too fast to assess in real time. I have literally had to edit & tweak this particular sequence with ProTools running at half speed (SHIFT Spacebar) But the project has required some seriously lateral thinking eg for an extended sequence such as Bateau, where the hell do you get a prop like that to record??

The answer, well two answers: first Brennan Building Recyclers, second my next door neighbours Fuse Circus. After the first few weeks working on the Cirque project I had been racking my brain about how to approach Bateau and walked into Brennans with no specific ideas.. and out the back was this thing:

Wire thing

I could not work out what the hell it was, some kind of sculpture? Its quite a lot bigger than that photo suggests – it took two of us to lift it and was as long as the two bed mattresses it was resting on, but all I had to do was shake it a bit and I was sold – it was definitely a component of what I needed! I went & quizzed the owners and turns out it was from a bar – it was suspended upside down from the ceiling above the bar and all those curiously shaped wire bits held rows of wine glasses and bottles. Anyway, as the crappy cellphone photo above shows I went back there on a quiet Monday afternoon and recorded it, and played at half speed it has some beautifully complex resonant elements…

The second source of material was from my neighbours Fuse Circus – somehow its not a coincidence that I got to work on a Cirque De Soilel film, and my studio just happens to be next door to a local circus rehearsal space. Tom from Fuse has been invaluable with advice & putting me in touch with performers such as Jez, the fire performer:

Fire Performer

As you can see their rehearsal space is a huge warehouse with a 10m high ceiling including a gantry crane. They have all sorts of trapeze systems rigged up and I’ve spent a bit of time in there recording various material for the film, but I noticed they had a big collection of aluminum rigging scaffolding stacked against a wall and as soon as I tapped it I knew I’d found another source for Bateau. Below is a photo of one of the three metre long pieces resting on my baby grand piano next door at my studio. Some of the best sounds I got from it were using my two contact mics and performing very very subtle movements with it. As you can well imagine the Cirque performers are very refined in their movements and the last thing anyone will want in the soundtrack will be great loud metal clanks. So its been a very restrained process of creating evocative presence….

Scaff thing

Anyway….. your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go make a new friend. At a junk store. Spend $30 minimum & buy at least three props. Last weekend I bought a bag of old school marbles for $5. The junk store owner made corny jokes about losing his marbles… and me finding mine, but I knew as soon as I saw them that these marbles will find a role in the Tortured Piano library, because well…. have you every heard granular baby grand piano physically generated by a bag of marbles? Me neither, but thats about to change….

5 Responses to Your Favourite Prop Store

  1. Christine White says:

    when i was studying sonic art at vic i became a regular visitor to Trash Palace in Porirua. my friend chris black and i devised a performance using a chain of speakers and contact mics. bruce from trash palace was very good to us – we got good deals for speakers and i recall we used a shower tray as well, resonating feedback through it and picking up the sounds with another contact mic. i also began my collection of metal objects for bowing and amplifying (a.k.a the instrument ‘the workbench’). and further, began singing into vases…people definitely get curious when one develops an obsession for banging things and listening to them in a junk shop 🙂 much fun is had!

  2. There’s an antique store about 30 minutes north of me that’s just packed with fantastic stuff. Also, there’s a bi-annual camera show in that same part of the DFW metroplex that tends to be stocked with goodies.

    I never skip either one.

  3. There’s an antique store about 30 minutes north of me that’s just packed with fantastic stuff. Also, there’s a bi-annual camera show in that same part of the DFW metroplex that tends to be stocked with goodies.

    I never skip either one.

  4. tim says:

    Trash Palace link for future reference:

  5. Pingback: Overflow | Music of Sound

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