MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Do you want to hear a lizard that cries like a baby? Does the idea of 22 different types of hiccup appeal to you? If so, then today is your lucky day. NPR's Louisa Lim's been nosing around the eclectic online audio archive set up by one ambitious Chinese entrepreneur.
(Soundbite of hiccup)
LOUISA LIM: Excuse me. This is just one of the 22 different types of hiccup in businessman Qin Jie's online audio archive. It's a weird and wonderful collection of sound, ranging from the frankly disgusting…
(Soundbite of belch)
LIM: Like that burp, to the downright cute…
(Soundbite of hiccupping baby)
LIM: Like the snuffling grunting of a hiccupping baby. On the way, there are moments of human triumph, like this…
(Soundbite of baby crying)
LIM: The very first cries of a baby after birth. Then there are moments of animal peculiarities. Here, as promised, is the sound of the giant salamander, in Chinese named the WaWaU(ph) or WaWa fish, since it sounds like a baby crying.
(Soundbite of salamander)
LIM: And for one last moment of eccentricity, here's a well-trained myna bird giving Chinese new-year greetings and asking for a red packet of money.
(Soundbite of myna bird)
LIM: All this is the brainchild of businessman Qin Jie. In 1993, while working in a bank, he became interested in the commercial potential of sound. His first coup was gathering 60 university students from all over China and recording them speaking in their own different dialects. He then sold this dialect bank to China's brand-new, premium-rate phone lines for around $5,000 - then a fortune. This so the curious could dial up to hear people speaking in the Chinese equivalent of, say, Cajun. This was the start of his career as a freelance audio content provider.
Mr. QIN JIE (Businessman): (Through translator) We had a weapons sound bank. So you dialed a special number, then you pressed 1 to hear a handgun…
(Soundbite of handgun)
Mr. JIE: Two for a rifle…
(Soundbite of rifle)
Mr. JIE: Three for a submachine gun…
(Soundbite of submachine gun)
Mr. JIE: Four for a grenade…
(Soundbite of grenade)
LIM: Nowadays, he has far grander plans. He boasts that construction is due to start soon on a $150 million hotel and restaurant complex. This will be equipped with voice-activated sound systems to allow guests to summon up sounds of waves or bird song, for example, at any time.
He's also seeking investors for an industrial park and what he calls the world's first Audio Disneyland, which he also hopes to build in the central Chinese city of Hefei. He's convinced that sound can make money.
Mr. JIE: (Through translator) There is a huge market for sound effects for TV, films and software, and for telephone ringtones to download. I think the market is massive.
LIM: To this end, he set up an online subscriber sound archive, which, for example, has a section devoted to China's folk culture. This includes the calls of the fast-disappearing street peddlers.
Mr. JIE: (Through translator) We wanted to save our tradition of oral culture. These peddlers' calls to sell buns, sharpen scissors or sell vegetables are a type of spoken advert. Nowadays, people don't really do that so much anymore. They sell through supermarkets.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking foreign language)
LIM: Peddlers like this sunflower-seed seller are becoming rare. As city dwellers move into high-rise blocks, they can no longer hear the arrival, for example, of the purveyor of red bean pancakes.
Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language).
Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking foreign language)
LIM: Or the raisin vendor.
LIM: Modernization is hastening the end of street peddlers, but new technology at least means those nostalgic for their chants can download them — for a small fee, of course, Louisa Lim, NPR News, Hefei, (Unintelligible) Province, China.
NORRIS: And if you want to hear barnyard snores from the archive - that is, people snoring like donkeys, pigs and frogs, they're all at our Web site, npr.org.