The enormous online apocalypse/conspiracy community has been all a-flutter lately -- just in time for 2012 -- due to the glut of "strange sounds" or "weird noises" videos being uploaded in recent weeks. I'm sure you've seen them. Most of them go like this:
1) Someone with a camera takes it outdoors, panning it wildly across the skies above.
2) Weird, monstrous clanking noises are heard. Or deep trumpet noises. Or something.
3) The videographer makes sounds of breathless, whispery panic. Or wonders, aloud, about the strange noises.
4) No explanations are given.
Are we hearing the metallic grinding of invisible alien spaceships? Or some kind of ultra low-frequency electromagnetic noise resulting from solar activity? Is it the groaning of the Earth's crust about to shift in the kind of tectonic apocalypse event the ancient Mayans were trying to warn us about?
Who knows? There are plenty of theories.
What we do know is that the "strange noises" video has become an Internet meme. It's hard to track where or how memes really begin, but this one seems to have begun with this video, which records weird, booming noises over Kiev. It was uploaded in August of 2011. The sounds have a lot in common with the trumpet scene in Kevin Smith's 2011 film Red State, in which some marijuana farmers fool Rapture enthusiasts by playing deep trumpet noises of a loudspeaker. It also sounds a lot like the Tripods in Spielberg's War of the Worlds remake from 2005.
And while I can't say for sure that every single "strange sounds" video is a hoax, I do know without a doubt that a vast majority of them are. Watch the Kiev video. Listen to the birds chirping and screeching. Then listen to a bunch of others, especially those that have been uploaded in the past couple of weeks. You'll hear the same chirps and screeches. Either the birds are in on the conspiracy, or someone's ripping the audio from the earlier videos and layering it onto their own version in Omaha or Cleveland or wherever.
It happened last week in Amarillo, Texas, where I live. A couple of local radio DJs created their own "weird noises over Amarillo" video. It was clearly a hoax. Ridiculously so. It happened to coincide with a meteoric fireball that streaked over the Texas sky on Feb. 1, and it got the locals talking.
And by "talking," I mean "a little freaked out." I started hearing about kids who were concerned about alien invasion, or telling their friends the Mayan apocalypse was nigh. Then my own kids came home from school asking about it.
We sat down with YouTube as I tried to explain how easy it was to fake those noises, and how most of these videos -- especially the Amarillo one -- were people trying to cash in on a trend or perpetuate a hoax. Being properly skeptical kids, they didn't believe me.
So I grabbed the camera and informed them that we were going to create our own "strange sounds over Amarillo" hoax video. I gave them instructions and we started filming. Here's the result.
Needless to say, the process of making our own fake video has eased their minds. That was the goal.
Does that mean all the "strange sounds" videos are fake? No. Who knows? Maybe some of them are real. Maybe there's a legitimate scientific explanation. Maybe they're part of some clever guerrilla marketing campaign for a Cloverfield-style movie. But some of them very clearly are hoaxes. It is incredibly easy to do. All you need is a camera, an iTunes-like video editor, and a YouTube account. That's it.
As for me, until NASA or the president holds a press conference legitimizing the noises, I will view them with great skepticism. And maybe even after that.