La radio jouait en sourdine.
lah rah-deeYOH zhway ah soor-DEEN. Click below to hear this.*
The radio was playing softly.
Sounds like stage directions for a movie, right? Except that stage directions are normally in the present tense: La radio joue en sourdine..
En sourdine is used to mean softly or quietly. You will notice its root word, sourd, which means deaf. But the noun, une sourdine, means a mute such as is used on a musical instrument.
Most instruments produce a rich, full-bodied tone. But sometimes it is desirable to dampen the tone. That’s when the musician uses une sourdine. On a violin, it’s a small clip placed on the bridge. It breaks the cycle of vibrations transmitted and augmented from the strings to the bridge to the body of the instrument itself. This is what it looks like:
A trumpet mute is probably more familiar. We’ve all seen jazz trumpeters make use of them, to produce the wah-wah that helps give jazz its characteristic voice. Here’s a trumpet mute:
In either case, the mute does more than just reduce the volume. It also gives the tone a more muffled quality, and a reedy quality on the trumpet.
As for la radio, I’m not a daytime radio/TV person. I enjoy the quiet when I’m working. I can’t listen to music and write words at the same time. I suspect they use the same part of my brain.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: