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Haunting Sounds At Night, Kids' Puppet Show Clock By Day


Now, in the radio business, we think a lot about sound and what it means. Sound is not always what it seems, as NPR's Corey Flintoff reminds us from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Imagine that you're new to Moscow, this icy city somewhere near the heart of winter. Because you just crossed eight time zones to get here, you find yourself lying awake, listening to the distant traffic and the bedside clock in the wee hours of the morning.


FLINTOFF: A rooster, on a Russian night so cold that cock-a-doodle-doodle should be spelled out in frost?


FLINTOFF: Then, just to remind you that neither you nor that insomniac chicken should be awake at this hour, a doleful bells starts to chime. Just a bad dream, you hope - something like Ebenezer Scrooge in a "Christmas Carol" - an ill-digested bit of cheese, or so you think until the music starts.


FLINTOFF: The next morning, my daughter says it sounded like the song a creepy ice cream truck would play as it trundled around the dark streets of Moscow. So who buys ice cream in the middle of the night - Count Dracula? Then there's the ending of the song, a series of squeaks like little ghouls swinging on a graveyard gate. I'm haunted by those sounds, so much so that I almost think I'm hearing them again during the next few days. But the roar of Moscow traffic is so loud that it would drown out Godzilla, much less some half frozen rooster.

It was a mystery until one cold, but sunny day when I happened to walk past a crowd of third-graders on the sidewalk in front of the Obraztsov Puppet Theater. It was noon and they were gazing expectantly at a large, bronze sculpture on the wall - a clock in the shape of a ramshackle castle. It was topped with a large bronze...(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)

FLINTOFF: ...And hung with...


FLINTOFF: And when the music began, 12 doors flapped open and 12 mechanical puppets - animals from Russian fairy tales - waved and cavorted. The kids cavorted too until the music stopped and it was time to dash inside to warm up and catch the puppet show.


FLINTOFF: In sunlight, with laughing Russian kids, it was charming and cheerful. The puppet theater is about a block from my apartment. There are times in the middle of the night when I still hear that...


FLINTOFF: But now there's something familiar and comforting about it and then the music comes along to put me back to sleep. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corey Flintoff