What is the Martian ULLA?
Since Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of The Worlds was released in 1978, countless fans of the double album have been captivated by this extraordinary work. No better is this demonstrated than by the Martian cry of ‘ULLA', heard whenever the Martians are either terrorising Mankind or dying, towards the end of the story.
Jeff puts this lasting appeal down to the sound’s uniqueness, and its most unexpected appearances within the recordings, or live arena shows.
When we asked Jeff what he enjoyed most about the fan's reaction to the sound he said, “just that, their enjoyment of it!”
But how that unique sound is made, is probably less obvious.
The Making of "ULLA"
“I started composing the “ULLAs” on my piano, but while the notes worked very well, the ‘sound’ was nothing like I was hearing in my head,” Jeff explains. “They only took on their more alien qualities after I began working with Ken ‘Prof’ Freemen, a member of TWOTW studio band, and long-time keyboard associate on many other of my projects. ‘Prof' had invented a brilliant string synth which I used on many of my projects, and because of that, I asked ‘Prof’ if he might be able to build a small keyboard synth that could emulate the word ‘ULLA’ - which he agreed to do. But while ‘Prof’ achieved the 'UUUUUUUU….' the ‘LA’s’ simply weren't understood at all. All we had was one long ‘UUUUUU-AAA…’ The 'L' of LA’s failed entirely. ’
"I knew if I was ever to hear my hoped-for Martian ‘ULLAs’, I’d have to try to find a different way to achieve them.
“Ultimately I approached Jo Partridge, a brilliant guitarist who I had worked with many times previously, and another member of TWOTW band. He was also one of the first musicians in the UK to own and play a voice box (AKA talk box), a very unique device which ultimately he used to create the ‘ULLAs’.
“Jo played the voice box by placing the end of a tube between his teeth so that the sound resonated into his mouth, taking on the characteristics of different vowels, consonants, or words and phrases. The resulting sound is picked up by one’s vocal mic just as if you were singing normally.
“The ‘ULLA’s’ were the buildup of my melody line and then the harmony notes within the chords, which distinguished between when the Martians were terrorising Mankind early in the story (using more notes), as opposed to toward the end when they are dying with less harmony notes giving the ‘ULLAs’ a far more haunting and open sound.
“While Jo’s contribution was undeniable, my engineer, Geoff Young, kept listening with me in the Control Room to the developing ULLA’s and added certain studio effects that gave more alien qualities to the ULLAs. One particular machine that he used was the Eventide Harmoniser, only available in the UK a relatively short time before I started recording TWOTW at Advision Studios.
“The end result was that my ULLAs were the combination of my composition, Jo’s performance on his electric guitar and voice box, Geoff’s engineering skills and the Eventide Harmoniser. Voila, ULLA!!!”
Jeff continued by explaining the significance of this iconic sound and why it was so important to get the understanding of the word absolutely right - “from my original idea of asking ‘Prof’ to create a “ULLA” box to the final guitar performance by Jo via talk-box, the ULLA’s did take a while - but it remains to this day, one of the most iconic sounds in my Musical Version of The War of The Worlds.”
In the original HG Wells novel, the inspiration for the word “ULLA" came from ululate, meaning to howl or wail as an expression of strong emotion, typically grief. “ULLA" represented the death of the Martians.
Jeff Wayne explained, “I chose only to use the word “ULLA” and let the musical compositions, arrangements and tempos represent the meanings of HG’s original two words - ‘ALOO’ and ‘ULLA’ to distinguish the extreme of the Martian terror early on in The Artilleryman and The Fighting Machine.
“A FIFTH MACHINE APPEARED ON THE FAR BANK. IT RAISED ITSELF TO FULL HEIGHT, FLOURISHED THE FUNNEL HIGH IN THE AIR, AND THE GHOSTLY TERRIBLE HEAT RAY STRUCK THE TOWN. AS IT STRUCK, ALL FIVE FIGHTING MACHINES EXULTED, EMITTING DEAFENING HOWLS WHICH ROARED LIKE THUNDER.”
Terrorising Martian: “ULLA! ULLA!!”
"Or until The Martian’s dying moments as a death wail in the sequence towards the end, titled ‘Dead London’."
“I SAW OVER THE TREES GLITTERING IN THE SUNLIGHT, THE HOOD OF THE MARTIAN FIGHTING MACHINES FROM WHICH THE HOWLING CAME. I CROSSED REGENTS CANAL, NOW A SPONGY MASS OF DARK RED VEGETATION, AND PUSHED ON TOWARDS PRIMROSE HILL. THERE STOOD A SECOND FIGHTING MACHINE, UPRIGHT, BUT AS STILL AS THE FIRST."
Dying Martian: ’ULLAAA-‘
Step Inside The ULLA Cry
The Immersive Experience allows fans to experience the iconic album in a new way but Jeff explains that the “ULLA” sound “hasn’t changed at all, although in The Immersive Experience, they’re used to enhance the storyline and feature in different places than in the original double album,” including a bonus appearance of the ‘ULLAs’ in the bathroom of The Red Weed Bar - but don’t forget to flush, or you might miss it!
If the Martian “ULLA" speaks to you, don’t forget you can find a wonderful range of merchandise, only available to survivors of The Immersive Experience.