“Splash! Boom! Crash!” Friend, Jan. 1992, 10
You’re watching a really scary movie. Creeeeak! A cobweb-whiskered door grates open. You shiver.
You’re enjoying your favorite cartoon show. Booooing! The cat steps on a garden rake and knocks himself silly. You laugh.
You’re listening to a storybook cassette. Thwack! An arrow splits the apple. You gasp.
Sounds make stories seem real—really funny, really scary, really exciting, really true.
Sounds in movies and other dramatic productions are called sound effects. In the heyday of the radio drama, they were made as the show was being broadcast. In today’s movies, animated cartoons, and television shows, sound effects are added after the film has been shot. The person who adds these sounds is called a “foley artist” or “foley mixer.”
Most sounds can be captured by using the real source—a telephone ringing, a door slamming, wood being sawed, a water faucet dripping. Some sound effects collectors roam all around the world recording everything from crickets chirping to windmill sails turning.
Occasionally the real thing doesn’t sound quite right, however, and a substitute must be found. For example, washers rattled together make better coin sounds than real coins do.
And sometimes the real thing just isn’t available and the sound must be made artificially. That’s when a sound effects master becomes creative. He will try anything and everything until he gets the sound right. Many sounds are finally made with objects you would never associate with that sound. (See the chart for a few common examples.)
Now it’s time for you to become a sound effects master. Before your next sleepover, record some suspenseful sounds. Then play them while you’re telling a tall tale and watch people’s eyes get big. Or if you’re assigned to write a story for school, record it with appropriate sound effects and play it for your class. Not only will your teacher and friends be impressed but you’ll have a lot of fun too.
You can make most of these sound effects with common household objects. Try them, then dream up some effects of your own.
Wind blowing Move a scarf across a tabletop. The faster the movement, the stronger the wind.
Babbling brook Blow through a straw into a pan of water.
Hoofbeats Rap on a hard surface with the open ends of coconut shell halves.
Someone swimming Swish a broom back and forth across water. (A bathtub will do.)
Someone walking in the snow Fill small bags with starch and then squeeze them in front of a microphone in the rhythm of footsteps.
Someone skiing Pull a ruler across carpet. The sound can be altered by varying the distance from the microphone.
Clock Knock on glass with a piece of wood.
Steamboat horn Fill a bottle with water and blow into it near the microphone. The more water there is in the bottle, the higher the pitch will be.
Forest fire Rattle cellophane and bottle caps together.
Rain on a roof Shake dried peas or rice in a barrel. (A metal pie plate also works.)
Thunder Shake a piece of sheet metal or hit it with a mallet or hammer.