How It Works: Science and Technology - Vol. 15

By Wendy Horobin | Go to book overview

Sound Effects and Sampling

Sound effects are indispensable tools of the film, radio, television, and theater industries. They reinforce the impression of reality—or the invented “reality” of science fiction—by providing sounds that match the audience’s expectations deriving from what is seen on screen or stage; in radio plays, they give nonverbal clues that set the scene for the action. Sound effects also add atmosphere to films and to television and theater plays by signaling events outside the field of view—trains rattling past low-rent apartments, for example, or wind howling through trees on a stormy night.

In broad terms, there are three types of sound effects. The most straightforward type uses the sound of the event itself—thunder can be recorded and then played back at the appropriate cue, for example, while a gunshot can be produced by firing a blank round on cue. The second type uses mechanical means to produce sounds that mimic natural sounds; the film industry term for this effect is “Foley,” named for Jack Foley, a U.S. sound engineer of the early 20th century. Foley developed artificial sounds to accompany the action in some of the first talking films.

The most recent addition to the sound effect engineer’s armory is sampling. With this technique, natural sounds are recorded in digital format—as a sample—then manipulated to create new sounds. Sampling is particularly useful for giving voices to fantasy creatures and tor producing credible noises for the futuristic vehicles and weapons of science fiction movies.


Theatrical sound effects

The use of sound effects in theater started long before the advent of talking films. In many cases, the sounds were natural—an actor playing a blacksmith would hammer a real anvil, for example. In other cases, sound effects would be produced live offstage—three or four stagehands might march in a trough of gravel to provide a realistic trudging sound while “soldiers” march quietly on the boards of the stage.

Thunder. There are three categories of theatrical thunder: the sharp thunderclap, the prolonged distant rumble, and an intermediate noise that is sharper than the distant rumble while more prolonged than the thunderclap. Each of these thunder sounds is produced by a different machine.

The thunderclap machine consists of up to ten pairs of wooden slats hinged a few inches apart by a rope. Another rope is fastened to the last slat in such a way that, when sharply pulled, it brings all the slats progressively but rapidly together.

This engineer produces
sound effects for the
British Broadcasting
Corporation radio series
The Archers, a soap opera
set in rural Britain. The
tools of his trade include
creaking gates and a
whole range of door
knockers and locks.

Distant rumbles of thunder can be simulated using a rubble of bricks and large stones in a cart fitted with uneven or eccentric wheels. When the cart is pushed along, its misshapen wheels cause the rubble to shift, emitting a continuous rumble whose quality and duration depend on how fast and how long the cart is pushed.

Another thunder sound is produced using a thunder sheet—a thin sheet of metal suspended by one edge. As with the rumble cart, the quality and duration of the sound depend on the degree of violence and length of shaking.

Wind machine. The traditional wind machine consists of a slatted wooden drum mounted on a standing frame so that it can be turned. A canvas sheet drapes over the drum; it is fastened to the frame on one side and tied down or weighted on the other. The drum is turned using a handle, and the scraping of the slats on the canvas produces a sound that resembles that of wind howling past a building or through trees. The pitch of the sound

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How It Works: Science and Technology - Vol. 15
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • How It Works® Science and Technology 2017
  • Title Page 2019
  • Contents 2020
  • Salvage, Marine 2021
  • Satellite, Artificial 2024
  • Schlieren Techniques 2030
  • Screw Manufacture 2032
  • Seaplane and Amphibian 2035
  • Sea Rescue 2038
  • Security System 2042
  • Seismology 2046
  • Self-Righting Boat 2050
  • Semiconductor 2052
  • Servomechanism 2055
  • Sewing Machine 2058
  • Sextant 2062
  • Sheet Metal 2064
  • Ship 2067
  • Shutter 2074
  • Silicon 2076
  • Silicone 2078
  • Silver 2079
  • Sine Wave 2081
  • Siphon 2083
  • Ski and Snowboard 2084
  • Skin 2087
  • Skyscraper 2090
  • Slaughterhouse 2096
  • Sleep 2099
  • Smell and Taste 2103
  • Soap Manufacture 2107
  • Soft-Drink Dispenser 2109
  • Soil Research 2110
  • Solar Energy 2114
  • Solar System 2118
  • Solenoid 2124
  • Sonar 2126
  • Sorption 2129
  • Sound 2131
  • Sound Effects and Sampling 2136
  • Sound Mixing 2138
  • Soundproofing 2140
  • Sound Reproduction 2142
  • Soundtrack 2146
  • Space Debris 2150
  • Space Photography 2152
  • Space Probe 2156
  • Index i
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