Manually Produced Sound Effects

The following is pertinent to the production of Foley sounds, from an out of print edition of the book, Audio in Media, by Stanley R. Alten, pages 393-400.

* Asterisk entries are from Radio and Television Effects by Robert B. Turnbull. Copyright, 1951, by Robert B. Turnbull. Reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

This is a list of selected sound effects and how to produce them. Since these effects are simulated, they may require some refinement beyond the suggestions provided.


AIRPLANE Prop: Hold stiff cardboard against an electric fan. jet: Turn on a high-pitched vacuum cleaner or electric sweeper.

* ANIMALS Cat. This is easily done vocally. Listen and try to imitate. Cow: Do vocally or with a small bellows-type toy. Dog: Do vocally. Horse: Hooves: Clap halved coconut shells together or on a packed surface. Snorting. Take a deep breath, dose the lips lightly, and as you force the air out of the lungs, relax the lips and allow them to vibrate freely. Whinny: Do vocally. Monkey: Dampen the cork from a smooth-sided bottle and rub the side of the bottle with the cork in hard, fast, short strokes.

ARROW Through Air: Swish a stick through the air. Hitting Target: Throw darts into a dart board.

BABY CRYING This is done by a high-pitched voice crying into a pillow.

BASEBALL HIT WITH BAT Strike a thick, hollowed-out piece of wood with another piece of wood.

* BELLS Church, Fight, Fire, School Bell: These can all be made on an old automobile brake drum. Set the drum on a piece of wood so that the flange is facing up and is free to vibrate. Try striking with various wooden and metal strikers for different tones; also strike in various rhythms to get the effect of various bells. Dinner Bell and Emergency Bell: These are usually rung much faster than the other bells. To get the speed necessary, suspend by a cord a piece of strap iron or small-diameter pipe bent into a U shape. With a small piece of metal, rapidly strike back and forth inside the inverted horseshoe. Electric Bells: These may be purchased inexpensively and should be mounted on wood for greater resonance. The dry-cell setup is handy, but the batteries eventually run down. An AC setup is good bat calls for an AC cord to an outlet.

BIRD CALLS Bird calls can be made by an imitator. A warbling sound that simulates the twittering of a canary can best be done with a small bird whistle of the type that holds water.

BIRD WINGS (FLAPPING) Flap flat pieces of canvas near the microphone.

* BLOOD PRESSURE SPHYGMOMANOMETER The sound of the gadget that is strapped on the arm to take blood pressure is easily simulated by placing a finger over the nozzle end of an atomizer, then rapidly squeezing the bulb. Work close to the mike on this.

* BLOWS On the Head: (1) Strike a pumpkin with a mallet. (2) Strike a large melon with a wooden mallet or a short length of garden hose. (3) Strike a baseball glove with a short piece of garden hose. On the Chin: (1) Lightly dampen a large powder puff and slap it on the wrist close to the mike. (2) Hold a piece of sponge rubber in one hand and strike with the fist. (3) Slip on a thin leather glove and strike the bare hand with the gloved fist.

BOAT Row Boat: Oar locks: Use real oar locks or a rusty hinge. Rowing. Dip a wooden paddle into a tub of water or blow lightly and rhythmically into a glass of water through a straw. Canoe: Sound of paddling is the same as rowing. Ship: Gangplank: Use a ratchet wrench. Anchor: Rattle a chain; let an object fall into a tub of water. Flapping sails: Flap a piece of canvas or paper near microphone. Creaking of boat: Twist a leather belt. Putting up sails: Run rope through a pulley, occasionally flap a piece of cloth.

BONES RATTLING A good effect may be produced by suspending wooden sticks with strings from a board. Manipulate the board so that the sticks clank together for the macabre illusion of rattling bones.

BOTTLE To open, (1) press two plungers together and pull suddenly apart; or (2) open mouth, snap cheek with finger.

* BREAKING BONES (1) Chew Life Savers dose to the mike. (2) Twist and crunch wooden boxes. (3) Snap small-diameter dowel rods wrapped in soft paper. (4) Snap small pieces of hardened isinglass.

* BREAKING EGGS Take a 6-inch square of very coarse sandpaper and fold the corners in toward the center, the rough side up. Lay in the palm of the hand and suddenly squeeze.

BREEZE Fold two sections of newspaper in half, then cut each section into parallel strips. Sway the strips gently close to the mike.

BROOK BABBLING Blow air through a straw into a glass of water. Experiment by using varying amounts of water and by blowing at varying speeds.

BULLET For a bullet hitting a wall, strike a book with the flat side of a knife handle.

CAMERA CLICK Snap the switch on a flashlight.

CHOPPING WOOD Chop a piece of 2-by-4 wood with a small hatchet near the microphone.

CIGARETTE For lighting a cigarette, draw a toothpick against sandpaper.

* CLOCKS (1) Use various clocks. (2) Use a metronome for a steady beat. (3) Collect striker mechanisms for a variety of tones. (4) A cuckoo-clock effect is produced by a whistle or a small bellows mechanism. (5) Strike a suspended and undamped steel spring with a padded mallet.

COAL CARS The sound of small loaded cars approaching can be made by rolling a pair of roller skates over a piece of iron, starting off-mike and bringing them as close as desired. A little gravel sprinkled on the iron may help the effect.

* COCKTAIL Shake some bits of broken glass in a small amount of water in a dosed coffee can.

COINS CLINKING Some coins cannot be used because they produce a high-frequency sound that may be lost in transmission. Use nickels, quarters, half-dollars, and dollars. Lead washers are used successfully sometimes.

COLLISION Fenders Colliding: Drop a knife into a slightly tipped tub so that the knife will rattle a little after landing. Locomotive and Automobile: (1) Let air out of a tire. (2) Shake broken glass in a small box. (3) Crush wooden boxes. (4) Drop a stove pipe on its end into a tub. Old Truck and Street Car: Drop broken glass from a height into an empty tub that is slightly suspended.

COW BEING MILKED Squirt a water pistol into an empty metal container.

CRASHES (1) Metallic crashes can be done by piling a collection of tin and metal scraps into a large tub and dumping. To get a sustained crash, shake and rattle the tub until the cue for the pay-off crash. (2) Wooden crashes can be done by smashing large wooden containers close to the mike. The impact must come before the crash.

CREAKS (1) Twist and squeeze a Dixie cup close to the mike. (2) Mount a rusty hinge between two blocks of wood. Twist so that the hinge binds, then slowly open or close the hinge. (3) For the creak of a ship rubbing against a wharf, rub an inflated rubber balloon close to the mike.

* CRICKETS Run a fingernail along the fine teeth of a pocket comb. Remember, the sound should alternate-loud then soft.

CROWDS Let several people stand at a distance from the microphone, and several closer to bring through "front" speeches. Be careful not to let the sound of the crowd increase too regularly.

* CURTAINS The principal sound of drawn curtains is the sound of rings sliding on rod, not the fabric. String several washers or wooden or metal rings on a 2-foot length of dowel or metal rod. Space the rings evenly apart, then sweep them together from one end to the other.

DESTRUCTION NOISES General destruction noises can be simulated by crushing and breaking wooden boxes close to the microphone. In the background you may want the sound of breaking glass (drop a box filled with broken glass).

* DIGGING AND SHOVELING Fill a small wooden box with several inches of dirt and add several small rocks for realism. Use a small shovel or fireplace ash scoop. Force the shovel into the dirt with a slanting motion. The bottom of the box (inside) should be covered with an old piece of carpet to cut down on wood resonance.

DISHES Use whole dishes in a natural way. The common advice to shake or rattle broken pieces does not prove satisfactory. For washing dishes, swish dishes in water.

DOORBELL Use a real doorbell.

DOOR KNOCKER Screw one side of a large door hinge to a block of wood: Rap the wood with the loose wing of the hinge.

* DOORS Squeaky Door: Use rusty hinges, if possible, attached to a miniature door, or twist a leather belt or billfold. Some old wooden chairs will give the squeak you need. Smashing Door: Crush a wooden box. Closing Door: Use a miniature or close a real door very lightly. Have regulation catches attached to the miniature. Iron Door- For the hollow clang of iron doors opening, draw an iron skate over an iron plate. Rattling a heavy chain and a key in a lock adds to the effect. The principal sound heard on a door close or open comes from the lock and jamb. Half-size doors may be built, paying particular attention to the hardware for different types. Elevator Door: Run a roller skate over a long, flat piece of metal. jail Door. The characteristic sound of an iron door is the noise when it clangs shut. For this, clang two flat pieces of metal together, then let one slide along the other for a moment, signifying the bar sliding into place. Screen Door: The distinctive sound comes from the spring and the rattle of the screen on the slam. Secure an old spring, slap it against a piece of wood, then rattle a window screen. Or use a miniature, including screen and catches. Stone Doors: Slide a large block of cement on a large flat slab of cement. At the end of the slide, tip the block to one side and then let it fall back. This signifies the close of the door.

Swinging Doors: These can be simulated-by swinging a real door back and forth between the hands. Let the free edge strike the heels of the hands. Watch the timing.

* DRAWERS Slide two pieces of wood together. Put a small crosspiece on one so that the other will hit it at the end of the slide, indicating the close.

* ECHOES (1) Suspend a solid wastepaper basket or any other good-sized container horizontally so that the open end faces the diaphragm of the microphone. The actor then stands behind the mike so that most of his voice goes into the container and then is reflected back into the microphone. (That part of the voice which is reflected lags enough behind the sound waves which go directly into the microphone to give a muffled hollow effect.) (2) To give the voice a hollow ghostlike sound, place one end of a 10-foot length of 2-inch pipe about 2 feet from the microphone. The actor will then speak into his hands, which he cups over the other end of the pipe.

* ELECTRIC MOTORS (1) Remove the bag from a vacuum cleaner and run the motor. (2) Use an electric mixer or juicer. (3) Sometimes a hair dryer sounds satisfactory.

* ELECTRIC SPARK Rub two blocks of sandpaper-covered wood together in one long fast stroke.

ENGINES A toy steam engine operated near the mike gives a fairly good imitation of a large steam engine.

FALLING BODY (1) Dropping a squash provides the dull, sickening thud of a body hurtling to the sidewalk. (2) By dropping a sack half filled with sand on the studio floor, you can produce the sound of a body or. a heavy object falling to the ground or floor.

* FALLING INTO WATER The important thing is to get the impact of the hit on the surface of the water. To simulate this effect, however, reverse the procedure this way. Secure a large washtub or wooden tub. Fill it about three-quarters full of water. Get a very large can or a bucket. Sink the bucket until it is full of water, then turn it over but keep it submerged. With the bottom side up, yank it sharply out of the tub. If it is necessary to keep the hands dry, get a Moot length of pipe and at one end fasten a round disc of wood about I foot in diameter. Place the end with the wood in the bottom of the tub, then yank sharply upward.

FIGHTING SOUNDS Whack a sponge with the fist.

FIRE (1) Crumple stiff paper or cellophane near the mike or pour salt from the shaker on stiff paper. (2) For the roar of flames, blow lightly through a soda straw into liquid at the mike. (3) The breaking of the stems of broom straws or the crushing of wrapping paper gives various effects of crackling fire.

FIRE ENGINES Use sirens, horns, clanging bells, etc.

* FISHING (1) To indicate fishing, use the occasional "sing" of the reel. Clamp the reel to some surface near the mike, then take the string and rapidly run it out as needed. (2) To indicate a caught fish, flop about an empty hot-water bottle or a folded inner tube.

FLOOD Blow into a glass of water through a soda straw.

* FOOTSTEPS Cement: Use hard-heeled shoes on composition stone. Gravel: Fill a long shallow box with gravel and have someone actually walk on it. Leaves: Stir corn flakes in a small cardboard box with fingers. Match the rhythm of walking. Mud: In a large wash pan, place several crumpled and shredded newspapers. Paper towels work fine. Leave very little water in the pan. Simulate walking by using the palm of the hand for footsteps. Snow: Squeeze a box of cornstarch with the fingers in the proper rhythm. The effect works better if cornstarch is put into a chamois bag. Stairs: Use just the ball of the foot in a forward sliding motion. Do not use the heel.

* GAMBLING SOUNDS (1) Use cards and chips. (2) For a crap table, roll dice inside an open violin case.

* GEIGER COUNTER Twist the knob of a heavy spring lock.

GLASS CRASHES Place an accumulation of broken glass and crockery in a flour sack. Drop it on the floor and then shake.

GLASSES The clinking of glasses can be made by setting glasses down on wood at intervals. Water poured into them gives the effect of a bartender filling them up.

GUN COCK Use a real weapon, unloaded.

HAIL Drop rice onto glass, tin, or a thin board.

HANDCUFFS To lock or unlock, turn the key in a flimsy padlock, or scrape a nail against a hinge or another nail or piece of metal.

* HAND PRESS A small hand-operated printing press may be simulated by holding a wooden folding chair by the back and rhythmically opening and dosing the seat of the chair. An old rattly chair works best. This same effect may be used for a hand loom.

HARNESS Rattle a belt buckle.

HINGES SQUEAKING Squeaking noises can be made by turning wooden pegs in holes drilled in a block of wood to make a snug fit; twisting a cork in the mouth of a bottle; or twisting a piece of leather.

HOOF BEATS Horse on a Hard Road: A pair of coconut shells clapped together in proper rhythm gives the "clippety-clop" sound. Horse Crossing Bridge: Hold mouth open, snap cheeks with fingers. Horse on Soft Ground or Turf: Rubber suction cups or half coconut shells clapped slowly in a box containing earth give a very satisfactory effect. Eraser on a pencil bounced on a book also gives a good sound.

HORSE AND WAGON Run roller skates over fine gravel sprinkled on a blotter of beaver board.

ICE CRACKLING Styrofoam crumpled near a mike gives the effect of crackling ice.

ICE JAM CREAKING Twist an inflated balloon.

KEY GRATING If possible, use a large key in an actual lock. The more rusty the lock, the better.

* KNIFE THROW The sound of a knife being thrown and hitting the wall a couple of inches from the hero is done in three parts: (1) The flight through the air is done by a swish stick. (2) The thud of the knife hitting is done by sharply stabbing a bayonet or large heavy knife into a block of soft wood. (3) The quiver of the knife after it hits is made by placing a flexible table knife on a flat wooden surface or table so that about 2 inches of the blade rests on the table, with the rest of the blade and handle extending over the edge. Press the table end of the knife firmly against the table, then sharply I-Lit the free end so that it will vibrate. Practice will determine the right pressure on the blade and the amount of overlap on the table. The three steps must be done very rapidly.

LETTER To open, tear a piece of paper.

LIGHT SWITCH Snap fingers or use an old light switch.

LOCKS Use real locks or a nail against a hinge.

MACHINERY, HEAVY (1) A motor mounted on a light board and placed close to the mike gives the effect of much larger mechanisms at work. (2) Run roller skates across a desk or table. (3) Roll a heavy can on a table. (4) Fasten a wooden wheel with rough edges in a frame. Turn it by an attached handle, and grind this against wood. (5) Use a lawnmower.

MOTORBOAT Certain rattles of the ratchet type used on Halloween if operated slowly and near the mike produce a satisfactory sound of a motorboat.

* PHONE BOOTH DOOR Unfold and fold the leg of a card table.

PORCH SWING Rock an old swivel chair rhythmically.

* POURING A DRINK (1) Always touch the edge of the glass with the bottle to establish the sound. (2) For a comedy effect, use the long glass tube that covers the paper cups on a water cooler. A pitcher of water used with this tube gives a terrifically big drink.

RAIN (1) For mild rain, rub the microphone stand with excelsior. (2) Let salt or fine sand slip through fingers or through a funnel onto cellophane, or pour water from a sprinkling can into a tub with some water already in it.

RAPPING Strike, a desk with an ordinary gavel.

RIVETING MACHINE Hold stiff paper firmly against the blades of a cheap fan.

ROAR OF RIVER Fill a large washtub half full of water and draw a flat paddle through the water. A little experimenting will determine the speed and vigor necessary to give the proper volume and quality of sound. As a precaution against getting a metallic sound, line the tub with a piece of canvas.

* ROBOT For a robot walking, use a 3-by-5 metal file case. Hold it in a vertical position with the open end up, and bang it against a walking surface in a slow definite rhythm. Leave the drawer in the case.

ROCK CRASHING Drop rocks onto other rocks in a box. To lengthen a crashing sound, have more than one person drop the stones.

* ROULETTE WHEEL (1) A toy or party roulette wheel works very well. (2) To improvise, cut a circular piece the size of a biscuit cutter out of the bottom of a large wooden salad bowl. Insert a tin biscuit cutter open side up in the hole. Place a marble in the wooden bowl and rotate briskly. On cue, slow down the speed of the rotation and allow the marble to drop into the biscuit cutter.

SHIP Moving Ship: Twist the resined screw handle of a broom into and out of a socket; flap a cloth lightly for a sailboat. Ship Sailing on Water: With a little ingenuity, you can rotate an ordinary hair brush on the surface of a bass drum to give the sound of the waves breaking away from the boat. Ship Signal Bells: Pull back the hammer of a doorbell and snap.

SHOTS (1) Close a book smartly. (2) Shots are usually done with a small tambourine-like frame with a membrane, to which is attached a pliable metal spatula. When the spatula is bent back away from the membrane and then quickly snapped against it, the sound is like a shot. (3) Another good way is to strike a padded leather cushion with a thin, flat stick or with a whip. (4) Prick a balloon with a pin. (5) A shot similar to that of heavy artillery may be produced on a bass drum or tympani. (6) If the whistling sound of the bullet or shell is desired, it may be produced vocally by whistling close to the mike.

SHUTTERS (1) To close, drop a small board lightly against a wooden box. (2) To flap, at irregular intervals, slam two pieces of wood together twice.

SIDEWALK To walk on a sidewalk, sprinkle fine gravel lightly on a blotter, walk lightly.

* SIZZLE To get the sound of a sizzle like someone backing into a hot stove, put a heated electric iron into a very shallow pan of water. The same may be done with a soldering iron. (Unplug it first.).

SLAP A slap is easily made by slapping the hands together. Be careful not to get this too dose to the mike, or it will sound like an explosion.

SNOW For walking in snow, squeeze cornstarch in a gloved hand.

SPLASH Drop a flat block of wood into a tub of water off mike.

* SQUEAKS (1) Twist a leather wallet dose to the mike. (2) Use a squeaky swivel office chair. (3) Twist a Dixie cup in a sideways motion. (4) Draw a violin bow across the edge of a styrofoam container. (5) Twist a dampened tight-fitting cork in a bottle.

* SQUEAL The dominant sound of a squeal is caused by friction. (1) Twist a metal cup (like the top of a thermos jug) on an unglazed pottery plate. (2) Twist and scrape various bits of, metal against metal.

SUBWAY TURNSTILE Use a ratchet wrench.

* SURF (1) Rub a stiff scrubbing brush with a rotary motion over the head of a drum or tympani. (2) Also try rolling a few beans on a window screen or drum head. (3) A splash cradle could be used for this effect. It consists of a watertight box mounted on rockers and containing 2 or 3 inches of water. Rock the cradle back and forth slowly, allowing the water to swish from side to side.

SWORD (1) Clash and scrape knives. (2) A dueling scene can be made more convincing by clashing iron rods together.

TELEGRAPH INSTRUMENTS Use real ones or use a typewriter. In using a telegraph key, remember that sending an intelligible message as part of a radio broadcast is prohibited by law.

TELEPHONE Use equalizer and filter frequencies below 400 Hz and above 4,000 Hz.

THRESHING MACHINE Use roller skates, motor, electric fan, geared motor, or other metallic sounds combined with a baby rattle.

THUNDER (1) Rumble a large sheet of tin easily. (2) Beat stiff parchment, stretched on a frame, with a bass drum stick.

TIME BOMB Use a ticking alarm clock.

TOM-TOM (1) Beat the end of an oatmeal box with a dull instrument. (2) Beat a  tambourine or drum dully. (3) Beat stiff parchment on a frame.

UNDERBRUSH NOISES Twisting a bundle of straw, excelsior, or recording tape near the mike gives the effect of something astir in the underbrush.

WAGON Move a box filled with loose blocks of wood.

WATERFALL (1) Rustle tissue paper. (2) Tear paper evenly. (3) Blow through a straw into a glass of water. (4) Let water fall from a small hose into a tub. (5) Pour water evenly from a teakettle.

WHIP CRACK Sharply slap two thin boards together.

WHISTLE For a steamboat whistle, there are square boxlike whistles about a foot long on the market which are used in major studios for this effect. If one of these is not available, a boy or a man can be found, who by cupping his hands over his mouth and making a "who-o-ing" sound several times some distance off-mike can simulate this effect. Also, by blowing into an ordinary section of pipe held just below the lower lip, a ship's whistle may be effected. Of course, the "blower" must vocalize the correct tone as he blows.

WIND A flywheel of wands rotated by a high-speed electric motor gives a fairly good effect.

WINDOW Slide one block of wood on another.

WOOD SPLINTERING Crush wooden boxes or crates.