sound effects


General English

Information & Library Science

  • plural noun sounds produced artificially to make a play or film seem more realistic


  • The production of special sounds required during a play. Theyare used to establishlocale, weather, and time of day or year, aswell as to reproduce the sound of physical events crucial to the plot(e.g. gunshots). Before the era of recording, sound making was a technicalart assigned to the property department. Many of the traditional effectswere carried over to radio drama.

    In the late 1940s recorded sound began to be used but manytheaters continued to employ live effects to save money. The firstmajor London production to use taped sound effects was My FairLady in 1957 at Drury Lane. Despite the sophisticated technologynow available, theatrical wisdom has it that live effects are to bepreferred because of their spontaneity and clarity.

    One of the greatest ever challenges to the sound-effects menwas Arnold Ridley's The Ghost Train (1925), first stagedat the St Martin's Theatre, London. Six sound technicians were requiredto create train noises by using whistles, garden rollers, bells, drums,wire brushes, milk churns, galvanized iron tanks, air cylinders, mallets,and thunder sheets.

    Traditional methods of creating live sound effects include:

    Thunder Created by means of a galvanized iron 'thunder-sheet'vibrated by jerking a handle at the bottom. This replaced the 18th-century'thunder-run' in which cannon balls rumbled down wooden troughs tofall with a crash. Such a device can still be seen as the TheatreRoyal, Bristol.

    Wind Created by using a mechanical 'wind machine',in which wooden slats attached to a revolving drum rub against a pieceof canvas.

    Rain, surf, and hail Created by shaking dried peas,marbles, or lead shot in a box or cylinder.

    Explosions Created by fireworks placed and activatedin tanks.

    Gunfire Created by using a starting pistol or by hittingwood with leather.

    Horses' hooves Created by striking coconut shells togetheror on a hard surface like slate.

    Slamming door sounds are best created by slamming areal door offstage, breaking glass is best done by breakingglass, and bells should be bells. To avoid comical bad-timing,actors should press working doorbells themselves and be able to cutoff a ringing telephone by lifting the receiver.