DIY Sound-FX Workshop

This workshop at Small World Cinema, Bromley Library, February 2023, was inspired by the DIY sound effects pioneered by Disney’s Sound Effects department and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Disney’s sound effects department was formed in the early 1930s, headed by Jimmy MacDonald who became the second voice of Mickey Mouse from 1946 until 1977. MacDonald and his team pioneered over 500 sound effect contraptions. These included wind and rain machines, as well as creating the sound of a car using glass jugs and a frog using a bow and string.

Click here to view a documentary about the Jimmy MacDonald and the sound effects department.

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was the BBC’s sound effects studio founded by Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe in 1958 and is renowned for creating the Doctor Who theme composed by Delia Derbyshire by recording and manipulating sounds on quarter-inch mono tape. The Workshop’s equipment consisted mainly of old tape recorders and a few pieces of test equipment that could make noises. The tape recorders could be used for echo and reverb by using an empty room downstairs with a microphone at one end and a speaker at the other. The sound of the tardis was made in 1963 from an old piano, a front door key lots of reverse feedback and an oscillator known as the wobbulator.

For the workshop I created three sound effects contraptions for participants to experiment and play with; a rain machine made from a yellow tombola, a stretched elastic band and a slinky. Once hooked up to a contact mic and a homemade mono amp and speaker the slinky made the sound of a ray gun and the elastic band made the sound of a creaky door and croaking frog.

During the workshop the children used props; coconut shells, tin foil, cling film, swanee whistles, shakers, phonebooks and my sound effects contraptions to record and layer up sounds using iMovie and design sound scapes for film stills, such as a swamp, a Jurassic landscape, and a forest with horses. They also made their own rainsticks from cardboard tubes and rice and kazoo squeekers with elastic bands and lolly sticks. We also tried a live foley play-along to the Disney’s Silly Symphonies The Old Mill (1937) with the whole audience and recreated the sounds of the rain, wind, owls, lighting, thunder with our hand-made rainsticks.

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