by Robin Vincent | Approximate reading time: 2 Minutes
BBC Sound Effects records

BBC Sound Effects records  ·  Source: Robin Vincent


Some of my first vinyl purchases as a kid were BBC Sound Effects records. From awesome laser zaps and sci-fi planetary bubbles to industrial machines and falling rocks I would listen to these things for reasons I can no longer remember. Then I discovered pop music and my eclectic taste was lost forever. So when I heard that the BBC Sound Effects department had dumped the whole archive onto the internet something stirred deep inside me.


BBC Sound Effects

Browsing the first page is like entering into some kind of bizarre nightmare. I’ve got “Cock-a-doodle-doo” ship sirens, followed by waterfalls, followed by 50 people shouting “Hip hip hooray”. And then it goes on a trip through horrible, ancient talking dolls that will haunt my dreams for the rest of the week. You can feel the history in every clip, in all the background noise and reality of these environmental sounds.

Oh my god, there’s that laser sound – asset number 07042215.wav “Laser gun” alongside the classic sound of an HP laser printer. Many of the artificial sounds were created in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop by the likes of Delia Derbyshire and Paddy Kingsland. The majority are field recordings done by intrepid, unnamed researchers.

The archive doesn’t seem to include any sound effects that are programme specific. There’s none from Dr Who, Blakes 7 or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as far as I can tell, which is a shame.

It has a simple search facility that appears tied to keywords in the description. There is a “category” column but sadly thousands of them are not categorised. So I have “Calvary troop passing through town” next to “Cave, interior” next to “Cedric the CD Robot” on an uncategorised alphabetical list.

The length of samples ranges from 1-second hits and slaps to over 26 minutes of formula 1 racing from the 1994 Silverstone Grand Prix, and 15 minutes of “Water lapping on loch shore”. What’s quite interesting is that you can stream as many sound effects on the webpage as you like. So I currently have racing cars emerging out of the lapping loch water surrounded by the atmosphere of a workmen’s London cafe. There are whole experimental adventures to be had just playing with the webpage.

It’s a fascinating archive, brilliantly historical and an absolute goldmine of samples and ideas. However, these are just for your personal use. The BBC Terms of Use states that it’s for non-commercial, personal, education and research purposes. So don’t go dropping samples into your latest hit track – well, at least, recognisable ones.

I recommend that you grab a coffee and lose yourself for half an hour surfing the amazing BBC Sound Effects Archive. I only wish there was more information about where the sounds came from, who recorded them and what they were used for.

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