Download an Archive of 16,000 Sound Effects from the BBC: A Fascinating History of the 20th Century in Sound

I was crate dig­ging at my local used vinyl empo­ri­um a lit­tle while ago and came across some sound effects records from the ear­ly ‘60s. Noth­ing amaz­ing, until I checked the track list and noticed “Sounds of Foot­ball Match — ‘Block that Kick!’”

If you’re a Bea­t­les fan like me, you’ll know what I sus­pect­ed and then found to be true: I was hold­ing the source of not just one, but sev­er­al of the sound effects used in “Rev­o­lu­tion 9” as well as the bird effects heard on “Across the Uni­verse” and “Black­bird.” Appar­ent­ly this must have been a pop­u­lar disc at Abbey Road.

Now I men­tion this as a pre­am­ble to this amaz­ing web­site by the BBC, in which they’ve opened their archive of 16,000 (tech­ni­cal­ly 16,016) sound effects, many of which have sure­ly been used over and over on var­i­ous radio plays. (For the Amer­i­cans out there, yes, BBC Radio still pro­duces radio plays!)

The sounds, each of which you can down­load, are being released under a non-com­mer­cial use license as part of their RemArc pro­gram, which is “designed to help trig­ger mem­o­ries in peo­ple with demen­tia using BBC Archive mate­r­i­al as stim­u­la­tion.”

The archives run from the night­mar­ish “South Amer­i­can par­rot talk­ing and screech­ing” which I actu­al­ly nev­er want to hear again:

to “Zep­pelin bomb-drop mech­a­nism. (Com­e­dy Spot Effect),” which doesn’t *sound* fun­ny, but who knows how it was used:

There’s also sounds of the 1966 F.A. Cup Final between Ever­ton and Sheffield Wednes­day:

Plen­ty of these sound effects were rel­e­vant at the time. How­ev­er, a lot of them are now rem­nants of a time long past, from sounds of offices–noisy then, dead silent now–to high streets (much less music). How many kids would rec­og­nize a dial tone or a busy sig­nal, let alone the majes­tic alien weird­ness of a Creed Machine oper­at­ing:

Back to my open­ing mus­ing. I would sus­pect those sound effects also found their way into any num­ber of tele­vi­sion shows.

Could we assume, then, that Mon­ty Python’s Ter­ry Gilliam raid­ed these archives for his ani­ma­tions? Or David Attenborough’s crew for any num­ber of nature doc­u­men­taries? Sound detec­tives, start dig­ging. Enter the BBC Sound Effects Archive here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

BBC Launch­es World Music Archive

Watch 50 Hours of Nature Sound­scapes from the BBC: Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Proven to Ease Stress and Pro­mote Hap­pi­ness & Awe

David Bowie Becomes a DJ on BBC Radio in 1979; Intro­duces Lis­ten­ers to The Vel­vet Under­ground, Talk­ing Heads, Blondie & More

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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