Creating spot effects

Studio manager Andrew Partington demonstrates some of the techniques involved in creating sound effects for radio drama and demonstrates the creativity of the job with some of his own improvised sound effects.

Radio drama is usually recorded in a carefully sound proofed studio. But voices and script alone can sound dry and unreal. It’s the studio manager’s job to add recorded sound effects, and to create live sound effects. The creation of live sound effects is sometimes referred to as Foley, after the Hollywood sound recordist who pioneered the techniques in the 1920s.

"It's very easy to underestimate the importance of sound effects." – Andrew Partington

The addition of sound effects transforms the clean audio of voices reading script into a world that is believable for the listener. Some of these sound effects happen at a very subconscious level. They can be as simple as a teaspoon clipping the edge of a cup, or a door opening – all ordinary noises that happen in the background of real life, but that have to be artificially created in the world of radio drama.

Andrew and his colleagues at The Archers will sometimes use real objects to create the sound effects they want to record. Plates, bowls, cutlery, clothing and computer equipment are all recorded in situ using the real items. However, they have also created a set of improvised effects for some of the other sounds that they use most often. And it’s here that improvisation comes into its own. Andrew demonstrates how opening and closing the legs of a metal ironing board mimics the sound of a metal farm gate. A large bird of prey flying past can be emulated using a feather pillow. And most remarkably, the sound of a lamb being born requires a wet towel, some old audio tape and a bowl of yoghurt.