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Jonny Trunk Jonny Trunk | 13:41 UK Time, Tuesday, 21 December 2010

BBC sound effects recording


Record collector and DJ Jonny Trunk has created a new work made up entirely of BBC Sound Effects records. His Sounds of the 70s will be broadcast at 1025pm in Between the Ears on Christmas Day. Here, Jonny explains how he created the programme

The idea of mixing BBC sound effects records developed simply out of seeing them for sale over the years in all sorts of different places. As a record collector I come across these peculiar 7-inch 33rpm colour coded vinyl records every so often (at boot fairs, charity shops, online) and I’ve always found them well worth closer examination. As well as the expected and obvious sounds there will be recordings that only someone at the BBC would deem necessary, for example not one but four different sorts of Geiger counters were recorded for one single B-side. And these Geiger counters all sound the same. Other sonic delights I’ve collected over the years have include 'Big Pigs', 'Shopping At Woolworths' and 'Magical Wind'.

And because there are so many of them, I’ve often wondered (and discussed with fellow collectors) how many were actually pressed, how many full sets of sound effects records were actually made by the BBC, where they all ended up and exactly how many of these effects have been used over the years on The Archers. I’ve got a feeling 'Goats' has been used a few times.

Another important reason for putting the idea to the BBC was the faint whiff of nostalgia created by some of the more period recordings. Most of the singles are dated, so a trip into the 1970s brings stirring Bedford van noises, old parking meters and vintage fire bells to your ears - noises that these days are rarely heard.

And it was the idea of using just sounds recorded in the 1970s that nailed the idea, so the first step in the process was to spend a day at Radio 3 digging out every effect recorded in that period. Once these were in the bag, mixing them together could begin.    

Actually putting the recordings together in some sort of order was both fascinating and a little frustrating. My first few runs were quite terrible. I began trying to build a simple story structure to the piece, so I’d start with man walking across sand, the man gets into a boat, the man rows the boat, the man gets out of the boat, the man gets into car and so on. But I soon realised that 1) this was incredibly dull and quite pointless and 2) it was the interplay between incongruous sound effects recordings that started sounding far more interesting – windscreen wipers and footsteps are particularly good. So, I scrapped all the work I’d done and started again from silence. The new piece began with the most musical recording I had found which was a 1970s spinning, humming toy, which has the most marvellous folky drone to it, not too dissimilar to a harmonium. But a harmonium does not begin with the up and down squeaky pushing noise which I really do like. Once this spinning drone was off and running I found it went well with a good few other sounds, especially one of Scalextric cars whizzing round a track. These noises were simple, but strangely unfamiliar when just heard as sound. And adding very slight, shorter sound effects behind or in front of them instantly added some curious dimensions.

I slowly built up both indoor and outdoor narratives, factory interiors, Covent Garden market, inside lifts and phone boxes, and began punctuating sequences with the simple noise of a portcullis rolling shut.

Over the 20-minute mix there are well over 120 recordings used, but some of these involve multiple recordings, so for example a light switch sequence that runs quietly for about 2 minutes involves anything from your standard home light switch to the giant industrial power station on / off lever.

The whole piece has been a joy to create, getting lost in some of the noises of my childhood (possibly the last time I heard a metal detector) and trying to turn them into something altogether more musical. Next year I might get busy with the 1980s SFX catalogue. Let’s hope so.



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