Found sounds

  • Find out about using found sounds in music.
  • Learn how Billie Eilish, Blood Orange and Pink Floyd have used found sounds in their music.
  • Create your own music using found sounds.
Watch how music can be made with found sounds.

Music doesn’t always need to be created using instruments. Many people use found sounds to make music.

These sounds are from the world around us. They can be anything - a ball hitting the floor, a pedestrian crossing or a lift door opening and closing.

This technique is often called sampling as the musician is taking a sample of something else and using it in their work.

Pierre Schaeffer

Musique concrète – the original found sounds

In the 1940s, a group of avant-garde French composers created a new style of music using found sounds. They called it musique concrète (concrete music).

Pierre Schaeffer’s composition Etudes aux chemins de fer is constructed entirely from sounds found at a train station.

The piece is like a musical collage, featuring train whistles and the sound of steam engines clattering along a track.

During this time, sounds could only be recorded onto physical magnetic tape.

To edit the recordings, composers would cut out the sounds they wanted with scissors and stick them together.

Many musicians use found sounds in their music. This style has been developed since the 1940s by musicians such as Steve Reich, Delia Derbyshire and The Beatles.

A found sound can be ambient or percussive.

Listen to the opening of Money by Pink Floyd. It features an ostinato made from a cash register, the clinking of coins and the printing of receipts.
Listen to the opening of Orlando by Blood Orange which features a recording of a New York City street. It sets the scene as the music emerges from the found sound.
Listen to the chorus of Billie Eilish's Bad Guy. Can you hear the percussive ticking noise? This is a sound recording of a pedestrian crossing in Australia that Eilish captured with her phone whilst on holiday.
Listen to the sounds of different birds in Cantus Arcticus by Einojuhani Rautavaara. The samples are played over the top of an orchestra.

Make your own found sounds

It’s easier to compose with found sounds today than it used to be.

Most phones have a recording function meaning you can capture an interesting sound on the go. There are also lots of portable recording devices.

Once you have a found sound that you like, there are many ways to incorporate it into music:

  • Ambient sound - Use a constant sound in the background to set the scene and compose music over the top. This is used by Blood Orange in Orlando.
  • Percussive beats - Use shorter sounds to create a found sound beat. Lower sounds can take the place of the bass drum and higher sounds could replace the snare or hi-hats.
  • Music technology - Import your sounds into a music production app or sampling keyboard. Use it to create a beat or melody with the samples by pressing the keys or buttons.

Keywords

KeywordDefinition
found soundA ‘non-musical’ sound used creatively in a piece of music.
avant-gardeA term used to describe experimental or forward-thinking artists.
musique concrèteA style of composition using only found sounds.
sampleA sound. or a section of music. used in another piece of music.
samplingThe act of taking a sample and using it in another piece of music.
ostinatoA repeated musical pattern.
ambient soundAtmospheric, background sounds that are present in a particular location.

Next steps

Write your own Doctor Who theme
Recording music
Electronic music