CRASH! BARK! BOOM! The USC Sound Effects Library

For a simple overview of the collection being presented, read Craig Smith’s original blog entry over at the Freesound site.

While there are plenty of items at the Internet Archive that have no obvious home elsewhere online, there are also cases where we hold a copy of a frequently-available set of material, but we can provide it for much easier distribution and preview, including the ability to download the entire original set of files in one fell swoop.

Such it is with the USC SOUND EFFECTS LIBRARY, a collection of .WAV files taken from rapidly crumbling magnetic tape and presented for reference, enjoyment and even projects.

The world of sound effects is two-fold interesting:

There’s the interesting way we use recorded sound, cut together from various sources and even spliced from organic and generated sources, to provide the audio soundtrack for visual experiences in a way the audience thinks sounds “natural”.

And there’s the actual process of sound effects, of engineers going into the field or into a studio and generating sound after speculative sound, trying to find just the right combination of noise and speech to create just what they might need in the future.

As long as there has been performance on the Radio and to mediums beyond, the generating of sound effects live and recorded is a fascinating skill, shared among many different people, and is rightly considered an awards-worthy occupation. While not everyone is fascinated at this sort of work, many people are, and there’s a childlike delight in going through a “sound library” of effects and noises, getting ideas of how they might be used later.

As explained in a blog entry written by Craig Smith, a variety of tapes called the “Red” and “Gold” libraries of recorded sound effects were joined by a third set from a sound company called Sunset Editorial, who worked on hundreds of films over the years.

This collection has now been mirrored at the Internet Archive.

In the USC Optical Effects Library are over 1,000 digitized tapes of sound effects, including not just the sounds themselves but the voices of many different engineers bracketing them with explanations, cajoling and call-outs while they’re being made. We hear not just a dog panting, but an engineer talking to the dog that they’re doing a good job. Some recordings clearly have a crew sitting around while recordings are being made, and they hush with the sound of professionals knowing they can’t just edit the noise out if they talk over it.

There are machines: Planes, Cars and Weapons. There are explosions, fire and footsteps. There’s effects just called SCIFI or MAGIC, where the shared culture of Hollywood’s take on what things “sounded like” makes itself known.

The pleasant stroll of “just playing” the effects in our browser-based player belies the fact that at one time, this was magnetic reels, sliced with razors and joined with tape, used to remix and reconstitute environments of sound for entertainment. The push to digital allows for much more experimentation and mixing without generational loss and huge amounts of precious time, but in these versions we can hear how much work went into the foundational soundscape of entertainment in the 20th century.

Craig Smith, who made this collection available, goes into great detail in his blog entry about how fragile these tapes had become before being transferred, and how some were lost along the way. Folks unfamiliar with “Sticky Shed Syndrome” and the process of “baking tapes” will be surprised to know how quickly and dramatically tapes can fall apart after a passage of time. With large efforts by a number of people, the amount that was saved is now available at the Archive.

There is extensive metadata in each item, captured as spreadsheets and documents about the assumed sources or credits of the sound. They’re important to bring along with these noises if a patron wants to maintain a local copy.

Speaking of which.

In this collection is a massive compilation of all the data related to the project. It’s located in an item called “Sound Effect Libraries (Red, Gold, Sunset Editorial)”. Patrons whose immediate urge is to grab their own private set of the data to keep “safe” will want to go to this item, using either the direct download of the three .ZIP files inside, or to click on the TORRENT link to download the 20+ gigabytes of files. Depending on your bandwidth, it will take some time to download, but you can be assured that you got “all” the data from this amazing collection. This, in some ways, is the Internet Archive’s greatest strength – direct access to the original files for others to have, instead of adding a layer of processing and change as the presentation mediums of the day require modification for “ease”.

Enjoy the universe of sounds in this collection!

And as one final note – if your immediate thought when you hear the term “sound effects” is to request or wonder about the legendary “Wilhelm”, we’ve got you covered: The recording session is right here.

12 thoughts on “CRASH! BARK! BOOM! The USC Sound Effects Library

  1. Joseph Marigold

    I love sound effects libraries, so I want to thank you for preserving these and the USC for making them!! Also, thanks to the guy that gave the Wilhelm scream guy criticism. Without him, we would never have the legendary scream! This is why I love you guys – you guys preserve the most interesting things for us to come learn about it. Thank you once again!!!

  2. Happymod

    I want to thank you for preserving these and the USC for making them!! Also, thanks to the guy that gave the Wilhelm scream guy criticism. Without him, we would never have the legendary scream! This is why I love you guys.

  3. Print Kain

    Thanks to the USC Optical Effects Library, today technology is advancing and there are tons of devices that can produce a variety of amazing sound effects.

  4. Jason

    Wow, I can only imagine the effort put into preserving these so THANK YOU. Downloading now and looking forward to checking them out.

  5. Grunchy

    I remember the early days of Macintosh when you could assign various sound effects to all the various computer events, that was a nerdy-yet-neat era for sure. I’m pretty sure one of the main reasons for the popularity of Minecraft is the satisfying “crunch” noises when you chop down trees, etc.

  6. Gihef Bey

    Great. Super. I need to illustrate small written sequences. This is really good timing. Thanks a lot.

  7. Carolyn Blake

    This is wonderful! I had never thought about it until I read this article. I hope you have all the Warner Brothers cartoon sounds. They are the ones most of us baby boomers grew up with. My favorite has to be the sputtering dying car engine. I understand it was made with a flexible rubber hose attached to a large funnel. The sound was made by blowing with lips in am brochure like a trumpet player.

  8. Sam T Godfrey

    Now what am I gonna do with my vast collection of noisemakers? And that poor guy on YouTube with his ‘Bellowphone’ is going to go out of business!
    Love you guys, for all the amazing things you find and provide for the world to read, watch, listen, and now, just hear! And of course the USC for all the hard work, actually everyone involved is doing incredible hard work. Even Wilhelm!
    I have a severe case of next to nothing, but when I can… most important I try to spread the knowledge of {} as far and often as I can (so long as my internet remains free.) When asked of my #1 charity I mention you all proudly, everyone must know how important this program is. My big issue over all others is Education. It is where our future lies, and I’m not proud of the future my generation cooked up, education can change that. The Internet Archive is crucial to building some decent brains to keep Humanity alive. It is history alive, the real time machine! Right, Wilhelm?”

  9. Caio Dabusti

    What a great thing it is to be able to archive it all!!!
    I was looking for a way to upload my fantastic collection of records and I did try uploading some of my vinyl albums into the YouTube platform but because of the copyright issue they deleted my files. I’m no so nerdy so as to understand how to do the torrent thing but fortunately I stumbled upon you guys, so, THANK YOU!
    Not only I can share my records with the whole world, but also I found all these amazing things to download.
    I’ve been a musician all my life and I’ve been able to document my whole life in tape and video.
    It seems I’ll be uploading my records for a long time so please be patient with me.

    Than you so very much for your great site.
    Caio Dabusti.

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