Thank you, Mr. Foley!

This is also available in an s2m podcast with additional information and examples.

“Jack Donovan Foley was born in Yorkville, New York, on April 12, 1891. He was a grandson of Irish immigrants and grew up in the Seagate section of Coney Island,” according to Martin Chalakoski. Little did he know that he would invent a method of sound effects creation that is still used today.

According to Media Heritage: “The original ‘Foley Artist’ was none other than Jack Foley, himself; a sound technician from the silent film days of Universal Studios. When the ‘talkies’ came about in the late 1920s, Foley struggled to have early film stars heard on film because of the primitive nature of carbon microphones and sound horns. So Foley devised a way to add or ‘augment’ voices and sound effects synchronized to early sound-on-film. That his name has been immortalized for the process he invented is a tribute to his skill and creativity.”

Chalakoski says that the “art itself represents a reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added in post-production to filmed videos, such as movies, documentaries, music videos, television series, and other media to enhance the audio quality of the material. These reproduced sounds can be anything from clothing swishing, water pouring, doors squeaking, and footsteps, heartbeats, and breaking glass sounding, to weather sounds such as winds, thunderstorms, or rain. They are all studio recorded mostly by one man or by a well-coordinated team of just a few.”

The Golden Age of Radio (1930s and 1940s) was the heyday for Foley sound effects.  See how it was done below.

How Foley Sound Effects Affect the Imagination

According to Justin DeFreitas, “Much of the pleasure of Old Time Radio (OTR) is in rediscovering the intimacy of a medium you can listen to anywhere—in the car, at the beach, or, as virtually any radio enthusiast will attest, in the dark . . . . You can relax in a dark room, close your eyes, and let the story paint itself. Let it exercise your imagination.  You are able to enjoy the characterizations from great actors, the sound effects and great music, but you are given the freedom to use your own imagination.”

Bob Leighton explains that the “theater of the mind is a powerful thing . . . . Theater of the mind is you mentally finishing the story. It requires imagination–and imagination requires participation. And participation creates memory . . . . With radio, the listener imagines . . . and by imagining, participates . . .  And their imagination isn’t limited to visuals or images – but rather extends far beyond into to feelings, emotions and all other senses.”

Communications professor Emma Rodero from Pompeu Fabra University has done excellent research about radio dramas and how sound effects increase imagery in the imagination.  In her article, “See It on a Radio Story: Sound Effects and Shots to Evoked Imagery and Attention on Audio Fiction,” she states: “The main function of sound effects in a fictional story . . . is precisely to create an audio reconstruction of reality, imitating reality’s actual sounds so as to create in the listener’s mind a specific image of the phenomenon that it is intended to represent.”

“For example, we may hear the sounds of a car crash, such as breaks screeching to a halt and voices shouting when listening to a piece of radio drama, but it is our imaginations that fill in our other senses, such as what we might see, smell, taste and feel. In radio drama though, in addition to sounds, there are other aspects articulated through the drama’s oral narrative, such as the characters involved in the crash, the context of the event within the greater narrative of the drama and the qualities of the character’s voices, all of which enhance the listener’s understanding and construction of the story in their imaginations. Thus, both the sounds of the described event and the aural presence of the storyteller interplay with one another to create, as Rattigan suggests, a ‘virtual reality,'” according to Isobel Anderson.

Imagine This: A Story Told With Sound Effects

Sound effects have such a powerful effect on the imagination that Dick Jordan made a short movie to prove that a story could be told and understood using only sound effects!


Let’s Try an Experiment . . .

In previous blog posts, I explained how music (especially film music) can enhance a narrated story.  The music tells the listener how to “feel” about the story.  However, sound effects make the story real.  According to Tim Ryan, “sound has the ability to draw us into a story and make us feel like we’re in the same environment.”  So let’s test that idea.

Below are three clips from the stories2music story “The Rescue.”

First, listen to the story excerpt with narration and music, but no sound effects.

Finally, listen with narration, music and sound effects.


Hopefully, you were able to experience the differences.  The story itself is emotionally-charged.  However, the music grabs the emotions with a sense of urgency and foreboding.   Finally, hearing the panic of the car horn, the screeching tires, the screams of the poor horse trapped in the barbed wire and his labored, frightened breathing all bring the story to life.

Listen to the full “The Rescue” story on the stories2music website.

Thank you, Jack Foley, for creating the marvel of sound effects.





 © 2018 by Kathy Matthes. All Rights Reserved.

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