We take our ability to create sounds for granted. Today's software and synthesizers allow any teenager to take a sample of any sound, manipulate it any fashion imaginable, forming entirely new sounds. If they so desire, they can create their own album of electronic soundscapes. Today, anybody with even minimal training can be a sound producer, DJ or radio host. We've come a long way.
Back in 1958, though, sound was not so easy to create and play with. But the then relatively young medium of radio demanded sound effects like gunshots and new music for a growing line-up of audio programs. To meet the needs of show producers, the BBC launched the Radiophonic Workshop, a sound effects lab where musicians and sound engineers created fake gun shots by slapping rulers on a table, used analog tape loops and built pre-synthesizer sound effects machines.
Interactive, Web-based simulations of those early machines are now available, thanks to the BBC's Research & Development Department, which recently launched a fascinating prototype showcasing four digital noisemakers. The fun site features a gun-shot sound effect generator, a pre-synthesizer "wobbulator," a trio of tape loop machines and an early ring modulator, which was used to generate the robot voice on the original Dr. Who.
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And yes, simulating old-fashioned gun shots using a graphical UI in the browser while you should be working? That's cool too.