10 Incredible Ways Electronic Artists Are Using Found Sound

Diego Stocco, Vimeo
Diego Stocco, Vimeo / Diego Stocco, Vimeo

"Found sound," or sampling, is when a musician finds a recording or something that makes noise and adopts it into their music. It can be anything from an old song to the sound of someone taking a bite out of an apple. Since the options are limitless, some artists have found some incredibly creative sounds to create music with. Electronic artists have a lot of freedom, and can morph sounds and noises into a unique form of music.

1. Diego Stocco – “Music From a Dry Cleaner”

While walking to the bakery, Diego Stacco would pass by the local dry cleaners. He noticed that a lot of interesting and mechanical sounds would come from the business and decided to experiment. The result is an upbeat song made entirely from sounds in the cleaners. He did not add any additional instruments. The rhythm came from the puff machine that had three levers for different sounds. Additional sounds came from the conduits, buckets and washers. Stacco has also experimented with sounds from coffee, trees, and other unusual instruments.

2. The Avalanches – “Frontier Psychiatrist”

The Avalanches are known for amassing a huge library of sounds to pick and choose for their songs. They used around 3,500 different samples on their debut (and only) album, Since I Left You. 

The album’s second single, Frontier Psychiatrist, borrows music from a variety of comedy acts; it uses 37 different spoken word recordings. The most prominent sample comes from Canadian comedy duo Wayne & Shuster’s act of the same name. The lines “boy needs therapy,” and “he’s a nut!” are used repeatedly throughout the song.

3. Skrillex – “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”

If you have been to a college party in the last four years, then you are very familiar with this song. After coming out at the peak of America’s love affair with dubstep (and neon colored shutter shades), it put Skrillex on the map. The DJ found the “OH MY GOD” soundbyte from a YouTube of a young girl breaking a cup-stacking record. Skrillex thought that the sample would be a nice addition because it pumps up the listener before the drop.

4. Matmos – “In Search of a Lost Faculty”

Matmos, an electronic music duo made up of M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, is known for pushing the boundaries of how music is made. Some unusual samples include brushing hair, crayfish, crushing salt, and even a rat cage. For their latest album, the unusual band decided to turn to the paranormal: Matmos recreated the Ganzfeld experiment. The participants were put into a state of sensory deprivation (split ping pong balls and headphones playing white noise made sure they could not see or hear anything) while Drew Daniel tried to convey what the band wanted to do with the album. Intrestingly, many of the subjects described triangles of different colors. On "In Search of a Lost Faculty," the musicians sampled the descriptions while playing ringing bells. 

5. The Books – “A Cold Freezin’ Night”

You can’t really talk about found sound without talking about The Books-- they have perfected the art of making music as untraditionally as possible. Even the drumbeats are created with specifically cut PVC pipes and the rhythms from notched records (you can see a video of how it's done here). The band is made up of Nick Zammuto (who now releases solo work under “Zammuto”) and a cellist named Paul de Jong. The two combine a plethora of sounds, recordings, and string instruments into each collage-like song.

“A Cold Freezin’ Night” features glitchy audio clips of children screaming, insulting each other, and saying some generally disturbing things. The duo found several Talkboys (like from Home Alone) in a thrift shop and found recordings left over from the previous owners. To their delight, it was all children losing it and shouting into the toy. The recordings were so perfect, The Books revolved a whole song around them.

6. Aphex Twin – “Windowlicker”

Aphex Twin (born Richard David James ) is an English electronic composer. His song “Windowlicker” offers the listener a nightmarish alien sound with frantic beats and whirs. When viewed on a spectrograph (a device used to show frequencies visually) with a logarithmic frequency scale, you can see a grinning face. Aphex Twin sampled his own face into the song with… creepy results. You can see the face in question in the video above at the 5:30 mark.

7. Rusko – “Mr Chips”

English producer and DJ Rusko is best known for his robot-like beats and, probably mostly, for working with Britney Spears. One of his most popular songs borrows the buzzer sound from the old game show “Catchphrase.” The futuristic laser beam sound vibes perfectly with the track.

8. Anamanaguchi – "Endless Fantasy"

As the pioneers of chiptune, Anamanaguchi is known for using a hacked NES to create their tunes. You may also know this band as the group responsible for sending pizza into space and creating the soundtrack of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The band members transformed a Gameboy and NES into instruments that are capable of making music that is too fast or strange for traditional instruments. The result is poppy songs that could easily fit in any hyperactive, colorful videogame. 

9. Nick Thayer – “Mind Control”

Nick Thayer made up his mind that he wanted to incorporate a drill into his song “Mind Control,” but it needed to be just the right pitch. He ended up drilling into the air until the drill started to run out of power.

10. Boards of Canada – “Whitewater”

The Boards of Canada are a mysterious band. Made up of two brothers, Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, the Scottish ambient band shies away from the public—interviews and live shows are scarce. Fans have created a mythology around them as a result of their quiet presence and occult themes.

On older records, the brothers liked to experiment with nostalgic sounds from the '70s and '80s. They create the bulk of their music on a farm, to protect themselves from influence of time and trends. This way, their music is timeless and otherworldly. A good example of the use of retro sounds can be found in the song “Whitewater.” It samples a speech from an old Sesame Street episode in which a child explains all the different “Me’s” he has, corresponding to different emotions he’s feeling. Here’s the entire transcript:

"When I'm with a friend / then I feel proud, and there's a Proud Me, too. / When I'm with a friend / then I feel proud, and there's a Proud Me, too. / - Me, too. / Right now, I'm the Loving Me; isn't he cute? And after I've done a real good job - I've cleaned my room, or something like that - then I feel proud, and there's a Proud Me, too. And when I'm with a friend, and we're having a good time, then I'm the Happy Me. But when my friend has to go home, then I feel a little sad, so I turn into the Sad Me. Anyway, there sure are a lot of different Me's, just like you have a lot of different You's. Well, we're going outside to - outside to play now, I hope all the different You's have fun, too! Bye!"

(You can listen to the actual speech here)

The un-edited sound clip is already pretty creepy, but BoC manages to distort it into something even more eerie. The child’s voice is lowered to sound like an adult’s, possibly to suggest that every adult has a small child chattering nervously inside them.