The Most Upsetting Noises From the BBC's Sound Effects Archive

We help you navigate the newly available trove, from "Rats scampering & scraping" to "​Woman, two screams as at apparition."
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The BBC made its sprawling trove of sound effects available to the public late last week, and you ought to spend some time going through it. There are over 16,000 tracks included in the searchable archive—everything from immersive field recordings to stock studio audio. If you'd like to relax and drift off, I highly recommend searching the word "waterfall," hitting play on the first one that catches your eye, then randomly selecting a couple more to add into the mix. If you'd like to get a feel for the atmosphere at the 1966 FA Cup Final between Everton and Sheffield Wednesday, hosted at London's Wembley Stadium, there are sixteen tracks for you to download (including audio from all five goals in what turned out to be a great game.) If you want to entertain the notion that there was an armed insurrection at the BBC sometime in the middle of the 20th Century, scroll down until you see the following titles in order: "100 men, cheering," "100 muskets firing continuously (studio recording)," and "100 rifles firing continuously (studio recording)."


But if you want to freak yourself the hell out and shake in terror as you lie awake in bed with the lights on for the next four nights, the archive really has you covered. The whole thing is organized alphabetically, and much of it is broken down into subcategories, but there's only so much an archivist can do with this amount of stuff—eventually it falls into disrepair. That waterfall sound may soothe you, but it could be followed immediately by a string of piercing, terrified shrieks, recorded so long ago that the woman featured is now almost certainly dead. To better help you navigate all that here are the most terrifying goddamn noises in the BBC's archive. Friends, I implore you: do not listen to these things. I have done so, and I am worse for it.

The "'Mama' Doll" Trilogy

Due to that single quotation mark at the front, all three tracks titled "'Mama' Doll" wind up on the first page when you click through to the site. All three are equally disquieting. It sounds like a party blower at first—celebratory, but eerily celebrating nothing. The title shifts things into a weird space though. You can just about make out the word "mama," a wail trapped on tape, trapped inside a doll, seemingly in pain. In each of the three tracks, which last for 45 seconds or more, the muffled screams come seemingly at random. There's no rhythm to comfort you.

2 men on 30ft drainpipe moving fast (some mic bumps in keeping with sound)

Why are two men on a 30-foot drainpipe, moving fast? Why is the microphone bumping, and in what sense could that be considered "in keeping with sound?" Here is one minute and 56 seconds of somebody fumbling with a recording device, never settling down. It will enrage you; it will make you want to approach these two men on their 30-foot drainpipe and tell them to be more careful. But you cannot, because this audio was likely captured decades ago, and the two men are no longer with us (though the drainpipe likely lives on).

Rats scampering & scraping.

I do not know how many rats are here, I do not know what they are scraping against, I do not know why the BBC chose the word "scampering" when there were dozens of less playful words out there to describe this terror, and I do not know why I searched for this in the first place.

Woman, two screams as at apparition.

Unlike the others, this one has a misleading title. The woman does scream "as at apparition", fair enough—these are terrified, breathless, pained howls—but there are more than two screams here. Many more. There's a deeply uncomfortable break between her first cluster of shrieks and the last blood-curdling emission; the apparition is silent. I fucking hate this one. Don't listen to it.

Door, sound of a door being broken down with some grunts & groans.

The trouble here is that, after the grunts and the groans and the felling of the door, the person who's burst through doesn't even exhale, no matter celebrate the feat. You'll share the imagined door-breaker's exhaustion, but you'll never get to breathe out. And I'm sure a glass shatters as soon as whoever this is breaks in. Bad times all round.

Dentists, high-speed drill switched on, operates & switched off, sound of rinsing. (Repeated once.)

Searching "dentist," as you might imagine, brings up some troubling audio. I particularly dislike "Dentist's Surgery, low speed drilling," which seems to have a delirious patient/victim moaning limply after the drill has quietened down. But "Dentists, high-speed drill switched on, operates & switched off, sound of rinsing. (Repeated once.)" is the worst. It lasts for two whole minutes and 18 whole seconds, within which the sound of a human's gums being shorn and cut is something of a relief by comparison. The tip-tapping of metal on bone—the dentist/torturer is digging for something, or just for fun—is grotesque. Near the middle, the patient seems to spit, but it sounds more like an exhausted, near-death experience, choking on saliva. Send this audio file to hell where it belongs.

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