The Sonic Society

Showcasing the very best in new Audio Drama

To Foley or NOT to Foley

For the longest time I’ve held a secret dislike for the term “Foley”. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a perfectly good description for someone who makes sound effects for a movie. But since radio drama and thus audio drama has been around for a lot longer than sound in movies, I think we should have our own terms. I’ve been lobbying for Farnby for sound effects digitally put together for audio drama (in honour of the amazing Stevie K. Farnaby) and Ely for live audio theatre creations (for the wildly enthusiastic live designer of sound for Wildclaw Theatre Ele Matlin).

Certainly, there are and have been many more amazing practitioners of the sound of the audio universe, for example Mike Martini and Mark Magistrelli who have their own thoughts on the use of “Foley Artist”. From http://www.mediaheritage.comMedia Heritage:  Sound Effects Guy: Don’t Call It Foley

This weekend, MH’s Mike Martini and Mark Magistrelli will be performing live sound effects on stage for a radio recreation of a script entitled The Canterville Ghost for a Cincinnati theater company. It’s the sixth production for Martini producing the sounds of doors closing, footsteps, thunderclaps, horse clops, etc., for this theater company. Mike has been a bit of a “sound effects nut” over the last decade or so, studying techniques of the artists from radio’s golden age and finding new “sounds” for modern ears. Just, please, don’t call him a Foley Artist.

It’s not that a true radio sound effects person has anything personal against a Foley Artist—indeed, on the surface they seem to do the same thing. And yet, not really. 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. Today’s film Foley Artists work strictly during the post-production part of filmmaking. They still sometimes make sounds by hand but mostly those sounds are digitally pre-recorded in a huge sound board. Still, the all of the sounds are added “after the fact.” This allows a Foley Artist to “get it right” each and every time.

A “real” (read: radio) sound effects artist didn’t have the luxury of post-production. They did it “live” alongside the actors. Although some effects were on prerecorded discs, they still had to be performed live. Like walking on a tightrope, it’s that vulnerability, that possibility of a very audible mistake, that separates a sound effects artist from a Foley. And mistakes did happen, too—guns misfired, equipment broke, etc., but the sound effects artist was responsible for an important part of the broadcast. Just how big a part? A radio program without sound effects is like a painting without a canvas. It’s the picture painted in the listener’s imagination that gives the dialogue width, depth and breadth.

With the death of the golden age of radio, many sound effects artists probably became Foley Artists—however, if you ran into them in the studio commissary, my guess is they probably took umbrage to being called a “Foley.”

So, what do you think? Do you call yourself a “Foley Artist”? Why or why not. Let us know in the comments…


About The Author

Born to Teachers and Amateur Audio Enthusiasts in the small rural community of Belwood, Jack's first love was stories- writing, reading, telling, and singing. He developed his acting skills through High School, University, and through film and community theatre. Jack writes the lion's share of Electric Vicuna's Audio Drama scripts and has his own writing site at www.jackjward.com He's thrilled to co-host the Sonic Society with his wonderful, talented, friend David Ault!

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