The sound of a TV through a wall

Today I want to offer my thanks to a nameless collection of audio nerds. Armed only with DAT recorders and patience, and maybe some Mojo bars and sports drinks, and, I don't know, tents and blankets, I guess, these are the dedicated hobbyists who have provided a company named Urban Apps with the raw materials for a great product called Ambiance, newly arrived for the desktop. (It's also available for iOS, Android and Blackberry.)

Ambiance is, more or less, a slick front end for an audio archive called The Freesound Project, but it adds tons of value. It gives you the capability to download (for free) a large number of high-quality ambient audio clips, arrange them in playlists, and play them back in any order you choose. You can set them to shuffle and loop, and set a timer so the sounds fade away after a given period. The variety of clips on offer is staggering, and goes way beyond the usual waves and showers. As I write this I'm listening to a clip called "Sonoran Desert," which features the dry whisper of wind over sand, bird sounds and -- alarmingly -- what sounds like the rattle of a rattlesnake really freakin' close. This has the vestigial effect on my ancient fight-or-flight response of making me want very badly to choose flight, which is probably the exact opposite of the restful effect the developers were seeking, but never mind. If that isn't your cup of noise you can choose from rural sounds or urban sounds (I love "NYC Rooftop," which perfectly captures the attenuated whoosh of a city street overheard from a high roof). You can pick from sounds of static, sci-fi sounds, the sounds of various kinds of machines, sports, environments and a bunch of more arcane choices, including a clock shop, somebody endlessly clicking a pen, and -- this one I really don't get, because it's the exact sound that almost prompted me to murder my neighbors when I lived in New York -- the sound of a TV playing through a wall. Whatever floats your sonic boat, I guess. The app is beautiful, works great on multiple platforms (it runs on Adobe AIR) and is a dead steal at $9.99. It's a supermarket of sound, right on your desktop.


  1. While reading this post, I thought Bill was extolling the virtues of an army of audiophiles that were so devoted to their craft of recording unusual sounds, that they had launched television sets through various walls (presumably using a makeshift catapult). It wasn’t until the last three sentences that I discovered it was the sound of a TV heard through a wall.

    While not as exciting a find, it still holds merit of investigation. Thanks for the post! :)

  2. Love the freesound project, it’s a wonderful place to get all kinds of sound effects. Glad to see it’s getting some attention.

  3. I already get the sound of a television through a wall for free every night when I try to sleep.

    I understand your murderous intent.

    1. I had that problem, but from the ceiling, so I bolted four large speakers to the ceiling and whenever I felt the neighbors were too noisy I tapped on the ceiling with a broom handle three times, waited five minutes, and played Genesis “Watcher of the Skies” at maximum volume.

      The quieter neighbors did not like my signalling system at all, but on the other hand it worked. If somebody knocked on my door and asked me to turn it down I did, immediately, but as soon as the upstairs people started up again I’d repeat the process. I trained those people to listen for three taps!

  4. The album I’m currently working on, Oneirophrenia, is packed FULL of samples of natural and artificial ambience downloaded from The Freesound Project! Ambiance will make the process that much easier to find and acquire new sounds.

    Oh, and the entire album will be posted free everywhere I can possible post it for free.

  5. for the geeks, try using Andrew Plotkin’s boodler: which is a generic engine for procedural audio. it supports layering, which enables soundscapes to be built iteratively, atop more basic atoms, which has led to many packages having been developed. many of these are built out of white/pink noise, so they are good for masking/relaxation, e.g. windstorm and forest fire (which i guess wouldn’t be that relaxing if it weren’t confined to your speakers).

    user-friendly it is not (yet), but after the learning curve, the framework is pedantically elegant.

    (btw, this is the same Andrew Plotkin who writes the awesomely difficult Z-code/inform interactive fiction.)

  6. sounds a bit like iSleep Pro, as featured on SNL. Not only does it have white noise, it also has black noise ….. (and then we could also add Southpark’s ‘brown noise’)

  7. according the the ambience page, it appears that there are only 1000 sounds – not a front for freesound, can someone confirm this?

  8. The only reason I downloaded the trial version was the ‘NYC Rooftop’ sound you mentioned. It sounds great, but it’s WAY too short. These kind of sound recordings should at least take half an hour to be usable for a great ambient sound in my living room.

  9. doesn’t this break the rules?

    freesound archives are licensed under the Creative Commons Sampling Plus 1.0 license:

    “You are free:

    * To sample, mash-up, or otherwise creatively transform this work for commercial or noncommercial purposes.
    * To perform, display, and distribute copies of this whole work for noncommercial purposes (e.g., file-sharing or noncommercial webcasting).”

    ambiance is making money from this.

  10. From the Ambiance front page: “Ambiance is free to try for two weeks, then is only $9.99 for the full version upgrade.” So it’s not -exactly- downloading for free.

    @Anon, it says “Choose from over 1000 free sounds, exclusive to Ambiance” plus other things, so I’m guessing they added their own library to add value.

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