I wanted to ask everyone what their experience is with using household items, or really any other non-instrument to either layer in, or as itself, into music and sound design.

For instance, I shall share my experience.

While recording music in my living room with a good drummer friend of mine, we stopped for a break and started rocking the Mario Party on N64 (as we are avid gamers of classic editions). The N64 crashed and the music went haywire, becoming unintelligible noise, and pulsing with a rhythm. And being in the frame of mind with the song we were recording... it happened to be half of the BPM we were at. So mic'd the TV and recorded the static, pulsating riff the tv was blaring and incorporated it into the end of the song. The instruments faded down and static faded up as the drums stayed present in the music creating a very interesting poly-rhythmic soup of craziness.

Has a by-chance factor like this happened to any of you? Have you found awesome additions to a composition or sound design in a very unlikely place? Share stories below!


5 Answers 5


Absolutely, and I'd be shocked if this isn't something that 99% of the people on this board have done (and if I'm wrong, well, tarnation, get started!).

It's especially easy to do in the realm of percussion: I've made drum kits and hits/impacts from everything from kitchen ware to wrecked cars. I've based drum loops around the rhythms of putting a coffee carafe back on a coffee maker. Empty plastic bear canisters as kick drums. Large metallic bowls as ersatz gongs. Anything with a motor for transitions, "zippers," zings, and other stings. OMG, the list just goes on and on, and of course composers have been doing this since the days of musique concrete, and probably well before that.

I also like the sound of instruments being abused, from the ol' industrial/experimental days of using fans to strum guitars, to bowing metallic objects like cymbals, to the classic col legno and other techniques for making percussive sounds on resonant-body instruments. Sometimes an instrument will freak out, too, like your story. I had an old Alesis QS6 (sample-playback synthesis) keyboard that would start freaking out when you triggered a C -2 note in your sequencer, triggering all sorts of weird playback freakiness, detuned and deep and weird as hell. Have that on an old DAT tape somewhere...

I'm also not afraid to admit that when I'm stuck creatively, having instruments with randomization buttons or random-patch settings can be incredibly inspiring. :-)

(Funny side story: A friend of mine in an experimental group here in SF once had a big lottery tumbler and filled it with those small cow noisemakers, the ones that go "moo" in very low fidelity when turned upside down. He described the sound of these objects being churned in the tumbler as "the sound of a thousand hamburgers being made!")


Noise Jockey is right; I think it's something most of us will have done. First thing that springs to mind for me is doing an entire musical piece with cereal bowls and tea saucers floating in a bathtub, and another entirely out of stove parts, pots and pans and baker's racks.

  • I would love to hear those! Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 0:01

I mostly agree with NoiseJockey.

I've been using found sound in my works since I started. The fact that I could turn the entire world into my instrument really excited me. I'll use doors shutting/slamming for kick drums, I'll layer slight hints of glass breaking to add some crunch to a snare hit, 2x4's being smacked together, metal pipe impacts drowned in reverb for drones or ambient textures, reverse it to create some nice tension building transitions... pots, pans, utensils, cutlery, kitchen droors opening/closing, TV's being smashed, random radio chatter, NASA transmissions, automobiles, random found electronic devices, mechanical parts or junk, dying hard drives, etc. It's all fair game to me. I'll use anything and everything. I've even thrown wet contact mics in pans of hot oil to see what I could get.

I shit you not, the deepest bass kick/LFE impact I've ever created was from smacking a metal trash can lid with a drum stick and then moving the lower lip of it to about 2 inches away from the condenser and just the vibrations coming off of it push so much air it would make Michael Bay's sound design team soil their pants.

If you don't know how, learn how to solder and how to make contact mics and hydrophones. They're really cheap/easy to make and absolutely invaluable for stuff like this, and also if you're a sound designer.

I'm even known to do crazy stuff like this.

This next one is really amazing though. I would have loved to be on location for this one with some shotguns and contact mics.

You should also check out "Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers" by [The User]. It's really impressive.

Actually, last summer I started a project that I'm (very slowly) working on with a composer out of New York named Jim Coleman. We made location recordings of places that are sentimental to both of us last summer while I was in NY. We spent about 3 hours making recordings on the Williamsburg Bridge where we were recording traffic, hammer, stick and pipe strikes or scrapes on the bridge, rails and sidewalk. We got the train passing by, random trash laying around, wind, etc that I'll be chopping up, processing, turning into Battery Kits and Kontact instruments to make compositions that are inspired by the feelings we get in those locations, made only from sounds of those locations.

  • @SyndicateSynthetique Dude that washing machine was hilarious! Ill check the printers out next! Thanks for your response!
    – C3Sound
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 2:49
  • +1 on The User. Their Abandon album, composed for the Silophone, is also epic. Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 17:47

One of my favourite kickdrums in my kit was made from me accidentally hitting the handle of a boom-pole against a sink. Perfect combination of attack, note, and distortion distortion! --- Sounds big as well as having wicked cut-through. Used it on this track, amongst others


I have a blog mostly dedicated to just this subject. I did a series on making music with just a ball point pen.

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