What is it about high technology that makes everyone want to go back to nature? The Freesound Project (freesound.iua.upf.edu) is a massive public open-source file-trading database of sounds, from screams to machine noise to instrument samples, from trains to birds to the kitchen sink (and fork, and knife, and plate). It’s like a field-recording wonderland, and largely a high-fidelity one, to boot. And as of this typing, the top 10 most downloaded files (in the last week) are all either rain or thunder (that’s out of some 300,000-plus downloads since the site launched, back in mid-May of this year).
Well, why fight what’s popular? Check out what is, for the moment, the most downloaded of those thunder sounds, contributed by a Washington, D.C.-based audio engineer whose file uploads are tagged “RHumphries.” The file (link) is a clear tape of distant thunder, all sharp crackle and resulting drone and echo, heard through a scrim of light precipitation. Each Freesound file’s page includes a waveform image and a compressed preview version of the file. The compressed thunder track is just 1,545KB, but the uncompressed file is almost 40MB. Judging by the increasing distance between the thunder strikes clearly visible in the waveform, the storm is headed away.
Of course, Mother Nature is just one of Freesound’s many contributors. Head over to the site’s “Tags” page, in which the size of the 150 most popular tags’ typeface approximates their relative popularity, and you’ll see everything from “atari,” “chime” and “city” (tiny), “guitar,” “sax” and “water” (medium), “noise,” “drumloop” and, yes, “ambient” (large).