Help me identify the clichéd sound effect used to label locations in certain films and tv shows.
January 18, 2012 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Is there a real world referent for that bleeping typing noise used in some films as a text (usually a location note) appears on the screen? It's a similar thing to that chunka-chunka typing sound used in the X-Files when the location of a new scene would be announced, but it's like a very rapid, high-pitched "beedeebeedeebeedeebeep" sound played while the letters appear.

I was watching the (absolutely terrible) Bollywood thriller "Game" on a plane last week and they would announce each new location with text on the screen that would appear letter-by-letter, very quickly, accompanied by a bleeping noise. As I say, the effect is similar to the typed location notes in X-Files, but the sound and appearance are different. There may have been a tone before or after the sound as well.

I'm sure I've seen this in other films, too, although I haven't the foggiest idea how to google for this without using idiotic terms like "bleeping typewriter movie", which hasn't helped much.

Anyway, is there a real world referent for a) the sound and b) the visual experience of text appearing letter-by-letter like that? Some pre-web telecommunications tech? Telex, or something? Or is this pure (H)(B)ollywood technohooey? And if anyone can give me the official terminology so I can stop describing it in such a roundabout fashion, that would be great, too.
posted by col_pogo to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is it Morse code?
posted by :-) at 6:07 AM on January 18, 2012

Response by poster: Good idea, :-). I suppose they could be accompanying the text with telegraph beeps, although the aesthetic they were going for was more high tech than that.

Oh, and I should mention that I think this kind of effect often includes a blinking cursor at the end of the text.
posted by col_pogo at 6:11 AM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: When I read your question the first thing that came into my head was 'teleprinter'. I've had a quick look on Youtube and most of the videos don't necessarily let you hear the sound being made as a message is received. This one does: - it's very poor quality video, but you get the idea - the idea primarily being that the message appears one character at a time time, with a loud noise associated with the creation of each character.

Teleprinters have a particular place in the consciousness of some people in Britain, because for most of (what I guess was probably) the 60s/70s/80s (and maybe even later) the very popular Saturday afternoon TV programme "Grandstand" would show the live results from all of the football (soccer) matches coming in around the country, using a teleprinter. There's actually a clip of this on Youtube too - although you can't really here the sound: I'd say that for those few million people, at least, this established it as a very clearly understood component of 'important messages being delivered in a timely way.
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 6:12 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

here = hear, not totally ilyterat
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 6:13 AM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: I think you're talking about HollywoodOS beeps, which are reminiscent of someone typing rapidly on an old VT100 terminal with electronic keyclicks turned on. IIRC, a lot of them really did blip a little on keypress, if you enabled it, so that it would provide feedback the way a typewriter did.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:27 AM on January 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's definitely not morse. I'm sure it's an attempt at emulating a teleprinter.
posted by turkeyphant at 6:28 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the olden days of BBSs, that's sort of what the screen looked like as it downloaded the display, though without the accompanying beeps. But film-makers hate stuff that's too quiet, so they add beeps, which mean "computer" to them. Same as they would insert a "neigh" over a horse that has no reason to neigh, or a bicycle bell when someone's riding a bike but has no reason to use the bell other than to reinforce to the viewer that he is, in fact, riding a bicycle.
posted by RobotHero at 6:32 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Its certainly a trope common in Sci Fi. First film I thought of was Alien. TV Tropes: Beeping Computers
posted by Ness at 6:36 AM on January 18, 2012

The Sun Microsystems SPARC 1 and 2 workstations also defaulted to beeping everytime a key was pressed (depending on how your sysadmin installed them of course). It was difficult (or expensive) in those days to make a keyboard which provided sufficient tactile feedback so that typists were sure they had pressed a key.

It has been 17 or 18 years since I have heard a keyboard beep. 20 years ago they were beeping all over the place. And beeping when you clicked the mouse too.
posted by bukvich at 6:43 AM on January 18, 2012

Same as they would insert a "neigh" over a horse that has no reason to neigh


I hate it when foley artists do this, it jarrs me right out of the moment because a) its invariably the same library whinny used over and over a la the Wilhelm Scream and b) horses just don't spend a lot of time vocalising unless theyre upset about something so it pushes my 'animal in distress!' buttons. By this point I'm feeling so jarred that I give up the immersion and start looking for stainless steel bits and stirrups which is always amusing in period and fantasy pieces.

Lay off the whinny, I'm looking at you The Tudors, and thank you Game of Thrones for not doing this.
posted by Ness at 6:56 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I know what you are talking about col_pogo, and it is not Morse Code, nor is it Beeping Computers. There is not an actual computer on screen -- just overlaid text. I'm sorry I can't identify it for you, but the example that jumps to mind is the US Navy (or another branch of the military) used to do it in recruiting commercials, to indicate all the amazing places you could serve.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:56 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Rocksteady DOES know what I'm talking about. Lots of good suggestions, but reading his answer I realized many of you thought I was talking about an actual computer appearing on screen rather than text being overlaid on the image, and no it isn't Morse or a teleprinter, at least the one linked to in the above answers. The effect is supposed to be more high tech. (And it bothers me that unlike the X-Files typewriter, I have no idea what this effect is supposed to symbolize.)

A bit more googling and I found an actual example from Game on Youtube, here, so maybe someone will recognize it from there.

(Top tip: don't bother watching the movie. The Bondesque intro sequence—just before this point in the YT link—is kind of neat, though. It's a GAAAAAAAAAAAME!)
posted by col_pogo at 9:26 AM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: That is the effect I had in mind, and I do think its ultimate reference is computer terminals of the early 80s. VT100s (not just DEC's but the myriad of clones), TN3270s, etc. had a keyclick setting that if turned on would issued blips, tinny whistles, etc. as you typed. And thanks to auto-repeat, you could get sound effects almost exactly like that by holding one key down (DEC VT100s actually had a control sequence that would make the auto-repeated keyclick beep into sort of a musical note varying by key). The auto-repeated keyclick would only print the same character over and over, but I think you're seeing 30 years of Hollywood-ization at work. If you're looking for what a sound effect person would call it, though, no clue. :)
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:12 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Voilà: "computer sound effects, text display". And here are a bunch.

(Adding to derail, that damnable library front door. You know, "squeeeeeeak-squeak, squeaksqueak". Every single house on television dramas has that same door.)
posted by likeso at 2:02 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not to continue the derail, but in movie world every 18-wheeler must give two blasts of its horn when passing the location of interest, the second of which must descend in pitch.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:24 PM on January 18, 2012

col_pogo: "no it isn't Morse or a teleprinter,"

What makes you say that? The way the text appears is very reminiscent of a teleprinter and this also makes sense with the allusion to faraway remote destinations.
posted by turkeyphant at 5:49 PM on January 18, 2012

Response by poster: Agreed that the way the text appears and the general concept are in line with teleprinters. (I guess. I don't know anything about teleprinters.) I just meant it wasn't the sound (or font/type) used in the videos linked to in the links provided by Hartham's Hugging Robots, which were much closer to "chunka-chunka" and further from "bleedeebeedeebeep". Just so you know I had technical criteria for that assessment.
posted by col_pogo at 12:54 AM on January 19, 2012

That particular bleeblee noise sounds like it is mostly made up, but I have heard computers make similar noises. If you turn on a computer without any other noisy things to cover it up, you can hear its logic making high pitched noises that often change based on keypresses or mouses movements. And if you remember old CRT monitors, and terminals specifically, they do emit a high pitched whine that would change based on what was on the screen. Think about playing your old Atari or Intellivision game. If your TV was of a certain age, you could hear buzzes and whines coming out of its speakers when the screen changed.
posted by gjc at 6:11 AM on January 19, 2012

Late to the party, but is this the effect you're referencing, col_pogo?
posted by xedrik at 4:49 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: xedrik: Yes, that's another example of the effect I was wondering about. A good one, since it shows us a link between the actual computers that might have made this sound and the more high tech version I saw in Game.
posted by col_pogo at 11:26 PM on January 21, 2012

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