I am planning to write some tutorials about sound design. The art of creating and mangling sound.
Here’s a small (unedited) preview
Which frequencies are good?
The mid-range is probably the most important range. The same range which our voice is using. That’s probably one reason it is so important. If the sounds are well balanced in the mid-range, it will make us listen. We take notice, we are aware ‘something interesting’ is playing.
Mixing old with new; noise, hum and dust
Old records can sound great, we all know that. We all love the nostalgic sound of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Revolver of The Beatles or There’s a Riot Going On of Sly & the Family Stone.
These old records have a life-like quality. Simply said: it is not a perfect sound, you hear noise, a little hum and a bit of wow and flutter maybe. But look at nature, or everyday life: nothing is perfect. In fact perfectness scares us, because we all know it is not a reality.
When drawing a circle with a tool like Photoshop you get this perfect circle. This is not interesting. You can copy and paste it 3 times and you have 3 perfect circles. That’s won’t impress anyone.
With modern music software it’s easy to create a perfectly even sine-wave tone. The sound will annoy you after listening to it for a few seconds.
Why is that? One of the reasons is that it is too even, too perfect. If you add a little modulation too it, the sine-wave is beginning to sound more interesting.
When things are too even, too clean, they won’t sound too good in general. But there are examples of music where things are sounding cold on purpose. Kraftwerk for example focused on a very mechanical sound. But it is funny because when you listen to the old records of Kraftwerk you hear all these old analogue synths, not perfectly in tune, small timing fluctuations and more small artifacts. Even the drumming was done unquantized and has feel to it.
A song is build on tension and release moments. A good composer plays with tension and release, plays with the listener. Sound, can also have tension and release, it can even be considered as being small compositions. Adding an envelope to the sound creates tension and release.
To sum it all up: a nice sound contains tension and release moments, has a flow, a movement.
The coolness of hum and noise
Most people will recognize when something is old. Old pictures can have a brownish tint to them or faded colors for example. Old music can have a limited frequency-range, lack of high frequencies, containing noise or scratch-noises.
So when someone applies a special scratch, noise filter to his brand new photoshop design-work, people get them impression it is old. Somehow this makes people to feel good. They all remember these old things from the past, they are not perfect.
The same thing happens when you start adding noise and scratches to modern music, you give the impression this is some classic old stuff. Not perfect, but man does it bring back sweet memories, right?
The band Boards of Canada are adding these old, memorable moments to their music. They give the impression you have heard these things before, something from your youth, but you can’t exactly put your finger on it. It triggers your imagination.
Sure, we should not make everything sound old. But applying these techniques to modern music and sound is an option, and a very good one!