Sound Design Training

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!

6 Responses to Sound Design Training

  1. hepepe October 18, 2005 at 7:19 am #

    More & More & More….

  2. swiss October 21, 2005 at 11:03 am #

    I think you should stop planning and get writing! 🙂
    Are you going to be doing tutorials for specific software, or the theory behind it all?
    What’s posted is great… as hepepe says: More & More & More…

  3. Marco Raaphorst October 21, 2005 at 11:09 am #

    Yes, you guys are right. I will write… more.

  4. Honcho October 21, 2005 at 3:11 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge I always hope I can find reason specific sites that I can learn from and incorporate it into my music production
    I’ve been looking for a mentor here in N.C (USA) but what I find is so many of the cats are insecure. I will keep checking in for more great info

    Honcho
    GrandView Ent. South

  5. Psylencer November 14, 2005 at 11:55 pm #

    Hmmm, I think you should get over yourself. “Sound Designer” Lol! I prefer the the more accurate term “Knob twister, and button pusher”

    My 6 month old’s a sound designer too BTW, he can make all sorts of cool sounds. Maybe I should send them in to Reason Sound Bank too.

    HAHAHA

  6. Marco Raaphorst November 15, 2005 at 9:39 am #

    Sure, you could use the term Ink Dropper instead of Grafical Designer 😉

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