I'm working on a little personal project in which I'm attempting to use 100% my own recordings and designed sounds, trying out new techniques and getting a bit creative etc. At the moment I'm attempting to create some general ambient sounds for a meadow environment, such as insects buzzing around, crickets chirping etc.

I live in London and I'm a little restricted in where I can go to record at the moment so was wondering if anyone had suggestions on how to create convincing insect sounds and meadow ambiances via Foley and some sound synthesis etc?!

  • Why an exclamation mark as well as the question mark? Is there some urgency about this request? – Joseph Harvey May 31 '12 at 23:52
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    @Joseph I'd say it's due to enthusiasm, rather than urgency =P – Skarik Jun 1 '12 at 12:53

I created a sound design for a theatre production of Waiting for Godot using primarily feedback chirps from a delay pedal (Line 6 DL4) - and then doing some creative cropping, panning and amplitude envelops.

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  • @ Joel Thanks for the idea! I don't have access to a delay pedal but recording and pitching up general amp feedback could create a nice buzz I guess! – Skarik May 31 '12 at 12:13
  • If you have a MIDI controller, try using a delay plugin and set feedback, delay time and mix to different knobs. (Be prepared for feedback, so keep your speakers soft to start - and be ready to kill the sound if you need.) Send a short sound through the plugin and catch it with relatively high feedback. (Too high of feedback, and you will get a dangerously high signal.) Good luck! – MtL Jun 2 '12 at 18:57

There are some great bit in Designing Sound which go into detail of how to synthesise birds and insects. You could check out the PD patches here (for the insects), but the book contains all the interesting stuff, like the design strategy etc. Well worth a read, but it's a very deep subject. You may find yourself becoming a synthesist instead of a sound designer!

I think a really key part of your project is going to be mixing the individual elements together. One of the key factors of why a meadow sounds as it does is the sheer number and spread of sound sources. It's like a vast number of tiny sounds and interactions. Expect to do lots of filtering, panning etc to get it sounding right. Perhaps assemble your sounds and then duplicate, offset and submix in layers away from the listener.

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  • @Mark Subtle pitch alterations etc of the same sounds is something I've been having to focus on a lot in this project to get the most out of limited resources. And these pd patches looks brilliant! I've used Max/MSP in the past so will definitely take a look at that, thank you! – Skarik May 31 '12 at 12:11

I would begin by analyzing what individual sounds or events make up the composition of a meadow (and since not all meadows are created equal, the following categories are subject to change):

  • Wind blowing through high tree canopies, tall grasses or bushes

Although this sound could be created using synthesizers, it may be more fun to create it using real props and microphones. To make wind sounds, you need a source of forced air and a surface to blow on or over; it could be your own breath, a quiet fan, or an inflated air mattress (shout out to @Utopia) blowing through some leaves from your yard. Experiment with different surface and air sources.

  • Insects

A little harder but still achievable. Most insects emit a scratchy, tonal sound, such as crickets, grasshoppers and cicadas. To mimic these creatures you may want to investigate small percussion instruments such as shakers, rainsticks, castanets and washboards. Create a large variety of tiny fragments of sound and then begin the layering process. With smart use of EQ, outdoor reverb and spatial panning this could turn out quite well.

  • Birds

Perhaps the toughest of all to fake! In the case of a meadow, many birds would be vocalizing melodic songs while others may be squabbling over food or territory (think crows!). You could try whistling a few melodies into your recorder and manipulating from there.

Best of luck! Sounds like an incredible project!

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  • @Jay For wind effects I'd tried wiping a cloth slowly across a leather sofa, varying the speed at which I moved it. It worked better than I expected but sounded a little too 'gusty' for my needs. The idea of an air mattress is a good one thanks (to @Utopia too, then!), I've got some balloons somewhere too I could probably use. The washboard suggestion sounds perfect, pitching that up a bit would contribute to creating a convincing chirp. And I've just had an idea of some sounds to mess around with and mix in with that; the squeak of a cork being pulled out of a bottle, and the 'creak'... – Skarik May 31 '12 at 12:10
  • ...created whilst attempting to open a well-sealed jar!! :) – Skarik May 31 '12 at 12:10

Erm, there's a wonderful dawn chorus going on every morning right this time of the year, in London. They start early, around 4am, and there are hardly any cars at that time. And if you catch the very start, before it turns into a watery mush of birdsong there are beautiful single calls.

For insects, look at the sound of a cricket in a wave and spectral editor. That should give you lots of inspiration. They make simple sounds, and so should be easy to reproduce, just catch the right frequencies and modulation.

I tend to think with open space restrictions so I find wind(s) the hardest. Similar with spatialisation, maybe some subtle convolution verbs..

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  • @ georgi.m I've a nice collection of my own bird recordings already, but I agree the dawn chorus is great at the moment; I'll probably pop out and get some additional recordings! And spectral analysis is a great idea, thank you! – Skarik May 31 '12 at 12:11

For birds you could try something from scratch like recording the sound of various short blows on a whistle then using something like Melodyne to take the performance and make various melodies by shifting the pitching and formants to try and come up with something new and unique.

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I've ended up getting some great results from recording a spinning bike wheel and using it in short bursts with some pitch shifting and EQing to get a cicada-like sound. I've also used a pitch-shifted electric shaver as a mosquito buzz! Still got a few more things to try out, thanks again people for your suggestions they've been great help and inspiration!

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