Hi guys,

Now I might be being completely idiotic, but I am a sound-design student at Hertfordshire University, and I've been searching everywhere for some ideas on how to get computer type bleeps, robot noises, machine sounds.

Now I understand the idea of recording some motors, remote controlled cars e.t.c and infact have loads of ideas for recording motorised sounds. But the sounds I'm kind of struggling with is that typical sci-fi computer room sound, and blips and beeps.

I guessed the best way to produce these sounds would be through synthesis, but what kind of oscillators, synthesis techniques and tricks are best for these sounds? I've got some sounds through basic sine waves and just generally playing around but I'm coming to a bit of a dead end a lot of time, and would love to hear if you guys have any tips on the synth side, or even on the post production side on how to get nice clean, robotic futuristic type noises?

I've scoured the web and watched many a video, read many a blog, but I just thought i'd do worse than to post the question myself.

Oh and last thing, I can't just use a sample library as that kind of defeats the object of designing the sound. Any help vastly appreciated, and hope this question makes sense!

6 Answers 6


One little technique you can try which is very quick and can yield surprisingly good results is converting random files into audio data. You can achieve this by downloading 'Soundhack'. It's an old, free bit of software that allows you to attach a wav. header to any file; be that a text file, movie, image etc. It mainly produces white noise but can frequently give you amazing sounds that include bleeps, buzzes, glitches etc.

Once you have the raw (and it is RAW!) audio, you can then process it with filtering and reverberation to make it a little more palatable to the ear. I do this all the time and I'm always surprised at the results!

Good Luck

  • Great idea, I'm going to give this a go now and see what results I can come up with. Thanks for the heads up.
    – Ross
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 19:19

You mentioned that you've been using sine waves so this may cover some already-tread ground, but the basic process can apply to lots of different source material. What you'll need is a base sound of some kind (ie. a tone generator, a synth tone, etc) running through a few basic plugins (ie. an amplitude modulator, a flanger, a chorus, etc) and outputting to a record track. The key to making this work is assigning the control parameters of the plugins to hardware faders or knobs so you can "perform" the moves.

With the base tone on, start moving the knobs around. You'll hear the signal being affected. Sometimes it's a frequency modulation, sometimes an amplitude modulation. Maybe not too interesting at first, but with wild swings and quick moves on one parameter and slow sweeps on another, you will start to hear new material emerge. Do this for 20 minutes or so and you will hopefully end up with a few usable sounds. When you get bored with what you're hearing, switch out the base sound and/or a plugin or two, rinse and repeat.

PS> Make sure you are recording your automation moves so that, when you do switch out tones, all the parameter changes will still be there creating new sounds right away.

  • Again, another great response. Would you say that modulation of a basic sound is the best way to get these "bleeps" to sound computerised? The irritating thing for me is that the sounds are so simple, but it's getting them to sound completely computerised and recognisable as the sort of sound a computer/robot might make.
    – Ross
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 19:26
  • @Ross, using sine waves will result in very clean, pure-tone sounds, which may/may not be what your after. Try inserting a heavy distortion plug before the modulators and see what comes out the other side. Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 19:58
  • @Ross Dig into FM synthesis, if you're not familiar with it. It's very descriptive of what its sonic qualities are and how it's meant to be used (because it's defined mathematically). Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 17:44

@Ross- There's a lot of ways to approach this, but for me it depends on the 'era' of computer you're going for and what's unique, cool or important about this particular computer? Then research the technology that may have been available in the era.

Now you've got it narrowed down a bit....and you can start looking at ways to build the sound into the narrative. Id a fair bit of Bioshock 2 Sound Design and in the DLC called Minerva's Den, there was a whole level of a newfangled computing servers...as if the scientist and engineers in Rapture invented it. Well I didn't want to use any known computer sounds, because computers didn't exist yet.

What you hear is 98% pre-transistor pinball machine recordings. If you think about it pinball machines from that era are basically interactive mechanical calculators. Electronically controlled solenoids and switches are doing all the computing based on what the the pinball is hitting. They make a huge and awesome and vintage racket. As an Easter egg in the game you get to play a prototype video game...which I used very very basic oscillator based sounds for. Again I'm thinking this machine only had the most basic type of circuitry available to synthesize sound.

There is a clip on our Demo reel at www.wabisabisound.com. Its at 1:36.

  • Hi, Andrew. Thanks for the heads up, again it's exactly the problem I'm finding. I'm trying to re-do the sound from Pixar's short film Burn-E and in this, is a lot of computers that simply do not exist. I'm using Logic so far for the synthesis but to be honest I might take to max and use some of the more 'primitive' synthesis available there. That programme also gives me real scope on signal processing and manipulation. I'll check the demo reel out, thanks for the response!
    – Ross
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 19:23

One of things I am learning now is the Doepfer A100 analog modular synthesizer. Mostly used for making electronic music, I believe it has a lotta scope for creating various sci-fi sounds. Ofcourse, it is not possible for everyone to own one, or find one very easily to work on, but you can literally create the synthesizer using the Nord Modular G2. Its a free program and you can build your won Doepfer A100 on your computer. I think its worth giving a try. Hope that helps.


I don't like suggesting proprietary products, but..

TBH, I think NI Reaktor and it's dozens and dozens of pre-built ensembles make all kinds of synthetic noises (especially short bleeps and UI-like sounds) fairly trivial, because many of them can be used without much thought/understanding of what's really happening. They're built for playing and many of them feature randomization to create endless variations very easily.

Otherwise, I'd just suggest to grasp/learn synthesizer (be it oscillator or sample based) parameters in a way that you could approach creating the sounds using any synthesizer that you see fit.


You can try applying some echo and tremolo to high-pitched ringtones.

For a nice digital buzz, use some delay, with delay level per echo at -6db, delay time at 0.009 seconds and 30 echoes. Repeat three times and then normalize. Works especially well if there's a little bit of noise in the recording.

  • what do you mean with 'ringtones'? Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 10:08

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