So as I'm working on our strategy game, and doing all of these FX (shields, and wubs, and plasma explosions, etc) I wanted to share an idea and get some feedback.

Do people that often find themselves doing these type of things (sci-fi, magic, fantasy, etc) find that it's better to start with more non-pitched, less musical sources?

I'm finding that every time I open absynth or something, i end up finding all of these sort of musical patches. Instead, I've been trying to work with samples and convolution, or some spectral plugins which give an insane sound, or just non-pitched sample content, for example a convolved tesla coil spark, or coin on metal plinks, or doing a lot of work with the noise generator in Massive.

Not really sure what I'm "asking", if anything, but just want to source some opinions on effecting non-pitched sample content vs. trying to synthesize.

2 Answers 2


I think it's an interesting question, I've definitely also found myself in that situation before - creating sfx with synths later to find they're clashing tonally with the music.

I think the fact that synths are aimed at musicians doesn't help us here. Think about it.. pretty much every synth is controlled by a keyboard, but as sound designers we definitely don't want to be restricted by intervals. For sure, you can work around this, but I still find it difficult not to want to play a keybord.

It's no coincidence that the VCS3 was great for sfx and just featured a continuous pitch control:

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My solution is to use the oscillators in Max/msp for synth based sfx creation. I control them with dials, envelope generator and other oscillators - thinking about pitch as a number value not a harmonic interval.

Starting with samples side steps this problem completely, and is one of the reasons why we use sampled material so often. It's also often faster than ground up synth patch design. Actually, I rarely just use a synth sound on its own unless it's a specific sci-fi style sound effect that's needed. i think layering synth sounds with real sounds is a better way to go for anything intended to be in the real world. The sample based layer adds the necessary imperfections.

  • This is nothing to add, but whether a sound is pitched or not is still defined by what the signal is like, not what the source is (as it can be anything). But doing an unpitched sound from a synth is kind of going backwards, because synths are kind of made for or at least their primary building blocks are pitched signals, except for noise. Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 14:04

Depends on the sound, as always.

  • Pitched sound -> results in pitched or clean sound.
  • Inharmonic sound / noise -> result is inharmonic/noise. (unless you create a fundamental frequency or frequencies).

There exists loads of pitched real world sounds. Try those.

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