7

You heard some sound (sound effect from the cinema, some interesting tone from the recording, whatever).

What steps do you take to reproduce the sound you liked?

10

Great question!

It does depend on the sound somewhat, but my process involves all or some of the following:

  1. Listen to the sound. Carefully. Listen to it in different ways. Reduced listening is really important for this sort of thing.
  2. Analyse the sound. Look at the waveform, taking in the whole sound, and parts of the sound and at single cycle zoom level. View it spectrally. I really like using Sonic Visualiser as it's got the best FFT spectrograms I've ever seen. Think about the patterns present in the sound, combinations of rhythm and frequency are going to make up the sound so ask yourself how these work in the original sound. Which frequencies are dominant? Where is there dissonance/harmony? For each frequency band how does the sound decay?
  3. Question the components of the original sound, how many layers are there? Are they clearly defined (ie do they sound separate), Have multiple layers been processed in the same way, do they have different qualities.
  4. Consider how these have been made. Are the layers real sounds or are they synthesised or is it a combination?
  5. Design a strategy for re-creating the sound. You can take a bottom up approach to this, generating components individually or a more brute force approach of throwing stuff together and trying to mould it all at once. The first is more thorough, more of a synthesists approach, the second is more like working on intuition I think. Both have their merits.

  6. A-B the sounds, or different versions of the sounds. Analyse the two together.

Of course it is a bit boring and unoriginal to actually copy sounds others have designed, but I think it is a useful excercise as it uses all of your understanding of how sounds are formed. Along the way you will definitely learn some new techniques, and will no doubt take a different route to the final version than the sounds original creator.

1

The only extra I'd add to Mark's great answer is if you'd like to read a bit more on analysing and reverse engineering sounds so they can be synthesised, then you might want to look at The Synthesizer Cookbook by Fred Welsh. This is a patch book, but in the front of the book he describes how to consider (and view) sounds in both the time domain and frequency domain so they can then be synthesised (in the book using subtractive synthesis, but would be the same for some other types of synthesis).

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