How can I learn a basic formula or set of formulas so that I can learn "dry" sounds cold that lead to great "wet" sounds?

I know that the terms "dry" and "wet" have their different contexts in music.

But I believe sound design can answer this question.

I have always wanted to know how to get maybe one handbooks amount of material to learn how to perhaps mathematically get at the roots of sound design.

Perhaps sin, tan, and cos?

Perhaps Fourier and phasors?

I don't know.

It is an ugly-duckling/swan ratio in sound theory.

A short sound that is awful can be played back to a layman by a giddy master of sound design who knows just what he's going to do with it next and the "dry" ugly-duckling sound is lost on the laymen.

I believe that if I find the correct science or basic set of laws to generate a basic, dry, or ugly tone that I can understand a beginners "ugly-beautiful" principle in sound design myself.

It is a kind of chirality or a problem rooted in looking at opposites.

Can anyone relate?

Thank you very much.



  • I just jumped in and started playing around. It's at least a fun way to learn how to make sounds. May 21, 2015 at 12:10

3 Answers 3



This book has been recommended before, Designing Sound by Andy Farnell. It is a longer work, not shy about using math, but that is exactly what you seem to be discussing in your post. I confess I don't understand the terms you are laying out or what this quintessential ugly sound might be. But the most basic tone you can create is a sine wave oscillating at a specified frequency, and a particularly ugly frequency to many is 1K. All the rest of the sounds you can imagine can be created by increasingly detailed combinations, multiplications, and otherwise "processing" that sound wave...though for a complex enough sound, they become virtually impossible to synthesize without the instincts of a master and the patience of a saint. That's why we have microphones.


I would agree that Designing Sound by Andy Farnell is the best book for learning to synthesise sound effects (presently).

However, much of sound design (at least the sphere of sound design I know) is based around recording and utilising objects in the physical world. You need a different set of skills for that, interacting with sound in a more tactile and experiential way. Neither approach is better all the time, but walking around your neighborhood listening to traffic can (potentially) make you a better sound designer than learning to synthesise sound from sine waves.

Just wanted to throw in that perspective.

  • I have had problems being seen poking an iPhone (and sound app (good bye BluFire)) at unusual sound sources- so your point is well taken. Later I had a complimentary call from Coll Anderson himself after putting this question to him in a different way. With him he just included me in a day in his life over the phone. It was more towards what Todd Wilcox is suggesting. Many music theory basics are at play here also. I have bookmarked that Amazon book for sure. Maybe I will find my "wrong sounding sounds" yet. ;-)
    – Jay Peek
    May 22, 2015 at 4:56

It's long and pretty dense in places, but you can't go wrong with the Computer Music Tutorial by Curtis Roads, MIT Press.

Musimathics, a 2-volume text by Gareth Loy, Harvard Press, also gets into the mathematics of acoustics and psychoacoustics, but it's more abstract, less details on the nitty-gritty of designing your own sounds.

  • Thank you. for the MIT mention. I was just over there for their free composition 101 course.
    – Jay Peek
    May 26, 2015 at 23:07
  • But I am aborting this post because I can't stand stack exchange Borg moderators.
    – Jay Peek
    May 26, 2015 at 23:15

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.