I'm wondering if any of you guys have any tips or tricks for creating realistic ambiences from scratch, i.e. without using any pre-recorded material.

I'm working on a radio drama set in a lunar space station, so it's going to be all air-filtration systems, computer hums, and spaceships flying around. Very tight, very close. I have a bunch of great recordings of air-conditioners and small generators and stuff that I've been collecting over the last few months, but I'd like to see if I can build all of it using analog synths and the signal generator in PT. I'm going for a style similar to Space Force, X Minus-1, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Journey Into Space, so I thought I'd try and emulate their way of producing atmospheres for the scenes.

I've got a few going already, but wanted to see if you guys had any experience doing this, or had made any cool discoveries as to how to put stuff together. My biggest concern is figuring out how to get things like power-generators and computer banks to sit in a space in a realistic way.

Other than that, anything weird and wacky that'll add a bit of texture and motion is more than welcome as well.

5 Answers 5


If you missed it, check out the Peter Albrechtsen special on BGFX http://designingsound.org/2011/02/peter-albrechtsen-special-backgrounds-in-the-foreground/ from Designing Sound.


One thing I'd suggest to you is that you'll want more than just drones and textures in there. You'll want a whole bunch of distant mic'd one-off events that you can reverberate and sprinkle in to taste. Things like space doors, beeps, maybe servos, chair creaks, metal taps, etc.

  • @Rene, I actually started playing with that kind of stuff last night. It really does help to give the scene some width. | I know it'll depend on the scene, but any thoughts on how to give a room some gravitas? aside from LPF'd pink noise and 40Hz tones? I've got a couple of huge rooms to design, in particular a power generation plant.
    – g.a.harry
    Apr 5, 2011 at 18:12
  • 1
    I'd say gravitas requires space, not low end. check out the fight scene from vs lucy liu from kill bill and see what I'm talking about. The bamboo fountain is the single spot element in the BGFX, but it ties everything to a stark and unavoidable reality. That one element acts as a BGFX "platform" on which the rest of the scene is built. The Def of Gravitas IMO. youtube.com/watch?v=oI82yybx7Bc&t=3m50s
    – Rene
    Apr 6, 2011 at 0:12
  • @Rene, Wow, I forgot about that one. Those reverse sword hits are great. I definitely see what you mean though. I'll have to work on that one. I've always thought of scene shaping BGs as being countinuous ambiences, not individual elements. My mind melts with possibility. Also, The reverb on Lucy as she whispers to Uma is subtly massive. Her voice just kind of drifts away into infinite nothing. Magic.
    – g.a.harry
    Apr 6, 2011 at 23:16

Max, Reaktor, AudioMulch, or PureData. And Paul's Stretch to finish it off.

I'd recommend layering your real recordings with your synthesized sounds for a bit more realism -- our ears know when something isn't real.

  • @Dave, How have I not seen Max before? Looks boss. So many ideas already and I haven't even downloaded it yet.
    – g.a.harry
    Apr 5, 2011 at 18:06

I don't know about sci fi, I've still not worked on one yet, Although spot/incident sounds for backgrounds make a massive difference.

Layering up spot/incident sounds to sit with the ambiance you have or created is important to give it some realism.I always thought that the Battlestar Galactica tv shows had some great sound design on it, so you should check that out if you haven't already.

Talking from experience from a film I worked on, just adding some cicadas subtly into the background really brought the atmosphere alive, I guess less is more and don't go too over the top with it.


Agree with Rene and that DS post - one offs help.

I've been working on a series of 5.1 Sci Fi Hallway ambiences, influenced by films like Alien, Moon, etc. I would agree that apart from the ventilation noises and the self noise/vibration of the vehicle/station itself that various random, but subtle, electronic- or mechanical-based sounds help sell the environment. I'd think about what sorts of resources the people on the station will be relying upon in order to survive: Re-oxygenating machines, water recycling units, vent motors, motors to control the pitch of the solar panels on the ship/station, random intercom communications from a different part of the vehicle, battery rechargers, atmospheric regulators.

God I love good scifi films.


Couple of quick suggestions for space tones:

Synthetic:  Some synths such as 'Circle' have a 'vowel filter' which can help make your noise more tonal, especially the 'o' one.  

Recorded:  Stick your mic in interesting containers such as large vases, large metal cans, etc. then blow gently across the mouth of the container.  GRM Freeze can help make it a consistent tone.

Whichever one you do, I would then mess about with IRs to control the sense of space required.

Good luck!


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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