By "aleatoric" I mean recordings which are based largely on some kind of randomness.

I'd love to get a conversation going about approaching sound design from the perspective of curating (is that a good word for it?) little bits of audio from longer recordings which were created without some specific end goal in mind. Although I spend plenty of time gathering chunks of sound to assemble into some specific final result, I also really enjoy just playing around with plugins and other noise-makers and recording the results regardless of what happens.

My favorite technique for this is loading up a tool like Aalto or Numerology and going to town on a complex patch, routing things around in a series of tiny experiments. If I feel like actually banging on stuff, I'll just set my little Edirol to record while I throw things around the environment. The whole point is to turn off the part of my brain that deals with intent and simply have fun in a "naive" way for a while.

Once I have the audio recorded, I archive it so that I can come back to it on a rainy day. I've found tons of inspiration while rapidly sorting through hundreds of these recordings at a time. I just load up all the files in Ableton Live and quickly scan through each one by dropping the play marker at different points. If something strikes my fancy, I isolate that part of the waveform, put some basic fades on it, and load it into the sampler for more processing, pitch layering, etc.

For anyone else that enjoys this approach, what are your favorite techniques for efficiently sorting through the recordings and turning them into something useful in your music compositions/sound designs?

4 Answers 4


Firstly, nice topic! I had to read a bit about the term to make sure I didn't come here talking out of my *ss first ;) I recall a partner and I used to do this a lot with Propellerheads Rebirth a while back, using various crazy mods people shared in the community. That was BIG for a while. We used to fill up MANY floppy disks with on-the-fly parameter switchings of 909, 808, 303 patterns being affected by the wonderful "pattern controlled filter" module. All of the switching was realtime w a mouse pointer (go figure) recorded into SoundForge and then sampled with an Akai S2000 sampler (and then sometimes RE-sampled while performing those back into the sampler while making wild movements with Akai's filter (mmm nice). I fondly recall how fun it was to collect all of that material, but in reality we maybe used 50 things out of over 800 samples or more...sigh..sad really.

Secondly, I never really take the TIME to resample and store as often as I should in Ableton. It's a magnificent "Rebirth" to muck around with samples and sounds in a random fashion on it's own (and much easier than messing with an actual hw sampler, esp those older ones! ;P) I guess I have that creeping fear inside that tells me I may never REALLY come back to all that nice stuff and make use of it so it is not wasted. BUT i've been thinking hard lately while banging my head in trying to crank out some new decent material.. I need more random elements in what I do as well. I do music for the love of the mechanics of sound and decomposition thereof, so it only makes sense to get more into this 'aleatoric' frame of mind to devise the right components. I think I may combat my pessimistic side in this sampling/archive issue and take a nite session to just map a shitload of controls on the novation and padkontrol to a selection of vsts with crazy modulation features and record that shit. If anything, like you mentioned Nick, I can get some new inspirations from certain chunks. It's just taking the time to sit and noodle around...vs sound design (vst/ableton synth programming) or sweating over arranging tracks etc. One thing I've learned is that you have to sit down in this chair with PURPOSE and INTENT otherwise you wander off real easy in one direction or another. That's another topic...

And yes ABSOLUTELY Aalto will be one of those twisted devices I will employ for the dirty task as well (and U-he's modular monster, Bazille). Excellent creative modular synth, Aalto. It's excellent because of both its limitations AND it's no-boundaries approach to authentic signal switching capabilities. I fell fast for it just as you did.. I wish I wasn't PC-based here so I could try this Numerology out. One day :)

Yeah, I think I will employ Ableton's Sampler instrument as my new Akai S2000 and sling in a bit of the randomness from the first sitdown resample session. It is QUITE capable of artistic playback

  • @jasonswe Nice feedback man, thanks for sharing it. I think my struggle in the past has been with fitting the square peg of "randomness" in the round hole of "intent and directed action." The way I've worked this out is that even when I'm recording these randomized events, it's still the result of a series of small experiments that I carried out for the fun of it. Of course, the real trick comes with properly assembling those events into a meaningful piece of sound design or music, so that allows me to do sound design in the traditional, directed sense. Best of both worlds! Aug 3, 2011 at 17:59
  • @Nick Maxwell Yeah, it's nice when it works out that everything is flowing into the next thing, as it involves capturing experiments. I just find myself not doing it as often as I should mostly because of the need to archive properly Samples quickly add up and cause confusion if not used immediately. Yes, it's tricky to employ the randomness generated sometimes. Many times I wanna throw in a 'little experiment' but when its edited into the trk something goes missing in the sound it had before,UNLESS that sound takes main stage. Of course most sounds I work w are experiments...just not random;)
    – jasonswe
    Aug 3, 2011 at 19:00

Hey Nick,

It seems we share a similar approach in creating new sound source - I generally create my aleatoric (nice word, I'm nicking that!) stuff between projects because it's never truly random and experimental if I have a specific purpose in mind. As you say it's nice just to mess about without worrying about whether you are accurately portraying the emotional state of that distant seagull ;)

I verge on OCD when it comes to organising audio clips. Normally I would give a certain audio batch a name that probably only makes sense to me, in some sort of attempt to label it (e.g. "Bath Robot" or "Water Box") and remind me what it sounds like. I will also chop up these recording sessions into what I deem to be useful parts, so "Bath Robot 1", "Bath Robot 2" etc etc because I hate having to run through a 3 minute audio clip to find what I want, and also saves on precious memory when you're only using a couple of seconds of that audio in a project (although I see what you're saying about just dropping it on the timeline and seeing what happens, some of my "greatest hits" have been pure luck or mistakes). As short clips I find it easy to run through a batch of audio using the preview function in Finder (Mac), and get a general gist of what's there.

I try to be pretty ruthless when it comes to keeping or chucking my recording sessions, as I don't want to end up with loads of crap. I'd rather have a smaller library of just awesome sounds, although I must admit I get a bit of cleaning out the attic syndrome and want to keep most things 'just in case'. Anyways, having it all organised like that seems to stick it in some dark recess of my memory and will pop up again when I'm trying to think of an appropriate sound for something.

  • @squidlick Wow, it seems like we are pretty similar in this approach! I have the same conflict of whether to keep the excess "just in case" or just chop the immediately useful parts out and keep my library clean. Aug 2, 2011 at 18:21

I'm much more of a protools guy than it sounds like the rest of the respondents are, though this is something that I'm definitely working on correcting.

The way I always set up my sessions is that every new track I create is automatically routed through a bus called "Thru Me To You" which is then picked up by an aux track with a limiter insert - just in case. That aux routes to a stereo track that only outputs sound when it's recording, meaning that if I want to hear it I have to record it. So everything I do is documented and accessible.

From there I can either export that file as a whole, or do a strip silence and give the whole thing a once over, dumping sounds into tracks named by category. After that I do batch fades, then an auto-rename for each track/set of regions. Then a batch export for each set into appropriate folders.

It's really not as much work as it sounds. It's actually efficient enough that I rarely end up having to keep any source files. This means that I can empty out the audio files folder and just use the same session over and over again in stead of having a bazillion randomly named sessions floating around.

  • @g.a.harry I love this idea of always recording since there have been plenty of times when I should have been doing just that. Losing those little "one time only" moments is a bummer. Aug 4, 2011 at 15:22

Hi Nick!

I don't have any suggestions for organizing, and cataloging other than to get an intern to do it.

Your post did remind me of the session recorder function in Reaper which records a continuous file of whatever is coming out the master bus, I should really use this more. That's the easy part covered, sorting through and organizing is the hard part.

  • @AGZFX Oh cool, I had no idea such a function existed in Reaper. Will try that out later today! Aug 2, 2011 at 18:22
  • File>"Save Live Output to disk (bounce)"
    – AGZFX
    Aug 3, 2011 at 5:04

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