Hi all,

I have been creating vocal sound design for sound designers and composers and would greatly appreciate some input, a how to. I'd like to know how to create a :15 "rise" out of my vocals and what other elements would go along with them in order to make the sonics huge and powerful.

Thanks so much Kathie-:)

  • btw @KathieT, great material on Captain America! Sorry we never got to have that lunch. :) Aug 25, 2011 at 20:45

7 Answers 7


I have done a lot of vocal recording/mixing as well as sound design and I'd love to help but could you please give a bit more detail on the context?

Choices of tonalities, timbres, sounds, etc. for me depends a lot on context and what you're trying to communicate with the story.

So if you go into a bit more detail about what it will be used for or what the trailer is about or even a vague outline or genre like "Horror", "Suspense", "Family Comedy", I think I could be of more assistance.

  • Ryan
  • @Utopia Hi Ryan, Thanks for answering. It would mostly be for horror and suspense genres. Not the Danny Elfman playful type of thing at all. It's for film trailers only. I've been asked to create vocal/sound design 1 minute beds for this medium and they said think in terms of various...including, rises. Thanks again, Kathie
    – KathieT
    Aug 25, 2011 at 23:15
  • @KathieT Hi. So I would start out with the basic techniques: crescendo the vocal/SFX from very low to very loud. If it was not just a long note and articulated words are a part of it, vary the intensity of how you are delivering it. Start off from silence and maybe choose a low-end timbre which drops down in pitch while you are singing from lower to higher - might be a good counterpoint in that. I would also check out the SoundWorks profile of "The Dark Knight" and watch the section about how they created Batman's speeder-bike revving engine. They basically created a sine-wave which continued
    – Utopia
    Aug 26, 2011 at 3:26
  • to go higher in pitch and somehow they looped it so it always sounded like it was rising so it gave the effect of tension on the audience. I thought it was very effective. Possibly you could create the same thing with vocals. I also like whispering and I think whispering lends itself very well to the horror genre - and by that I mean unintelligible whispering which has a ton of reverb and is not otherwise discernible. And this can then bloom into full-on belting vocals. But, does it only have to be with vocals or are you designing trailer SFX as well?
    – Utopia
    Aug 26, 2011 at 3:34
  • @Utopia Very cool input, really appreciate you giving me this info. It would be for vocal, vocal with SFX, or with tonal elements, maybe tremolo strings? Soundworks, Dark Knight, I guess that can be Googled. Definitely have played with the whispers/morphing. Thanks again, ~Kathie
    – KathieT
    Aug 26, 2011 at 5:17
  • @KathieT soundworkscollection.com/thedarkknight
    – Utopia
    Aug 26, 2011 at 16:27

Check out the third example in the construction kit example

  • @Filipe Chagas Thanks Filipe...I've actually checked it out before, thinking about getting it, but try to create as much as possible from the ground up...or hybrid from the ground up. Thanks again, Kathie
    – KathieT
    Aug 26, 2011 at 0:03
  • @KathieT my idea when i posted it was more trying to give ideas more than "here, buy this". Lol sorry, i seem to be short worded today. Aug 26, 2011 at 0:16

Hi and thank you, too! I love the horror genre and horror sound design in general, maybe I can help, here are some suggestions :

You want to record vocal rises at different speed and layer them, these will create random clusters and harmonic dissonances.

Also do vocal rises that end in nasty screams.

As additional material I would suggest screams without rises just like girls scream in horror films, more like impacts. Of course any noise you can make, may serve as basis (hiss, grunt, growl etc.)

When layering your voice you will run into harmonic problems, because the typical frequencies of your voice will be doubled over and over again and saturated. So vary the space (reverb setting), pitch them down and up, change speed artificially afterwards. I have done this with violin rises I have recorded myself with my violin, worked pretty good!

If you want to get more into technical rises, you have to create very short loops of your voice (or not so short depending on how it sounds) and create a larger pitch envelope upwards. It sounds easily synthetic, so be careful, in horror sound design, we usually want it to sound "organic". Again layering different rises may be interesting.

To do this you can also try other material, in example a hiss. A hiss naturally can't go up, but with this technique it can. Try to keep the natural sound of the hiss.

One last trick I use sometimes is to "sweep" through the spectrum with a filter. The frequencies "high lighted" get higher and higher. Of course you need a rich source sound for this (scream?). Here also it can sound quickly artificial so be careful, to not go too fast.

Hope this helps!

  • @Markus. This is fantastic advice!! Thank you so much Markus. Btw, I saw that you work with Riptide...I get some work through them as well. They've been getting some pretty high profile trailers lately which is nice...which could open up even more doors for them, us-:). If you're ever in the U.S., it would be nice to meet you. ~K-:)
    – KathieT
    Sep 2, 2011 at 8:37
  • You are very welcome, Kathie - I'm glad I could help! Yes, let's meet some day!
    – Markus
    Sep 2, 2011 at 11:32

As an additional advice: take Paul Stretch, process some painful or frightened screams with it. You'll get a handful of nice, slowly rising non-realistic vocal beds. Use them wisely.


Are you asking what raw vocals to record, or are you asking, how to design your vocals, once recorded?

Btw. lovely sound design on your page!

  • @Markus...Hi Markus, Thank you! Really appreciate the comment re my work. I'm listening now to your incredible Orchestral works, really great. It would be how to design my vocals once recorded. I've looked at a couple of things that have been suggested, but nothing has worked really well quite yet, so I'd love to know your thoughts. Thanks, ~Kathie
    – KathieT
    Aug 31, 2011 at 7:36

Something you may have already tried but doesn't seem to have come up yet - reverse the vocal sample, bounce it with reverb on and then reverse the resulting audio back again to get that classic haunting vocal sound. The longer the decay on the reverb you use in this process, the longer the rise into the actual spoken phrase will be.

You could also try putting a fairly strong reverb on the vocal sample and then running it through a white noise vocoder setting to get a sort of breathy feel to it. Guess that one could be a bit hit and miss though.

Re the Dark Knight continually ascending sine wave thing, I don't know what technique they used but it sounds a lot like a Shepards Scale to me - see here:


Also I second Paul Stretch :)


  • @squidflick...really interesting input, thank you. I'd never heard of Shepards Tone, will have to read that Wiki article to digest this info;-). Thanks again.
    – KathieT
    Sep 23, 2011 at 11:27
  • @squidflick...is the Paul Stretch app PC based only? In the event it is, what would you recommend for Mac based peeps? Thanks-:)
    – KathieT
    Sep 23, 2011 at 11:30
  • Hey Kathie, yeah there is a mac version of PaulStretch - I use it on Mac myself, although if my memory serves it's a third party alternative of the original PC version that someone did :) doesn't work with AIFF but still freeware.
    – Squidlick
    Oct 8, 2011 at 19:32

You can alternate vocal screams between reversed and normal a the same time logarithmically change pitch and time duration.


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