Sylvia Massy, a professional sound engineer, has worked on music by Tool and Johnny Cash. The following is an excerpt from her blog entry on the battle between synthetic and organic sound creation methods:
“I was recently hired to record the sound of a jet flying over the city for a TV commercial, but they wanted it at night! I don’t have a jet in my closet, so instead I recorded a large rock being dropped into water. The initial impact created a powerful thud which was EQ’d to sound like the “thud” of a jet engine. The splash created a nice “whoosh.” A bit of reverb added depth and distance and there you have it — an instant flyover!
This is only one example of how music producers use everyday sounds to create sounds that don’t exist in nature… or do they? Sound effects editors will also use real organic sounds for effects as well. For example, when working on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (a movie about wizards), my job was to create mystical looking creatures that could fly through the air at lightning speed.”
One of the most exciting aspects of Industrial music, to me at least, was the way it created and manipulated sound effects. The use of sound effects in electronic music is nothing new, but never before had they been so prevalent, nor so effectively woven into a song’s structure and rhythm. Of course, in the early days there was little to work with other than what one could create with tape machines. This was before the days of samplers or even synthesizers really. Creating sound effects using tape manipulation required patience and skill; but with a little imagination one could produce some pretty amazing results.
In order to get an idea of how such sounds were made I’d like to examine two particular examples from two different tracks. The first is from Ministry’s “Over The Shoulder” off their first LP With Sympathy (1983). The second is from KMFDM’s “More & Faster” off Nihil (1995). Both of these bands make heavy use of sound effects, and both are known for their innovative manipulation of samples and synths.
The soundtracks of the past were mostly made up of organic sounds. The sounds were created by real instruments, such as drums and guitars, or recorded from nature such as waterfalls and thunderstorms. If a filmmaker wanted to create a new sound that didn’t exist in reality, they would have to create it manually. This was time-consuming, challenging work for the sound designer, but there was no other way at the time.
Today, we have many more options when it comes to creating sound effects. We can use synthesizers to recreate the sound of an instrument or create new electronic sounds. We can use computer software to process sounds, and even mix organic and synthetic sounds together into one effect. This has given us new ways to create exciting, realistic sound effects for films, TV shows and video games.
One of the most famous examples of this is the classic “dah-dah-DAAAAH!” sound from Star Wars, which is a combination of a slide whistle and an elephant call. This has become one of the most iconic sounds in film history, but it wouldn’t be possible without modern technology.
The world of electronic music production is a curious one. With the ever-increasing sophistication of software and hardware, the question “how did they do that?” is asked more and more. A lot of people are drawn to the sounds and techniques used in electronic music, but how many understand the methods and technologies used to create them? In this month’s column I will attempt to give you some insight.
I am going to take you on a journey back in time, when the concept of electronically generated sound was still fresh, exciting, fresh and new. A time when popular music was dominated by a man named Bob Moog, who had single-handedly created a revolution in electronic music with his modular synthesizer systems.
Back in those days (the early 1970s), I was working as an engineer at Conny Plank’s studio in Cologne, Germany. My primary responsibility was to maintain and repair the studio’s collection of synthesizers (all Moog instruments). One day Dieter Dierks asked me if I could generate some sort of strange effect for one of his projects — something which he referred to as “industrial” sound effects. Since I didn’t know what that meant, he played me a few records by bands such as Can, Tangerine Dream and
“The sound of a spaceship flying by. The sound of a laser blasting an alien. The sound of a computer performing some vital function. The sound of a data stream being read back. These are sounds that could not possibly be recorded in the real world, but they were all created using industrial electronic music instruments and techniques.
Most people think of electronic music as “that weird stuff” or “that noise”, but it’s really just another musical genre, like rock or jazz or metal. However, unlike those genres, it’s easy to tell the difference between synthetic and organic sounds. In fact, the best way to tell if something is synthetic is to listen for it! None of the sounds mentioned above could have been made by anything but machines (except perhaps by highly trained musicians).
In this blog post I’ll show you how to make these sounds using only free software and your own creativity.
The first step is to create a synthesizer that can make these sounds from scratch. A synth is essentially a device that creates musical notes from electrical signals (i.e., an oscillator). Any instrument or voice can produce these notes; however, most synths require specific hardware in order to function properly.”
With the dawn of digital sound synthesis and sampling, we were all given a way to create sounds that would have been impossible with just traditional recording techniques. Of course, this was not the first time that sound effects had been created in any way other than recording something that already existed in the world. There are plenty of examples of “musical” instruments being used to create effects (e.g., organs, pianos, etc.), but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about here.
As a music producer and film composer, I’ve always had an interest in how certain sounds were created. I remember wondering if there was some sort of official list of ‘acceptable’ sounds for use in films or television as there seemed to be so many different types of sounds being used. The answer is yes, there are lists but they are very broad indeed – for example, a ‘bang’ sound can be made from any sort of percussion instrument or even human voice!
I recently read an article by David Humpherys that got me thinking about how we as producers go about creating our own unique sounds. He talks about two methods: musical and electronic synthesis and then how each method has its strengths and weaknesses
These days it’s easy to fill a movie with sound effects. Some software programs come with thousands of sounds, and new libraries are available every week online. But before the digital age, it was more difficult to create sounds that did not exist in the real world.
The most successful sound designers have been those who have mastered both the art and science of creating sounds. One of the earliest and best examples is Louis and Bebe Barron, who created the first ever all-electronic film score for Forbidden Planet (1956).
Since their groundbreaking score for Forbidden Planet was released, many sound designers have tried their hand at electronic music creation. One of the most noted electronic musicians is Tom Disher, whose work on The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) was nominated for an Academy Award.