Aeroacoustic Sound Effects – Journal Article

I am delighted to be able to announce that my article on Creating Real-Time Aeroacoustic Sound Effects Using Physically Informed Models is in this months Journal of the Audio Engineering Society. This is an invited article following winning the best paper award at the Audio Engineering Society 141st Convention in LA. It is an open access article so free for all to download!

The article extends the original paper by examining how the Aeolian tone synthesis models can be used to create a number of sound effects. The benefits of these models are that the produce plausible sound effects which operate in real-time. Users are presented with a number of highly relevant parameters to control the effects which can be mapped directly to 3D models within game engines.

The basics of the Aeolian tone were given in a previous blog post. To summarise, a tone is generated when air passes around an object and vortices are shed behind it. Fluid dynamic equations are available which allow a prediction of the tone frequency based on the physics of the interaction between the air and object. The Aeolian tone is modelled as a compact sound source.

To model a sword or similar object a number of these compact sound sources are placed in a row. A previous blog post describes this in more detail. The majority of compact sound sources are placed at the tip as this is where the airspeed is greatest and the greatest sound is generated.

The behaviour of a sword when being swung has to be modelled which then used to control some of the parameters in the equations. This behaviour can be controlled by a game engine making fully integrated procedural audio models.

The sword model was extended to include objects like a baseball bat and golf club, as well as a broom handle. The compact sound source of a cavity tone was also added in to replicate swords which have grooved profiles. Subjective evaluation gave excellent results, especially for thicker objects which were perceived as plausible as pre-recorded samples.

The synthesis model could be extended to look at a range of sword cross sections as well as any influence of the material of the sword. It is envisaged that other sporting equipment which swing or fly through the air could be modelled using compact sound sources.

A propeller sound is one which is common in games and film and partially based on the sounds generated from the Aeolian tone and vortex shedding. As a blade passes through the air vortices are shed at a specific frequency along the length. To model individual propeller blades the profiles of a number were obtained with specific span length (centre to tip) and chord lengths (leading edge to trailing edge).

Another major sound source is the loading sounds generated by the torque and thrust. A procedure for modelling these sounds is outlined in the article. Missing from the propeller model is distortion sounds. These are more associated with rotors which turn in the horizontal plane.

An important sound when hearing a propeller powered aircraft is the engine sound. The one taken for this model was based on one of Andy Farnell’s from his book Designing Sound. Once complete a user is able to select an aircraft from a pre-programmed bank and set the flight path. If linked to a game engine the physical dimensions and flight paths can all be controlled procedurally.

Listening tests indicate that the synthesis model was as plausible as an alternative method but still not as plausible as pre-recorded samples. It is believed that results may have been more favourable if modelling electric-powered drones and aircraft which do not have the sound of a combustion engine.

The final model exploring the use of the Aeolian tone was that of an Aeolian Harp. This is a musical instrument that is activated by wind blowing around the strings. The vortices that are shed behind the string can activate a mechanical vibration if they are around the frequency of one of the strings natural harmonics. This produces a distinctive sound.

The digital model allows a user to synthesis a harp of up to 13 strings. Tension, mass density, length and diameter can all be adjusted to replicate a wide variety of string material and harp size. Users can also control a wind model modified from one presented in Andy Farnell’s book Designing Sound, with control over the amount of gusts. Listening tests indicate that the sound is not as plausible as pre-recorded ones but is as plausible as alternative synthesis methods.

The article describes the design processes in more detail as well as the fluid dynamic principles each was developed from. All models developed are open source and implemented in pure data. Links to these are in the paper as well as my previous publications. Demo videos can be found on YouTube.

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The edgiest tone yet…

As my PhD is coming to an end and the writing phase is getting more intense, it seemed about time I described the last of the aeroacoustic sounds I have implemented as a sound effect model. May 24th at the 144th Audio Engineering Society Convention in Milan, I will present ‘Physically Derived Synthesis Model of an Edge Tone.’
The edge tone is the sound created when a planar jet of air strikes an edge or wedge. The edge tone is probably most often seen as means of excitation for flue instruments. These instruments are ones like a recorder, piccolo, flute and pipe organ. For example, in a recorder air is blown by the mouth through a mouthpiece into a planar jet and then onto a wedge. The forces generated couple with the tube body of the recorder and a tone based on the dimension of the tube is generated.

 

Mouthpiece of a recorder

 

The edge tone model I have developed is viewed in isolation rather than coupled to a resonator as in the musical instruments example. While researching the edge tone it seemed clear to me that this tone has not had the same attention as the Aeolian tone I have previously modelled (here) but a volume of research and data was available to help understand and develop this model.

How does the edge tone work?

The most important process in generating the edge tone is the set up of a feedback loop from the nozzle exit to the wedge. This is similar to the process that generates the cavity tone which I discussed here. The diagram below will help with the explanation.

 

Illustration of jet of air striking a wedge

 

The air comes out of the nozzle and travels towards the wedge. A jet of air naturally has some instabilities which are magnified as the jet travels and reaches the wedge. At the wedge, vortices are shed on opposite sides of the wedge and an oscillating pressure pulse is generated. The pressure pulse travels back towards the nozzle and re-enforces the instabilities. At the correct frequency (wavelength) a feedback loop is created and a strong discrete tone can be heard.

 

 

To make the edge tone more complicated, if the air speed is varied or the distance between the nozzle exit to the wedge is varies, different modes exist. The values at which the modes change also exhibit hysteresis – the mode changes up and down do not occur at the same airspeed or distance.

Creating a synthesis model

There are a number of equations defined by researchers from the fluid dynamics field, each unique but depend on an integer mode number. Nowhere in my search did I find a method of predicting the mode number. Unlike previous modelling approaches, I decided to collate all the results I had where the mode number was given, both wind tunnel measurements and computational simulations. These were then input to the Weka machine learning workbench and a decision tree was devised. This was then implemented to predict the mode number.

 

All the prediction equations had a significant error compared to the measured and simulated results so again the results were used to create a new equation to predict the frequency for each mode.

 

With the mode predicted and the subsequent frequency predicted, the actual sound synthesis was generated by noise shaping with a white noise source and a bandpass filter. The Q value for the filter was unknown but, as with the cavity tone, it is known that the more turbulent the flow the smaller and more diffuse the vortices and the wider the band of frequencies around the predicted edge tone is. The Q value for the bandpass was set to be proportional to this.

And what next…?

Unlike the Aeolian tone where I was able to create a number of sound effects, the edge tone has not yet been implemented into a wider model. This is due to time rather than anything else. One area of further development which would be of great interest would be to couple the edge tone model to a resonator to emulate a musical instrument. Some previous synthesis models use a white noise source and an excitation or a signal based on the residual between an actual sample and the model of the resonator.

 

Once a standing wave has been established in the resonator, the edge tone locks in at that frequency rather than the one predicted in the equation. So the predicted edge tone may only be present while a musical note is in the transient state but it is known that this has a strong influence over the timbre and may have interesting results.

 

For an analysis of whistles and how their design affects their sound check out his article. The feedback mechanism described for the edge tone also very similar to the one that generates the hole tone. This is the discrete tone that is generated by a boiling kettle. This is usually a circular jet striking a plate with a circular hole and a feedback loop established.

 

Hole tone form a kettle

 

A very similar tone can be generated by a vertical take-off and landing vehicle when the jets from the lift fans are pointing down to the ground or deck. These are both areas for future development and where interesting sound effects could be made.

 

Vertical take-off of a Harrier jet

 

Creative projects in sound design and audio effects

This past semester I taught two classes (modules), Sound Design and Digital Audio Effects. In both classes, the final assignment involves creating an original work that involves audio programming and using concepts taught in class. But the students also have a lot of free reign to experiment and explore their own ideas.

The results are always great. Lots of really cool ideas, many of which could lead to a publication, or would be great to listen to regardless of the fact that it was an assignment. Here’s a few examples.

From the Sound Design class;

  • Synthesizing THX’s audio trademark, Deep Note. This is a complex sound, ‘a distinctive synthesized crescendo that glissandos from a low rumble to a high pitch’. It was created by the legendary James Moorer, who is responsible for some of the greatest papers ever published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society.
  • Recreating the sound of a Space Shuttle launch, with separate components for ‘Air Burning/Lapping’ and ‘Flame Eruption/Flame Exposing’ by generating the sounds of the Combustion chain and the Exhaust chain.
  • A student created a soundscape inspired by the 1968 Romanian play ‘Jonah (A four scenes tragedy)’,  written by Marin Sorescu. Published in 1968, when Romania was ruled by the communist regime. By carefully modulating the volume of filtered noise, she was able to achieve some great synthesis of waves crashing on a shore.
  • One student made a great drum and bass track, manipulating samples and mixing in some of his own recorded sounds. These included a nice ‘thud’ by filtering the sound of a tightened towel, percussive sounds by shaking rice in a plastic container. and the sizzling sound of frying bacon for tape hiss.
  • Synthesizing the sound of a motorbike, including engine startup, gears and driving sound, gear lever click and indicator.
  • A short audio piece to accompany a ghost story, using synthesised and recorded sounds. What I really like is that the student storyboarded it.

storyboard

  • A train on a stormy day, which had the neat trick of converting a footstep synthesis model into the chugging of a train.
  • The sounds of the London Underground, doors sliding and beeping, bumps and breaks… all fully synthesized.

And from the Digital Audio Effects class;

  • An autotune specifically for bass guitar. We discussed auto-tune and its unusual history previously.
  • Sound wave propagation causes temperature variation, but speed of sound is a function of temperature. Notably, the positive half cycle of a wave (compression) causes an increase in temperature and velocity, while the negative half (rarefaction) causes a decrease in temperature and velocity, turning a sine wave into something like a sawtooth. This effect is only significant in high pressure sound waves. Its also frequency dependent; high frequency components travel faster than low frequency components.
    Mark Daunt created a MIDI instrument as a VST Plug-in that generates sounds based on this shock-wave formation formula. Sliders allow the user to adjust parameters in the formula and use a MIDI keyboard to play tones that express characteristics of the calculated waveforms.

  • Synthesizing applause, a subject which we have discussed here before. The student has been working in this area for another project, but made significant improvements for the assignment, including adding presets for various conditions.
  • A student devised a distortion effect based on waveshaping in the form of a weighted sum of Legendre polynomials. These are interesting functions and her resulting sounds are surprising and pleasing. Its the type of work that could be taken a lot further.
  • One student had a bug in an implementation of a filter. Noticing that it created some interesting sounds, he managed to turn it into a cool original distortion effect.
  • There’s an Octagon-shaped room with strange acoustics here on campus. Using a database of impulse response measurements from the room, one student created a VST plug-in that allows the user to hear how audio sounds for any source and microphone positions. In earlier blog entries, we discussed related topics, acoustic reverberators and anechoic chambers.

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 20.21.58-14

  • Another excellent sounding audio effect was a spectral delay using the phase vocoder, with delays applied differently depending on frequency bin. This created a sound like ‘stars falling from the sky’. Here’s a sine sweep before and after the effect is applied.

https://soundcloud.com/justjosh71/sine-sweep-original

There were many other interesting assignments (plucked string effect for piano synthesizer, enhanced chorus effects, inharmonic resonator, an all-in-one plug-in to recreate 80s rock/pop guitar effects…). But this selection really shows both the talent of the students and the possibilities to create new and interesting sounds.

The cavity tone……

In September 2017, I attended the 20th International Conference on Digital Audio Effects in Edinburgh. At this conference, I presented my work on a real-time physically derived model of a cavity tone. The cavity tone is one of the fundamental aeroacoustic sounds, similar to previously described Aeolian tone. The cavity tone commonly occurs in aircraft when opening bomb bay doors or by the cavities left when the landing gear is extended. Another example of the cavity tone can be seen when swinging a sword with a grooved profile.

The physics of operation is a can be a little complicated. To try and keep it simple, air flows over the cavity and comes into contact with air at a different velocity within the cavity. The movement of air at one speed over air at another cause what’s known as shear layer between the two. The shear layer is unstable and flaps against the trailing edge of the cavity causing a pressure pulse. The pressure pulse travels back upstream to the leading edge and re-enforces the instability. This causes a feedback loop which will occur at set frequencies. Away from the cavity the pressure pulse will be heard as an acoustic tone – the cavity tone!

A diagram of this is shown below:

Like the previously described Aeolian tone, there are equations to derive the frequency of the cavity tone. This is based on the length of the cavity and the airspeed. There are a number of modes of operation, usually ranging from 1 – 4. The acoustic intensity has also been defined which is based on airspeed, position of the listener and geometry of the cavity.

The implementation of an individual mode cavity tone is shown in the figure below. The Reynolds number is a dimensionless measure of the ratio between the inertia and viscous force in the flow and Q relates to the bandwidth of the passband of the bandpass filter.

Comparing our model’s average frequency prediction to published results we found it was 0.3% lower than theoretical frequencies, 2.0% lower than computed frequencies and 6.4% lower than measured frequencies. A copy of the pure data synthesis model can be downloaded here.

 

Sound Effects Taxonomy

At the upcoming International Conference on Digital Audio Effects, Dave Moffat will be presenting recent work on creating a sound effects taxonomy using unsupervised learning. The paper can be found here.

A taxonomy of sound effects is useful for a range of reasons. Sound designers often spend considerable time searching for sound effects. Classically, sound effects are arranged based on some key word tagging, and based on what caused the sound to be created – such as bacon cooking would have the name “BaconCook”, the tags “Bacon Cook, Sizzle, Open Pan, Food” and be placed in the category “cooking”. However, most sound designers know that the sound of frying bacon can sound very similar to the sound of rain (See this TED talk for more info), but rain is in an entirely different folder, in a different section of the SFx Library.

The approach, is to analyse the raw content of the audio files in the sound effects library, and allow a computer to determine which sounds are similar, based on the actual sonic content of the sound sample. As such, the sounds of rain and frying bacon will be placed much closer together, allowing a sound designer to quickly and easily find related sounds that relate to each other.

Here’s a figure from the paper, comparing the generated taxonomy to the original sound effect library classification scheme.

sfxtaxonomy

The Swoosh of the Sword

When we watch Game of Thrones or play the latest Assassin’s Creed the sound effect added to a sword being swung adds realism, drama and overall excitement to our viewing experience.

There are a number of methods for producing sword sound effects, from filtering white noise with a bandpass filter to solving the fundamental equations for fluid dynamics using finite volume methods. One method investigated by the Audio Engineering research team at QMUL was to find semi-empirical equations used in the Aeroacoustic community as an alternative to solving the full Navier Stokes equations. Running in real-time these provide computationally efficient methods of achieving accurate results – we can model any sword, swung at any speed and even adjust the model to replicate the sound of a baseball bat or golf club!

The starting point for these sound effect models is that of the Aeolian tone, (see previous blog entry – https://intelligentsoundengineering.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/real-time-synthesis-of-an-aeolian-tone/). The Aeolian tone is the sound generated as air flows around an object, in the case of our model, a cylinder. In the previous blog we describe the creation of a sound synthesis model for the Aeolian tone, including a link to a demo version of the model.

For a sword we take a number of the Aeolian tone models and place them on a virtual sword at different place settings. This is shown below:

coordSwordSource

Each Aeolian tone model is called a compact source. It can be seen that more are placed at the tip of the sword rather than the hilt. This is because the acoustic intensity is far higher for faster moving sources. There are 6 sources placed at the tip, positioned at a distance of 7 x the sword diameter. This distance is based on when the aerodynamic effects become de-correlated, although a simplification. One source is placed at the hilt and the final source equidistant between the last tip source and the hilt.

The complete model is presented in a GUI as shown below:

SwordDemoGUI

Referring to the both previous figures, it can be seen that the user is able to move the observer position within a 3D space. The thickness of the blade can be set at the tip and the hilt as well as the length of the blade. It is then linearly interpolated over the blade length so that each source diameter can be calculated.

The azimuth and elevation of the sword pre and post swing can be set. The strike position is fixed to an azimuth of 180 degrees and this is the point where the sword reaches its maximum speed. The user sets the top speed of the tip from the GUI. The Prime button makes sure all the variables are pushed through into the correct places in equations and the Go button triggers the swing.

It can be seen that there are 4 presets. Model 1 is a thin fencing type sword and Model 2 is a thicker sword. To test versatility of the model we decided to try and model a golf club. The preset PGA will set the model to implement this. The golf club model involves making the diameter of the source at the tip much larger, to represent the striking face of a golf club. It was found that those unfamiliar with golf did not identify the sound immediately so a simple golf ball strike sound is synthesised as the club reaches top speed.

To test versatility further, we created a model to replicate the sound of a baseball bat; preset MLB. This is exactly the same model as the sword with the dimensions just adjusted to the length of a bat plus the tip and hilt thickness. A video with all the preset sounds is given below. This includes two sounds created by a model with reduced physics, LoQ1 & LoQ2. These were created to investigate if there is any difference in perception.

The demo model was connected to the animation of a knight character in the Unity game engine. The speed of the sword is directly mapped from the animation to the sound effect model and the model observer position set to the camera position. A video of the result is given below:

Real-Time Synthesis of an Aeolian tone

Aeroacoustics are sounds generated by objects and the air and is a unique group of sounds. Examples of these sounds are a sword swooshing through the air, jet engines, propellers as well as the wind blowing through cracks, etc.  The Aeolian tone is one of the fundamental sounds; the cavity tone and edge tone being others. When designing these sound effects we want to model these fundamental sounds. It then should be possible to make a wide range of sound effects based on these. We want the sounds to be true to the physics generating them and operate in real-time. Completed effects will be suitable for use in video games, TV, film and virtual or augmented reality.

The Aeolian tone is the sound generated when air moves past a string, cylinder or similar object. It’s the whistling noise we may hear coming from a fence in the wind or the swoosh of a sword. An Aeolian Harp is a wind instrument that has been harnessing the Aeolian tone for hundreds of years. If fact, the word Aeolian comes from the Greek god of wind Aeolus.

The physics behind this sound….

When air moves past a cylinder spirals called vortices form behind it, moving away with the air flow. The vortices build up on both sides of the cylinder and detach in an alternating sequence. We call this vortex shedding and the downstream trail of vortices, a Von Karman Vortex Street. An illustration of this is given below:

strouh2

As a vortex sheds from each side there is a change in the lift force from one side to the other. It’s the frequency of this oscillating force that is the fundamental tone frequency. The sound radiates in a direction perpendicular to the flow. There is also a smaller drag force associated with each vortex shed. It is much smaller than the lift force, twice the frequency and radiates parallel to the flow. Both the lift and drag tones have harmonics present.

Can we replicate this…?

In 1878 Vincent Strouhal realized there was a relationship between the diameter of a string, the speed it was travelling thought the air and the frequency of tone produces. We find the Strouhal number varies with the turbulence around the cylinder. Luckily, we have a parameter that represents the turbulence called the Reynolds number. It’s calculated from the viscosity, density and velocity of air, and the diameter of the string. From this we can calculate the Strouhal number and get the fundamental tone frequency.

This is the heart of our model and was the launching point for our model. Acoustic sound sources can be often represented by compact sound sources. These are monopoles, dipoles and quadrupoles. For the Aeolian tone the compact sound source is a dipole.

We have an equation for the acoustic intensity. This is proportional to airspeed to the power of 6. It also includes the relationship between the sound source and listener. The bandwidth around the fundamental tone peak is proportional to the Reynolds number. We calculate this from published experimental results.

The vortex wake acoustic intensity is also calculated. This is much lower that the tone dipole at low airspeed but is proportional to airspeed to the power of 8. There is little wake sound below the fundamental tone frequency and it decreases proportional to the frequency squared.

We use the graphical programming language Pure Data to realise the equations and relationships. A white noise source and bandpass filters can generate the tone sounds and harmonics. The wake noise is a brown noise source shaped by high pass filtering. You can get the Pure Data patch of the model by clicking here.

Our sound effect operates in real-time and is interactive. A user or game engine can adjust:

  • Airspeed
  • Diameter and length of the cylinder
  • Distance between observer and source
  • Azimuth and elevation between observer and source
  • Panning and gain

We can now use the sound source to build up further models. For example, an airspeed model that replicates the wind can reproduce the sound of wind through a fence. The swoosh of a sword is sources lines up in a row with speed adjusted to radius of the arc.

Model complete…?

Not quite. We can calculate the bandwidth of the fundamental tone but have no data for the bandwidth of harmonics. In the current model we set them at the same value. The equation of the acoustic intensity of the wake is an approximation. The equation represents the physics but is not an exact value. We have to use best judgement when scaling it to the acoustic intensity of the fundamental tone.

A string or wire has a natural vibration frequency. There is an interaction between this and the vortex shedding frequency. This modifies the sound heard by a significant factor.