Cool sound design and audio effects projects

Every year, I teach 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. Last year, I had a well received blog entry about the projects.

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 of the projects this year.

From the Sound Design class;

  • A truly novel abstract sound synthesis (amplitude and frequency modulation) where parameters are controlled by pitch recognition and face recognition machine learning models, using the microphone and the webcam. Users could use their voice and move their face around to affect the sound.
  • An impressive one had six sound models: rain, bouncing ball, sea waves, fire, wind and explosions. It also had a website where each synthesised sound could be compared against real recordings. We couldn’t always tell which was real and which was synthesised!

SoundSelect.png

  • An auditory model of a London Underground train, from the perspective of a passenger on a train, or waiting at a platform. It had a great animation.

train

  • Two projects involved creating interactive soundscapes auralising an image. One involved a famous photo taken by the photographer, Gregory Crewdson. encapsulating  a dark side of suburban America through surreal, cinematic imagery. The other was an estate area, where there are no bodies visible , giving the impression of an eerie atmosphere where background noises and small sounds are given prominence.

And from the Digital Audio Effects class;

  • A create-your-own distortion effect, where the user can interactively modify the wave shaping curve.
  • Input dependant modulation signal based on the physical mass/ spring system
  • A Swedish death metal guitar effect combining lots of effects for a very distinctive sound
  • A very creative all-in-one audio toy, ‘Ring delay’. This  augmented ping-pong delay effect gives controls over the panning of the delays, the equalization of the audio input and delays, and the output gain. Delays can be played backwards, and the output can be set out-of-phase. Finally, a ring modulator can modulate the audio input to create new sounds to be delayed.
  • Chordify, which transforms an incoming signal, ideally individual notes, into a chord of three different pitches.

chordify

  • An audio effects chain inspired by interning at a local radio station. The student helped the owner produce tracks using effects chain presets. But this producers understanding of compressors, EQ, distortion effects… was fairly limited. So the student recreated one of the effects chains into a plugin that only has two adjustable parameters which control multiple parameters inside. 
  • Old Styler, a plug-in that applies sort of a ‘vintage’ effect so that it sounds like from an old radio or an old, black and white movie. Here’s how it sounds.
  • There were some advanced reverbs, including a VST implementation of a state-of-the-art reverberation algorithm known as a Scattering Delay Network (SDN), and a Church reverb incorporating some additional effects to get that ‘church sound’ just right.
  • A pretty amazing cave simulator, with both reverb and random water droplet sounds as part of the VST plug-in.

CaveSimulator

  • A bit crusher, which also had noise, downsampling and filtering to allow lots of ways to degrade the signal.
  • A VST implementation of the Euclidian Algorithm for world rhythms as described by Goddfried Toussaint in his paper The Euclidean Algorithm Generates Traditional Musical Rhythms.
  • A mid/side processor, with excellent analysis to verify that the student got the implementation just right.
  • Multi-functional distortion pedal. Guitarists often compose music in their bedroom and would benefit from having an effect to facilitate filling the song with a range of sounds, traditionally belonging to other instruments. That’s what this plug-in did, using a lot of clever tricks to widen the soundstage of the guitar.
  • Related to the multi-functional distortion, two students created multiband distortion effects.
  • A Python project that separates a track into harmonic, percussive, and residual components which can be adjusted individually.
  • An effect that attempts to resynthesise any audio input with sine wave oscillators that take their frequencies from the well-tempered scale. This goes far beyond auto-tune, yet can be quite subtle.
  • A source separator plug-in based on Dan Barry’s ADRESS algorithm, described here and here. Along with Mikel Gainza, Dan Barry cofounded the company Sonic Ladder, which released the successful software Riffstation, based on their research.

There were many other interesting assignments, including several variations on tape emulation. But this selection really shows both the talent of the students and the possibilities to create new and interesting sounds.

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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.