Sound Design and other sonic esoterica
As an electronic musician, I come across the term ‘Sound Design’ quite often. It seems to be primarily applied to synth programming and is not uncommon in the ambient / soundscape genres. I’d like to consider myself to be a sound designer, as I spend much of time creating sounds from scratch or samples and the processes that I use are many fold and core to my work. For me, the process isn’t straightforward (usually !), I use a series of processes / effects to get what I feel are interesting sounds. I follow Eno’s ideas about processing the processed and as a result of these processes, quite often a sound is ‘mangled’ beyond all recognition, or when I’m working with binaural recordings, it’s only the spatial element that remains after being put through ‘the machine’. I took this approach to sound design in conjunction with some of the ideas I came across from Electro-acoustic music composition, where very ‘ordinary’ sounds are worked on to transform them into something exotic. I find this element of music making to be particularly fascinating and I’m always on the look out for sound processing tools. I’m currently exploring the mighty ‘Reaktor‘ (http://www.native-instruments.com/#/en/products/producer/reaktor-5/) from Native Instruments, which is proving to be very rewarding and surprisingly useful for my take on tonal ambient music.
In my explorations, I’ve stumbled across some programs that can have an interesting effect beyond their intended purpose. For example, there’s a FFT de-noiser ensemble for Reaktor (http://co.native-instruments.com/index.php?id=userlibrary&type=0&ulbr=1&plview=detail&patchid=5722) that does a great job of really ‘smoothing’ a sound out – smoothing sounds out is a big part of what I do !. Other techniques that I’ve developed have been more pre-meditated, usually as a result of spending significant time spent on something, ‘tweaking’ a set of parameters or whatever. Saying that, some discoveries have happened ‘by chance’ (not that I believe that there is such a thing as ‘chance’) or in an entirely unexpected way.
Regarding effects and processes, I’m not just talking about delays and reverbs, I rarely just use a single effect in isolation (reverb being the exception). These days there’s all manner of esoteric spectral, granular or just plain out-there tools available and I like to try them all. However, only a small number of things actually work for me.
I reject a lot of the work-in-progress pool of material I create on every album that I release, so in a sense, I act as a ‘filter’ in terms of my choice of the refinement of the sound material that I use in my compositions. It may sound like a negative observation, but I find the key to trying to achieve a unique voice, is to recognise as much about what you don’t like (artistically) as much as what you do like.
Regarding the power of sound, I have some thoughts on this which may be considered rather esoteric…
I believe that sound as an energy has attributes that we may not be fully aware of and some sounds are ‘of this time’ (in that they never were heard before) and they can be both strongly positive or negative. A lot of sounds in our lives are very intense (in terms of volume level), these sounds are are a by-product of the technology around us and I feel that ambient music can shift the balance to the quieter end of the spectrum. As an ambient artist, I try to channel the particular sonic spectra that resonates with me and in turn, I hope the music resonates with the people who listen to my work.