Electrical Sound Design Experiments

Electrical Sound Design Experiments

Electrical Sound Design Experiments

Welcome! this is the first in a series of articles I have planned to discuss creation of certain sound design elements.  Sometimes it will draw from the community, other times things I've stumbled on.  My goal is to crank out consistent content for the experience of learning and sharing with the community.  I don't expect every attempt to be a complete success, but I am excited to have some fun and share some knowledge.  With that, lets get started!

Recently I saw a post on the exchange forums of designingsound.org where electrical sound design elements were being discussed.  A number of techniques and materials were brought up that I found very interesting.  This inspired me to give it a try on my own and see what I could come up with.

I did this experiment at home, so I relied only on materials that were conveniently nearby.  I gathered some packaging plastic, a glass mason jar, aluminum foil, and a styrofoam cup (with lid).  I also heated up a burner on my stove later to get some sizzling sounds using water.

Source Recording

I didn't end up using all of this different source material in the end.  Although I do think it could all be used toward creating electrical design elements.  I will discuss only the materials that I feel gave me the best results this time.  The two biggest components in my final sound ended up being the styrofoam cup and water sizzling on my stove burner.  Styrofoam often gets brought up in the context of electrical sound design and I can really see why.  Although not an uncommon use for the material, I did some things manipulating it that I feel specifically gave me cool results.

I found that grabbing the plastic lid and twisting it gave me some really great squeaks and crackly sounds.  From there I played around with mic placement and how to record it.  I ended up punching out the bottom of the cup and sticking the microphone inside while I manipulated the lid.

My idea with the mason jar was to wet my hands and get some glass squeaks by rubbing my fingers on it.  I got the result I was going for but I ended up not using it in the final asset mix a whole lot.  I'd like to spend more time experimenting with this source.
The idea in recording some sizzling sounds on the stove top was again to help emphasize the crackling nature of electricity that we typically think of.  Recording this was pretty straight forward, I got one of the burners hot and lightly spritzed some water on it.  I had the mic coming in at an angle and pulled it away when not needed so I wouldn't cook it.  After some re-pitching these sounded perfect.

Processing Source Material

After gathering my necessary recordings I did a little quick editing and pulled them into Reaper for further design.  I won't dive into too much detail on each individual plugin, but I want to give you an overall idea of what my thought process was.  If you'd like to check out the parameters and every plugin I used, I took some screenshots below.

I used a Reaktor5 Instrument Ensemble known as S-Layer, Waves Q10 EQ, Uhbik-G Grains and Pitch, Avocado glitch processor (in Reaper), and Uhbik-A reverb/ambience.  I have been recently demoing the U-he plugins and I really like them.  The parameter layouts themselves are conducive to changing your typical approaches.

S-Layer is pretty in depth as a standalone sound design tool, for this process though I was mainly using it to quickly layer up my source material and create new iterations.  I did use some pitch and panning randomization as well.  I also experimented a bit with reversing some of the layers.  For those unfamiliar with S-Layer, it is essentially a happy accident or randomization generator, allowing you to randomize a ton of parameters at the click of button.

I started off with a little EQing to help bring out the crackling in the high end.  I wanted to play with the pitch a little bit so I used Uhbik-G for that, I also ended up using a little bit of the granular processing.  The sound I had at this point was definitely in the right ball park but I felt it was a bit too organic.  I used Reaper's glitch processing plugin to get some interesting artifacts.  This plugin has a lot to offer and can really give you some crazy sounds.  I ended up going pretty conservative with it for this application.

At this point, I was pretty happy with my overall sound and texture but wanted to add a little space.  Uhbik-A worked really great for this particular instance.  The design and parameter layout lends itself nicely to creating some reverb that can be quite subtle and useful when you want some space but not really verb, if that makes any sense.


In the end I was actually very pleased with the results of this experiment.  I generated a lot of really great stuff that will surely come in hand for future projects.  I will likely keep playing with the source material and see what other flavors of electrical sounds I can come up with.

As a bonus, while I was experimenting in S-Layer with just the styrofoam assets I found some other interesting avenues.  I was getting some stuff that seemed like it could make for really great creature vocalizations.  So I'll probably be exploring that a little bit more too.