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Frames of Reference

Learn how to create a library of sonic events that can be used for any genre with the Samplenerd method!

The blank canvas can be daunting for sound designers, writers, and painters alike. The void of the uncreated can test even the most iron-willed among us.

Initial attempts can seem to lead to average, already-done, or parochial results. All artists – from sound designers to cinematographers want something original, or at least cool enough to stand out in some way.

The SampleNerd method of building a reference library can help you overcome the awkward starter phase of creation. With this method, you’ll have a go-to foundation to build and create sounds that have an accuracy that meets expectations.

Sound design is not just the sound itself, but the process that creates it. So, let’s dive in!

Sound design in reverse

Many sounds are the result of fairly complex processes, but that needn’t daunt us. As you’re trying to create something new think of the movement that might be involved. Pushing, pulling, moving forward, moving backwards, place the sound on a map as it were so it’s visually represented. There are plenty of websites that offer schematics of things we use every day.

List 10 objects in your house and think about what sound they make.

For example, if an electrical device hums, the switch clunks, or in the example of a kettle boiling the bubbling reaches a climax, what kind of appliance or objects makes it?

Once you’ve done a few around the house, go outside and try to build up a library of sound definitions. But now swap them around:

– Scraping: a spade against the ground
– Gurgling: emptying a saucepan
– White noise: a shower
– And so on.

Now you have a short dictionary of sonic events. Hint: If it helps, record the sound you’re describing and store it in your DAW to really listen to what that particular event sounds like. Slow it down, how many sounds are involved in the process?

Sitting at a blank project with a few hopeful sounds or patches loaded could take you a lot of time before you strike gold with them. But thanks to your dictionary, you have a pretty good idea of what a particular event may sound like; and this is the key. It’s the event we’re creating, not the sound itself. Otherwise, there are already a billion great samples of stuff out there.

Fulfilling norms

We all know what a toaster popping sounds like. But let’s say instead of that, we give it a whizz and a bang like a firework. It descriptively works. It describes the bread being ejected and the pop of its end. Even though it would probably seem outlandish or even ridiculous, it still follows the event of what a toaster utilizes.

However, sound design, even new and novel sound design, has an obligation to fulfill basic expectations. A producer doesn’t want the audience to have to decipher basic audial representations of what they are seeing on screen. So as clever and ingenious as your sound design may be, the producer will appreciate you more if you can accommodate these expectations to a certain extent.

Speaking of framing things…

Below is a sound image of Can you Forgive Her by Pet Shop Boys produced by the charity Soundwaves Art Foundation. They render the sound waves of songs into printed visual art. With all proceeds going to various causes. Check them out!

In 2022, Chris and Neil signed a limited-edition artwork created from the audio of “Can you forgive her?” for Tim Wakefield’s Soundwaves Art Foundation. A few remaining prints are currently available to order at the link below. All proceeds go to the charity, Children In Conflict.

Image shows artwork produced by the Soundqaves Art Foundation from the article: Frames of Reference by
Songs you can see – Can you forgive her rendered as visual art work Credit:

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