What We Can Learn From The “Singularity” Sound Design Team

Another great sound designer interview is up courtesy of my friend Miguel at Designing Sound.  This time around, he interviews the sound design geniuses behind the game “Singularity,” a moody FPS that I’ve had the pleasure of putting some time into over the last week or so.

I’m floored at how much game sound design has improved over the last couple of years, but in this post I wanted to focus on what musical sound designers can learn from these guys.

Here’s my favorite quote from the interview:

“I don’t like to follow the most obvious path, particularly when designing sci-fi themed sounds for a game with as much possibility as Singularity. For example, when making sound for a futuristic rocket, going into a sound library and entering the word “rocket” into the search field isn’t a good enough starting point. Instead, just having a clear impression about the desired sound, such as the texture of it, points me in some interesting directions to go in. I might end up grabbing the sound of a rolling skateboard and a crying baby for a flying rocket if there seems to be a connection between those elements and the envisioned rocket sound. Sometimes I’ll grab some really weird stuff without forethought just to get the ideas going but the best work results from having a sense for what the sound should be. Forethought helps illuminate more interesting and original creative directions.”

This is a concept that I’ve tried to get across in one form or another many times in the tutorials and here on the blog.  I firmly believe that sound designers benefit more from an intimate familiarity with the concept of timbre than they do from having the most comprehensive sound library in the world, and this goes equally for people working in music as it does for those working in games and film.

If you truly want a unique take on a familiar sound, break that sound down into its individual timbral elements.  Do you absolutely have to use that bangin’ kick drum sample from the same library that everyone has been recommending on the Dubstep forum for the last 2 years?  Why not think about the individual parts of a kick drum sound, i.e. what makes it sound distinct?

Now you realize that the kick has a “click” in the high end and a big, rumbly “body” on the low end.  By breaking it down into these component parts, you realize that just about anything could perform these roles.  For example, there’s nothing stopping you from recording yourself kicking a ball and modulating the result to use as the body of your kick.

I’ve run into (often bitter) backlash against this way of thinking because people want the fastest, easiest solution to everything.  Addressing that complaint is getting tiring for me, so I’ll leave it at this:  Don’t try to do all of your sound design and write your track at the same time. This is a recipe for failure, and it’s an easy trap to fall into.  Most of the time, you’re just going to run out of inspiration before you can get the basic idea into your sequencer because you spent too much time tweaking knobs.

Next time you are looking for that perfect sample or synth patch, see if you can challenge yourself to break down your desired sound into its timbral components, and get creative with building them up in a unique way.

What We Can Learn From The "Singularity" Sound Design Team by

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3 Responses to “What We Can Learn From The “Singularity” Sound Design Team”

  1. tranzfuseAugust 5, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Thanks Nick! This reminds me of a great interview with Matthew Herbert in Tape Op magazine from a couple of years back. He said something along the lines of

    “why on earth would I use a 909 kick drum sample that has been used by everyone 100s of 1000s of times when I can take a micropohone, shove it into a box of cornflakes and give it a soft whack? Or maybe a box of Froot Loops sounds different.”

    Needless to say, he is a master of creative sampling and has constructed entire albums from only samples he’s recorded himself and reconstructed. I return to that interview from time to time when I need some inspiration.

    Anyway, thanks for your article. I enjoy reading about people’s techniques used to create, particularly when related to sound and music.

    • NickAugust 5, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

      I think I actually read that interview but had forgotten about it until you mentioned it here. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. per UlvAugust 9, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    Excellent! Also as reminder.
    Thank you!

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