The More In-Depth, Lengthy Read Tutorial
Making an instrument, or a sound from the ground up at first seems daunting, not easy, a waste of time perhaps, or something you feel like you can never do. Alas, hopefully this article will help you de-root that misconception and prove to yourself that you can do it.
Now, as seen in the video above, or if you didn't watch it, that's totally fine, we're attempting to take wind that was recorded with a mobile field recorder in Arches National Park U.S.A., and make that wind sound usable as a music pad. How do we even begin to do that!? Let's dig into this and find out.
Firstly, there's a couple of things that we have to introduce to you that you might not be aware of, and if you are, brownie points and good on you! For the rest of us, we need to know a thing or two about what makes a 'Note'. There are tons of in depth explanations to this that I'll admit are WAY beyond my knowledge and pay grade, but what I do know is this: EVERY 'note', and for this write-up, let's just use the note 'F' as the primary example, only because later on, you'll HEAR this example made for an 'F' note. Every note on a keyboard, or guitar, or organ, whatever instrument it is; doesn't matter, every note that we hear has a corresponding frequency in which that note is, and the note it corresponds to. So, in an even more in depth explanation, just so I don't lose you, an 'A' note has a frequency in which that note is, the same for a 'B' note, or 'B flat' so on and so forth, all these notes have frequencies that MAKE these notes. It's universal and it won't change. So, I'll show you a visualization of what this look like, and I'll go ahead and list this as the official STEP 1 to make if you're wanting to do this yourself.
Let's take a look at this image:
You might be freaking out a little, well don't. This isn't as complicated as it looks. All this is is a visualization of what I had just mentioned previously above. This is a 'Frequency Note Chart', also, you can find TONS of these on google images by simply searching 'Frequency Note Chart'. All this chart's purpose is, is for us later, to be able to see what FREQUENCY makes what NOTE. These frequencies are of course measured in hertz. So now we have an easy way to look at this as a reference for later once we get deep into making a sound. Feel free to save that image that I supplied above as a chart for your use whenever you may need it.
Okay, so step 1 is done and hopefully well explained. In recap, every note has a corresponding frequency which makes that note at a certain octave, and that image above is a graph that helps us see that easily. Cool? Cool!
Let's move to STEP 2 and where the fun begins!
Now, with this really cool little bit of info you have about how notes correlate to frequency, at least in the 'tip-of-the-iceberg' form of it, how do we apply this to anything cool!? Let's keep digging.
Let's take a little listen to just wind by itself recorded at Arches National Park, where our main bit of source material was recorded for this experiment. A few little things first: I strongly recommend wearing headphones or using good monitors for playback of these examples so you'll be able to really hear what's happening. Also, a preliminary apology to all you audiophiles, but Squarespace really limits me on the resolution of audio I can upload. All the examples will be 44.1kHz MP3 files. I know, I know, I wish it were more as well, but honestly, this will do JUST fine for this.
So here's just the wind by itself:
Pretty straight forward, and basic so far. A basic wind recording outside using a wind guard and a Zoom H6 with the MSH-6 Mid-Side capsule that comes with the Zoom itself. Nothing fancy here.
Now, lets take that wind sample and get it into a DAW. Just in case some of you don't know what that is, a DAW is short for a Digital Audio Workstation, which included are programs like Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase etc. You can use WHATEVER DAW you want. It will not affect sound quality in any way. It's just preference of user interface, that's all. For me, I use Pro Tools. Don't be set off by this if you don't have Pro Tools. You DO NOT need it for this to work. Honestly, you could pull up Garageband on any Mac and this would work just fine. You will need some sort of DAW on a computer to make this happen. So choose any of them and go with it!
Let's pick up where we left off...Let's get that audio sample into a our DAW. So once I have it in, it will look really basic. Something like this...
That sample you see above is the wind recording you heard previously. We'll start with that simple recording to build off of. Alright, lets officially start step 3!
Step 3 is where we really get technical with this, and it gets really fun. The next thing you'll need is any EQ plug-in that preferably is a paragraphic EQ. I'm not gonna outline to much of what that is. You're welcome to google that up if you feel like you need to understand more of it. But just know a paragraphic EQ looks something like this:
It's an EQ plug-in where I can add multiple different points and manipulate them to latch to specific frequencies, make those latch points wider or more narrow, and boost or cut that frequency: taking the bare EQ plug-in shown above, and make it do stuff like this for example:
So having a paragraphic EQ versus one that's not doesn't mean you can't do what we're trying to do, it just means it makes it a lot easier since you can see what you're doing in a more pleasurable viewing environment. Awesome! Let's keep this moving to Step 4!
Step 4 is where we apply the math from that graph we looked at in the beginning to this EQ plug-in. Now, I said earlier that we were going to use our example note as an 'F' note. So let's make our first point on our EQ an 'F' note. So, pull up that Frequency Note Chart again and lets go to the 'F' note column to see what frequencies we have to work with.
So back at this graph again:
Let's just focus on the column of frequencies that correspond with the 'F' note. So it would be all of these:
Now, if you look at the big graph again, at the very top, you'll see how the Y axis of the graph is separated into 'Octaves'. Now these octaves, in the easiest way to understand it, are like this: the lower the octave, the lower the note. So the far left of the graph, all those lower numbers, such as 23.12 for example which is found in our 'F' note column, will result in a very low note in pitch. Then, of course, the far left of the graph, or the higher value numbers will result in notes that are higher in pitch. So what we want to do for this example is to get the best of both worlds. So let's start right in the middle and build our way out. So, let's make our first value the 'F' note in the middle octave, which we'll say is 'Octave 4'. So if we trace down, we see that number gives us 349.23.
So our first value is 349.23, which is represented in Hertz. So what this tells us is that an 'F' note at Octave 4 in the frequency spectrum is really just 349.23 hertz. That's it! So we now know that F on octave 4 is 349.23 Hertz. Now, all we want to do is recreate that note out of recording we already have. You might already know where this is going from here, but let's look at it anyways! Lets jump back into our handy paragraphic EQ plug-in:
So now that we've found out where our first note is in terms of its value in frequency, which again is represented in Hertz, lets plug that into our EQ. Now, every EQ might be a little different on how this works, but it should remain pretty much the same. So lets create a new point on our EQ. Something like this:
and let's give it the value we found above, which again, was 349.23 Hertz. Now, there might be a couple of ways your plug-in does this, but the application should be pretty universal regardless of the plug-in you're using. For mine, which is the FabFilter Pro-Q, all I have to do is hover over my newly created point, like so:
and type in the 349.23 value. Which this now then moves my point to the exact frequency we typed in, which was 349.23 Hertz, resulting in this:
Not super crazy stuff here at all! Just took that value, typed it in to our EQ point, pressed enter, and here we are. You might be asking, "Can I just click and drag a point to the general location of 349.23?". Well, yes, you could.....but, we want the reproduction of these notes to be perfectly in tune with one another when we add more. Also, I'm a perfectionist, so there's that to deal with. I digress.
Now, honestly, the main application of making a pad out of wind is done at this point. The rest of these changes are guidelines. From here on out, there's not really a "wrong" way to do this. It's taste at this point, and please, follow your taste!
Having said that. All we're doing now, is taking that point on the EQ we created, and boosting the living crap out of it, resulting in something that looks like this:
After you boost that frequency with a really narrow band, and then play it back, you should start to hear the beginnings of what we're going for! But, you might be saying, "JOSH?!, a 30dB BOOST ON ONE FREQUENCY!? WE CAN'T DO THAT, ITS AGAINST, WELL, WE, WE JUST CANT DO THAT!". Who cares. There's no rules here. If you have to boost it 30dB to get a cool sound, then do it! Don't be scared to unlearn all these "guidelines and rules" you thought existed. We're creators, so create!
So that boost, from that single value, probably sounds a little something like this:
SO, this brings me honestly to the finale!
Take these concepts, and apply them to make CHORDS now instead of notes. So if you wanted to continue to make an F Major chord, repeat these same steps, and add EQ points for say an 'A' note and a 'C' note. Once you find those frequencies on that chart, work your way up the octaves while doing it, much like if you were to play a chord on the piano. So take those 'A' and 'C' values, put them into the same EQ plug-in, and now, you have a chord.
Play with this. Create with these concepts. Make your own inversions, and weird chords. EQ in a way that sounds good to you. Add reverb if you want. Do this with sounds other than wind. There's no limit to what you can do here. The application of this is endless.
I hope you've found this helpful and something that will be beneficial to you as you continue to create. Let me know what you all find out that I didn't explain here. We're all learning here. So keep digging into this idea and when you're done forming an F chord, you can have something like this to enjoy.