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Sound Design Techniques & Tools Series: 10 Key Ways To Shape, Stretch And Transform Your Audio, And The Best Plugins For The Task: Part 3 – Layering

Continuing our Sound Design collection, in Part 3 we’re digging into the concept of layering items of audio collectively to create richer, more detailed and more impactful sounds. It’s quite a easy idea in principle, however as with many elements of music production and sound design, it could possibly assist to strategy it in the proper approach with some key information, and with the suitable instruments that may make your life simpler and more artistic when working with layers. Let’s get into it.

In case you missed the earlier elements within the collection, you’ll be able to compensate for Part 1 – Delay, right here, which also consists of an intro to the collection, and Part 2 – Distortion, right here.

Part 3: Layering In Sound Design

A reasonably open secret of professional sound design is that layering is pretty much the key to creating distinctive, highly effective, alive-sounding audio effects. However what exactly can we imply by “layering”, and why is it an efficient method?

Layering is actually about arranging a number of separate sounds together, in such a means that when performed again together the general effect is of a single full sound.

Every layer will ideally occupy its personal range of frequencies, and contribute some sonic characteristics that aren’t present in the other layers: for instance, layering a hard digital hit sound with an abrupt, punchy transient with a softer however pleasingly acoustic-sounding mid-range thump may give you a percussion hit sample with the perfect of both worlds: evocative character and spectacular weight.

As we touched on in the earlier article on distortion in sound design, it’s helpful for any producer, but notably those designing their own sounds, to develop the behavior of hearing drums and synth sounds as made up of a number of discreet elements, each occupying their very own frequency range and with their own envelope traits (or put in easy phrases, every with their very own form and timing). If you put together a sub growth, a low-mid range thump and a mid-high frequency thwack or tick, you get a typical primary kick drum sound, for example.

Why is all this handy? As sound designers, working when it comes to layers means we will exercise complete control over each element part of a sound, a lot as we purpose to do with a full combine. In reality, layering might be regarded as a micro version of what we do on an general, macro scale when arranging and mixing an entire track. We’ve the facility to form, twist and sculpt it in virtually any means we select. The end listener will solely hear the ultimate layered sound as a (hopefully) unified, targeted sound object: efficient sound design is a type of sonic wizardry, you’re stacking a mixture of straightforward however delicate methods and sounds, information of psychoacoustic rules and pure creativity in your source decisions and means that you simply body your sounds within a full monitor, to promote a strong phantasm.

In fact, you don’t need to stop at solely two layers. With the multi-track capabilities of all trendy DAWs and audio packages limited solely by the processing energy of the pc they’re operating on, you’ll be able to take layering to ridiculous extremes. Just take into consideration why you’re including further layers, what you’re aiming to realize, and concentrate on a few of the pitfalls. We’ve outlined some key issues and ideas for efficient layering in sound design under.

Designing Layered Drums

Drums and other equally shaped “impact” sounds are the prime area during which to explore layering to construct your personal personalised kits and effects hits, which have an unique character and still hit the proverbial “correct” frequency points (where they should) in a full, well-produced trendy mix.

Typically it’s useful to think about every layer in a drum sound fulfilling the position of each stage in an ADSR envelope: one sample contributes the Attack, one other the

Keep in mind that pitch in drum sounds is delicate but can make an enormous difference each in how nicely a drum sound sits in a package or combine, and in how effectively the drum layers mesh together. Usually, attempt to discover drums that layer together properly with out an excessive amount of pitching up or right down to make them fit: in tuning them too distant from their unique pitch, you’ll probably smear transients or lose the feel or definition that was the rationale on your selection within the first place.

In fact, you possibly can take pitching to extremes for sound design functions, and turn kicks and snares into fascinating tom and hat layers by pitching them up a couple of full octaves, or vice versa.

You need to use filters and EQ to cut out certain frequencies to isolate the half you need to layer with something else, but watch out for a standard aspect impact of filtering in layering to supply a relatively thin-sounding general sound. In fact, any sound may be layered with one other, however the general advice is, choosing sounds that already sound nice collectively usually wins over spending much effort and time making an attempt to drive sounds right into a “natural-sounding” composite. With follow, you quickly develop an ear for what has speedy potential – and what ends up sounding greatest isn’t all the time what you’d essentially assume. That is one cause why it’s so necessary to have plugin tools available that permit very speedy auditioning of various layer mixtures, and ideally that also have some degree of randomization options, which we’ll get into with our layering plugins roundup under.

Maintain Each Layer In Its Personal Discreet Frequency Range

When layering sounds, it’s greatest to maintain every layer inside its own thought-about frequency range. Layering gained’t really work super-effectively if any two sounds occupy too most of the similar frequencies: they will reinforce each other, which you might want if you already know what you’re doing, but you’re more more likely to end up with odd lumps in volume at crossover frequencies, frequency masking (where you simply gained’t hear the weaker sound beneath the stronger one), and probably part cancellation issues that would make the final sound weaker, wispier or muddier. In fact some overlap is alright and may be effective in small doses to make sure the general sound looks like it’s in reality a cohesive sound fairly than separate layers, just know what to be wary of and the risks are comparatively simply prevented.

For instance, let’s say you will have a pad made up of two mid-range layers that has some great motion as every layer has its own modulation price and depth for its effects. But the sound is a bit dark and gloomy, and you are going for one thing extra crisp and upfront. While there are a number of methods you can course of the prevailing layers — with EQ, or with distortion so as to add some upper harmonics and presence — you would as an alternative merely add an entire different higher-frequency sound to your composite pad that gives no matter flavour of chew, fizz, noise, crackle or airiness you require. On this sense, layering bridges the areas of sound design, association and mixing: once you’re accustomed to using it successfully, it could actually save you a number of work that you simply may in any other case have put into processing or rewriting perfectly good elements.

Timing Every Layer

In addition to considering vertically, think of the place each layer falls horizontally on the timeline too. With hits and impacts, if the transient or body portion of every layer falls on the similar time, you’ll usually have a very loud and punchy hit because the sound fills so many frequencies simultaneously. Alternatively, staggering the abrupt assault/transient parts of each layer may give you a variety of different effects, from properly slurred hip hop claps to flammed snares to rhythmically stuttering glitch hits and buzzes, depending on the character of the layers and the way vast you make the spacing between their transients or begin occasions.

With longer layered sounds that final more than a second, you possibly can think of your layers contributing to a whole “micro-arrangement”, the place the final sound has a definite beginning, center and end. And even multiple middles, there’s no restrict to how twists and turns you’ll be able to design into a layered sound. This can be a typical strategy in film sound effects design and foley, where a “complete” sound impact moment is often made up of a focus sound plus an entire household of supporting sounds. Consider a semi-automatic rifle being fired in an motion scene: there’s the delicate foley noise of the shooter dealing with the grips and trigger; the press and punch of the preliminary explosion that propels the bullet; and then the echo or reverberation, or lack thereof, which indicates exactly what sort and measurement of surroundings the scene is occurring in.

There are some wonderful effects plugins out there that make layering not just straightforward however really fun and an inspiring supply of unique composite sounds that you simply in all probability would never have thought to place together yourself. Several of the plugins featured under function on the principle of controlled randomization: you outline the parameters and range of sound/sample sources for the layers to be randomly selected from, after which you possibly can regularly hone, course of, substitute or re-randomize each layer part until you arrive at a compelling composite sound object, whether its a drum hit, cinematic impression or melodic synth patch.

The Best Layering Results Plugins For Sound Design: Roundup Record

Polyplex is something of a drum sound designers dream because it fulfills the important thing requirement of helping generate really distinctive sound mixtures while additionally being incredibly fast and enjoyable to make use of.

The plugin options 8 principal polyphonic drum cells, with each cell containing as much as 4 layers.

With its numerous tiers of randomising “dice” and fixing “lock” buttons, from international to individual cell to particular person layer, you’ll be able to construct up your sounds by way of a satisfying means of iteration, holding what you like and tweaking or rolling the dice once more on parameters or layers that aren’t what you’re in search of. For us, it’s workflow sits right in that sweet spot that even many advanced plugins miss: triggering prompt and shocking inspiration on the one hand, while still permitting you room to impose your personal ideas to refine the results or set simply how random you need to go.

Whereas it comes with its personal wonderful 1.2 GB drum sound library, you may as well load your personal samples right into a Consumer financial institution from which Polyplex can draw it’s source layers. You possibly can set up every cell to load something from a handful of round-robin variants of a single sound, to making a random choice of drums and FX and letting it select from a wider range of sounds for really shocking layered results, that may then be tweaked and refined with some well-thought-out editign and effects additions.

Polyplex was designed for Native Instruments by Twisted Tools, who also have their very own sound design layering plugin which little question impressed and partially led to Polyplex, referred to as S-Layer: check it out under.

Obtainable for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX

Polyplex may be purchased individually and can also be in fact included in NI’s comprehensive Komplete 12 Ultimate Bundle, a terrific and fairly essential library of synths and effects processors for any sound designers toolbox.

BUY NOW by way of Amazon.


Where Polyplex is designed for working with drum material arranged into concurrently playable kits, effectively working like a drum machine instrument, S-Layer doesn’t have the same package functionality but goes deeper with the layering on a single focus sound. It has double the variety of out there layers per sound (eight versus Polyplex’s four) and in addition has options like Transpose that may spread your single layered sound chromatically throughout the keyboard, permitting you to play it like a multi-timbral instrument: good for creating immediately playable hybrid FX/synth patches. This also lets you find the candy spot when it comes to re-pitching your layered sound, making it perfectly geared in the direction of more abstract sound effects for film sound designers and more super-detailed digital genres that rely on unusual however finely crafted drums and FX parts.
A key workflow method when utilizing S-Layer for sound design is the straightforward creation of many semi-randomized, delicate variations of a layered sound, whether it’s impacts, hits, gunshots, synth hits or different probably repetitive sounds the place some natural variation is important if you wish to avoid the “80s machine gun drum machine” impact (and perhaps you don’t, that might be a stylistic impact for certain genres like synthwave too). You’ll be able to build your layered sound, then hit the randomize buttons as many time as it is advisable create unlimited quantities of round-robin-style hits that by no means sound exactly the same twice.

Out there for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX

BUY NOW by way of Twisted Tools.

FXpansion Geist 2

Principally probably the most awesome software program MPC that never existed, Geist2’s combination of barely well-hidden randomization settings, from loading a random choice of samples from a chosen folder to the pads of any engine, to randomizing the playback of all eight layers on each pad, to the TransMod system for quick and flexible modulation of just about any parameter, all make it something of a secret weapon for layering and sound design.Eight engines; 64 pads per engine; eight layers per pad. All in an surroundings that lets you use, export or further course of them in as many various methods as you possibly can consider. I wrote more about Geist2 when discussing the most effective drum plugins, so have a look there for extra particulars.

Obtainable for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX

BUY NOW by way of Plugin Boutique.


Shifting on to take a look at totally different approaches to the thought of working with constituent elements and layers, we now have Physion which deals with “structural split effects”. Very similar to what you may also now do with Steinberg’s Groove Agent 5, with Physion you possibly can cut up the incoming sound into its constituent “Transient” and “Tonal” elements. This might be thought-about a type of reverse to layering: deconstructing a sound back out into separate items.

Upon getting isolated the elements, soloing just the tonal or transient a part of a sound can utterly change the character of a notice, musical phrase or rhythm loop already. However resample these micro-parts and layer them with other drum, FX, synth or guitar parts, and you’ve got a fast and unique method of producing some unusual textures and characterful transients on your layered sounds.

Obtainable for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX

BUY NOW by way of Plugin Boutique; additionally obtainable as part of the Anthology XI bundle.


Weaponiser from Krotos Audio is geared particularly in the direction of creating powerful and flexible gunshot and lazer/sci-fi weapon sounds for video games and films. You possibly can layer as much as four samples from the included library of professionally recorded weapons, every of which are contained in one of the four engines that correspond to the 4 primary levels of a typical weapon shot sound: Onset, Body, Thump and Tail. The first three of these engines also function FM/AM synth modules mainly for enhancing the acoustic properties of the sample sounds, however they will additionally merely be used as an alternative of any loaded audio samples, to provide you with sci-fi weapon sounds – or in fact, layered synth hits, leads and effects for any trendy electronic music fashion. The Tail engine encompasses a convolution reverb for serving to place your composite sounds in an identifiable setting. And there are a number of other effects that may be added to any or all engines individually: EQ, Limiter, Saturation, Ring Modulation, Flanger, Transient Shaper and Noise Gate.

One other cool facet of Weaponiser is that you could slip the timings of each engine/sound layer relative to one another, making it very straightforward and artistic to provide you with uncommon composite sounds very quickly. You may also set off every stage individually or as a gaggle by way of MIDI, useful in a musical context.

Obtainable for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX

BUY NOW by way of Krotos. Additionally, take a look at the 10-day free demo.


While Glitchmachines are well known for their range of sample libraries and plugins that every provide totally different angles on attaining glitchy and heavily processed electronic sound effects, right here I need to concentrate on their composite sampler plugin instrument Polygon, which is a really appropriate beast for layering experiments. While the GUI might look fairly intimidating at first inspection, on the core of Polygon are the 4 sampler modules the place you’ll be able to layer up any mixture of audio samples you wish to type the idea of a new composite-sound synth patch.

Every sampler module features as a self-contained unit with its personal begin/stop/loop factors, envelope and even granular synth choices for really stretching the sonic potential of your supply material – earlier than you even get to the filters and modulation choices.

There’s also a Sub Oscillator for adding some weighty bottom finish and punch, and which may do a fantastic job of anchoring what might typically be brittle and flighty glitched-up, offering body and substance for when your granular sample destruction reaches near-breaking-point.

All five sound sources feed right into a dual-multimode filter section, and the parameters of the layers or composite group might be modulated utilizing the highly effective array of envelopes (four) and LFOs (eight!). When you can assign and hold monitor of modulation routings manually in the 36-slot modulation matrix page, I nonetheless often choose to start out with hitting the Randomize button and seeing what Polygon can do with the supply sample layer material I loaded, and from there tweak settings to style. You may also set precisely which parameters shall be randomized in its own Configuration web page, so much like the workflow in Polyplex, you can begin comparatively random, discover something that has potential, after which regularly chisel it right down to one thing utterly workable.

By the best way, we couldn’t function Polygon without also mentioning Palindrome, a kind-of next-gen version of Polygon in some methods, that doesn’t a lot supersede as supplement Polygon by putting the granular processing elements of the synth middle stage. We’ll be that includes Palindrome in more depth in a later article though once we take a better take a look at granular effects and instruments generally…

Obtainable for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX

BUY NOW by way of Plugin Boutique.

Stay tuned for the subsequent elements in this collection, all coming over the subsequent few weeks, for a lot of extra ideas and inspiration.

For more info on drum plugins and drum sound design, also take a look at our articles on 25 Of The Best Drum Plugins In The World and 10 Important Drum Manufacturing & Synthesis Techniques. A number of of the plugins featured on this article are additionally a part of a few of the Best Music Manufacturing Plugin Bundles.

And as ever, depart a comment under together with your favourite sound design methods and effects, and the instruments you employ to create them!

For a definitive collection of ideas and methods for enhancing your music to knowledgeable degree – from advanced compression methods to shaping and putting your sounds in the mix with appropriately utilized reverb and fine-tuned EQ changes – don’t overlook to check out our Final Guides e book collection:

Ultimate Guides Complete Bundle v2016

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