I’ll freely admit I haven’t really mastered composite sounds all that well yet. That is to say, if I’m producing a sound that I want to evoke a certain mood, I experiment until I have the mood I want and then I see what high end or what bass would compliment it and build it up like that. If I’m designing a sound from scratch though and I want something in particular, something very specific, I wouldn’t know what layers to give it from scratch.
If you have an idea in your head how something should sound though, a vocalization for example or something else complex, how close do you get to your vision when the sound’s made. Do you hear the sound in your head and think if I crossed an angle-grinder with a gibbon with a dragster I know I’d get that sound, or is the process more alchemical for you. Which comes first, the concept of a sound, or something in the right ballpark that you build on? Do you know what to layer with what right away or is it a question of tinkering.
I can produce emotive and abstract sounds. I want to graduate to producing particular sounds that sound like particular things – unicorns, particular magic spells, sound sequences etc, all while relying as little as possible on libraries, since I only have single-user licenses.
I’m interested in this topic as well. As a musician, part of me wants to say that mastery of your instrument means that you can more easily translate a thought or feeling into that sound. So the more you know your tools in-depth, the more you can apply them to your thoughts. But I also know that it is not always the case and some exploration may be needed. By exploration I mean starting from a more random “seed” (something outside the comfortable solution space) and trying to find a solution that is closer to what you hear inside your head. (There are actually mathematical algorithms that work like that but that’s besides the point).
I don’t know how helpful this will be, but I recently produced a pair of videos that walked through my own thought process and implementation of a specific speaking vocal effect for a mythical creature. You can find Part 1 here and then follow on with Part 2 if you like it. This was my first screencast. Hope to get better at it.
Another way I think about layering and combining is like cooking, which I do a lot. How certain ingredients or types of spices combine really needs to be appreciated by doing it a lot and developing a sort of sensory memory that can be recalled later on. After cooking for a long time, you find yourself imagining a dish and being able to break it down to several flavor profiles. “I want warm spices with a little sourness to it but sparkling fresh and not muted. It should be rustic with some texture to it and medium spice”. then I’m able to translate the profiles into ingredients. I think about composing a sound in a very similar way, and one of my goals is to be able to develop a similar internal translation mechanism as in cooking. I believe that doing it – a lot – is the way to go at least for me and so I try to find time for pure exploration, so that I can develop the sound “cooking” pallet in my head.