If you’ve ever done any soundtrack work, you’ll know why soundscapes and cinema go together. Soundtracks are meant to accompany and reinforce a movie’s visuals, not outperform them. This fact, coupled with a movie’s lack of any real definable tempo or time-based arrangement, makes a bed of atmospheric sound the perfect partner to moving picture.
Subtractive synthesis is perhaps the simplest method for designing sounds, but despite its simplicity, it can be immensely powerful. What’s most important is that the patch you create sounds deep, expansive and interesting to the listener.
Movement is a crucial component of soundscape creation. Our brains easily pick up on repetition – as soon as we spot it, we tend to lose interest and the sound loses its magic. However, we have a powerful weapon we can use to keep things changing: modulation! LFOs and envelopes change the sound over time, of course, and they’re absolutely vital for fooling your ears into thinking the sound is forever moving. So don’t be afraid to go to town with subtle modulation across every facet of your synth patch as you program.
For multilayered thickness, layering oscillators is a great way to create hugesounding textures, particularly by tuning them across several octaves. When creating a patch, think about stacking your oscillators from low to high pitch rather than using the same octave range, so the sound thickens up. If your synth allows, spread oscillators around the stereo field (via unison spread or panning) to surround the listener within your soundscape.
Finally, let’s not overlook a key component: processing! Effects aren’t just the icing on the cake, but an intrinsic part of the sound itself. Reverb and delay are used generously to create a spacious, dreamy atmosphere; and modulation effects like chorus, phasers and flangers will spread the sound across the stereo field. Ensure the effects blend into the soundscape, though – the aim is to enhance the sound, not draw attention to the processing!
Spatial effects can be coupled with loads of modulation to create that evolving, complex soundscape feel