Sound Design Microtorial #3: Layered Wind

Designing wind can be tricky. And in my experience, different people mean different things when talking about wind. Some think of the hissing, high-pitched, noisy kind, others think of the rumbling, low-frequency kind that we hear when wind blows into our ears. Then there’s the howling, moaning, rustling, etc.

So first, let’s clear things up a little. Wind is a weather phenomenon. It’s the flow of air between high and low pressure areas. When looking at it from that angle, one could also say that wind IS sound, only of very low frequency.

Anyway, when analyzing the sound of wind, you can distinguish between three different phenomena:

(1) wind colliding directly with a membrane like a mic or eardrum, producing low frequency rumble.

(2) wind colliding with a fixed obstacle, creating twirls of air which produce broadband noise or even simple tones.

(3) wind colliding with movable objects that produce sounds themselves like rustling or rattling.

So when designing wind I usually take at least three layers: i.e. (1) a rumbling, (2) a mid-range noise and (3) some rustling or rattling. It’s a good idea to pick recordings that modulate in volume. Static sounds work too, but you probably have to apply some modulation yourself in order to make your wind sound interesting. Layer (3) is the most important one since it tells us about the materials and objects in the scene, and usually it’s the most noticeable.

Now, with those three layers you’re able to compose your wind. This is especially useful for “wind gust events”: Imagine a scene on an open field. For each wind gust you can start off with some rumbling, then blend into mid-range noise followed by rustling of grass. This will illustrate the movement of wind across the field quite adequately.

If your underlying audio files are long enough, you can simply duplicate such a composition and nudge the audio in the clips to different regions to create variants of the wind gust. This way you’re able to design a windy scene pretty quickly.

Be inspired by the objects found in the scene. Some may be of category (2) or (3) producing distinctive sounds. In a scrapyard scene for instance, layer (2) could be metallic moaning and layer (3) some rattling or soft banging.

I hope this was helpful. Have fun with your next windy scene!

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