Can you help me think of ambient sounds to sample for my music?
August 15, 2017 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Calling all sound designers, musicians and generally creative Mefites! I've recently been getting into sampling sounds in nature (i.e "found sound") and then using them as percussion and other elements in my music (loosely categorized as IDM, EDM, whatever). I will be vacationing next week by the ocean and trying to do some advance thinking and get some inspiration for my trip. I acknowledge upfront that this is a broad question with broad answers, so to help focus the question there is . . .

Here are some thoughts to help narrow the range of responses:
  • I don't want to rule out ideas of audio that can be used as percussive elements, but because basically *anything* sampled can be turned into percussion (if you shorten the sample enough), I'm interested most in the category of sounds that could be used as a substitute for bass, keyboard, brass/wind or string elements.
  • Due to my proximity to the ocean, that limits the options. I won't have as much access to sounds typically found in the city (traffic, horns, etc.) Alternatively, any water-based samples will be easier to locate.
  • For those who have done this sort of thing in the past, any general tips, tricks or "gotchas" I should be aware of are also welcomed.
For thoroughness sake the recording device is the Tascam DR-07 with the furry windscreen to cut noise when needed.
posted by jeremias to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Fun question. The obvious answer is waves. To make it less obvious, try getting waves crashing into things: the leg of a pier, some driftwood, etc.

If you could get some wind, that could make a cool keyboard-y line.

Shore birds.

Rocks splashing into water.

Rubbing your feet in the sand.

Pouring sand.

You'll still have access to a car, right? You can still record those.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:57 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy the band Efterkland. They put a lot of found sounds in their music. For example, the beat in this song is generated from the sound of someone running on a dock.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:20 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well I know you don't have any control over the geological formations available to you, but if you can find some kind of sea cave where the mouth is exposed to the air, and then completely filled by a wave, that can make a fantastic bassy whoompf noise, as a big bunch of air gets pushed around.

(Come visit the pedestrian tunnel tunnel by Sutro Baths, in San Francisco.)
posted by aubilenon at 4:23 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Drag a large log across a rocky shore, filter out the high pitch surf sounds, get a bass note.

Lots of beach architecture is on pylons and stilts of various sorts. Bang those with flippers or bogeyboards or pool noodles for low bell chime type sounds.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:51 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Find a YouTube video recorded in a room that has audible room tone - that barely-audible hush of airflow and natural echo. (Or find YouTube channels that post sound effect libraries, and look for the "room tone" category.) This sound tends to be at least somewhat pitched. Sample a few seconds of that.

Normalize the sample to boost the (very low) volume.

Adjust the tuning to the nearest musical note.

Apply an amplitude envelope with moderate attack and release, and maybe a bit of reverb (and/or a low-pass filter, if it's too hissy/trebly).

Play on a MIDI keyboard. Voila - you have a very diffuse pad, suitable for ambient.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:34 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

(Sorry; I missed that you're interested in field recording. Maybe record your own room tones?)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:37 PM on August 15, 2017

Knock driftwood together until you find a piece with a discernable pitch. Play as a skittery marimba-like sound.

If it rains: steady rainfall over water is often kinda pitched.

If there are enclosed, manmade, utilitarian structures such as culverts: take advantage of the natural reverb.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:44 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

If your seashore includes some grassy areas, you may be able to capture some insect sounds. I remember having grasshopper-type creatures jump up with a whirring noise. And of course you may be able to record crickets, or even cicadas (I think the season is over, but what do I know).
posted by SemiSalt at 6:33 AM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks all! Just the sort of ideas I needed to get the wheels turning.
posted by jeremias at 11:18 AM on August 16, 2017

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