Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
rhythmboy

Help wanted - how do you describe sounds?

27 posts in this topic

Hey all,

working on ye old thesis at the mo, and putting together a list of metaphors used to describe sound. If you have any extras you know of please add them to a reply, would be much appreciated  :) Not emotions, just words that describe the sound itself.

I'm working on a listening test/survey asking people to listen to a set of percussion samples and answer simple questions about what they hear - attack strength, pitch definition, timbrel metaphors, etc. Anyone interested I'll shoot you a zip pack in the next week or so.

Cheers! Here's the list so far...

BOXY - BRASSY - BRIGHT - BRITTLE - COLD - CLEAR - CLICKY - CRISP - CRUNCHY - CRYSTALLINE - DARK - DEAD - DEEP - DENSE - DIRTY - DULL - FLAT - FULL - GLASSY - HARSH - HEAVY - HOLLOW - LIGHT - METALLIC - MUFFLED - NASAL - NOISY - PLASTIC - PURE - RESONANT - RICH - SHARP - SOFT - SMOOTH - STEADY - SWEET - THIN - TINNY - TRASHY - WARM - WATERY - WOODEN - WOOLEN

ps "fuckin' awesage" or "split my brain in two" probably won't make the final list :P

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ps "fuckin' awesage" or "split my brain in two" probably won't make the final list :P

Well then... that's my ideas gone :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

airy

Yes! gonna add that one thanks!

Spectrum 'searing' is a bit on the emotional - 'sizzling' works for me tho.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Damn semantics! ;D

Sizzling comes *after* the initial screaming sear of the cold-ass steak hitting the ultra-hot, oiled up pan.

Alright, alright, let's go with sizzle. But it's got to be a pretty frenzied sizzle or I'm not buying it. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

^  ;D Oh yeah call me Mr f*kin 'definition of terms' - semantics plagues every word I write...

'Searing' in your context I think relates more to a metaphor for heat and connects indirectly with our impression of what sounds 'hot' - most often a reference to levels and loudness.

'Sizzling' is onomatopoeic - the word itself imitates the sound. Which reminds me - I can add Rumbling, Gurgling, Cracking, Slapping, Smacking, Bubbling, Snapping...

thanks mate, you've been an enormous help actually!  :clap:

The list is by no means complete folks - keep em coming please!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

TTttsssssssshhaa!!! ain't a sizzle. It's a searing '909 open hat at full pace. That is all.

Smash is probably destructive enough yet not descriptive enough, or is it?

Sounds can slither.

They can tinkle too.

And as you say, they can be smooth, crunchy as well, all the way to the bottom of the jar. No wait, that's peanut butter.

Still thinking...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmm... how did i miss this?

Jesters $2.50:

Hot - as in the signal was two instense or the sound is dominant in the mix. Also distortion related

Bright - the high end was 'bright'

Forward - the sound is dominant in a mix or stand out more than it should

Bump

Mah... look through any post i make in this section of the forum. I'm bound to use some ludicrous metaphor in my pseudo intellectual analysis of all things audio. I'd list more i commonly use... but the banana pina colada is blocking my thinking thingy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

^ thanks guys, appreciating the input, and giving me some unexpected feedback about the semantics of describing sound and in fact how I need to pose my questions!

Jester your terms are quite common in the world of audio, even referring to mix balances. given that I asked how we describe sound then these are great.

However it seems maybe what I should ask is how you'd describe a sound? More specifically a single instance of a single sound? Eg. musical instrument note, synth note/sweep/noise, etc.

Getting really specific, I'm making a list of descriptions/metaphors for drum and percussion sounds.

I'm going to write an app that compares a listener's responses to a drum sound with the spectral content an analyzer finds. Hopefully a little AI routine that learns over time the patterns that would develop over an entire sound library as it compares more and more samples.

Eventually my app should learn what 'warm' or 'bright' looks like in an FFT, based on enough input from users. Have a drum library where I can ask my app to search for all the 'warm' sounds based on its own auto-analysis. Even suggestions of an online sample library and analyzer - people all over the world share the library, contribute their own sounds and descriptions and the system analyzes and learns, analyzes and learns...

"Find me a sound that is glassy and pure, with a fast attack and high pitch definition" - the app returns you a bunch of chimes and bells from your library.

Reckon this would be useful? Say tacked onto a Battery/BFD/Ezdrummer library or something?

Nerdolicious  :;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

but the banana pina colada is blocking my thinking thingy.

do you like pina colada's? an getting caught in the rain?

the fft analyser sounds like a great idea rb. 

like the song analysers

http://www.wildbits.com/tunatic/

my ears and synaethesia are here if you need them

you could even post some polls up on here we can listen to and choose the word that best describes it...

Onomatopoeia is cools. *burp*

how about 'fat'? or phat? ;)

raw

moody (think I'm just thesaurusing...)

yellow

green

orange...

ps I don't have synaethesia but it would be very handy.  'I need some bluey purple sounds....'

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

^ Fat good, also Thick

Raw and moody for a drum sample, yes Raw I can see...

Survey idea is how it'll go to start with. I'll actually add everything into a list for a survey, and ones that never get used may be left off the final classification. It's a balance between having a comprehensive list and an overwhelming one ;)

thanks for offering to help, I'll take you up on it... A little quiz, 12 samples, 4-5 questions about what they sound like to you with check-box answers, a couple of questions asking if the first 5 questions made sense to you (huh? - before they're included in the app). I'll need about 100 responses actually so all comers welcome!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's another 3 I dreamt of...

Abrupt

Boing

Clang

Then I thought, why not look up "onomatopoeia examples" (some of which you've already noted)...

buzz, beep, whirr, click, clack, clunk, clatter, clink varoom/vroom, whoosh, swish, swoosh, zap, zing, zip, zoom, twang, ting, ding, ring, ping, clang, bong, brrrring, jingle, jangle, blare, honk, toot, rap, tap, boom, rattle, plunk, hum, clap, snap, crackle, sizzle, splatter, splash, kerplunk, gush, drip, fizz, nibble, munch, gobble, crunch, pow, bif, bam, whomp, thump, smash, zowie, bang, and wham.

Funny, sear doesn't rate a mention. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jester your terms are quite common in the world of audio, even referring to mix balances. given that I asked how we describe sound then these are great.

However it seems maybe what I should ask is how you'd describe a sound? More specifically a single instance of a single sound? Eg. musical instrument note, synth note/sweep/noise, etc.

Getting really specific, I'm making a list of descriptions/metaphors for drum and percussion sounds.

Yes, and i also use them in that sense:

The cymbal sound is hot - slightly distorted and/or loud

The snare had a bright thwack about it - the reverb from the snare sound has a large component of high frequency sound.

The kick is very forward - the kick is a dominant sound. This could be because iot's clean, it's punchy whatever... but i use it in the sense that the instrument has an element that makes it 'stand out' from another instrument component. Hence when i say something is 'froward' i nthe mix, i'm looking but yet to find a particular single element that's making it stand out. It could be cause it's hot - that level is higher - it could be because it's brighter than the other elements... it might even pack more thwack.

There's a particular reverse sounding 909 kick that i call a 'bump' because it sounds like someone rolling bummp bummp bummp oiff their tongue...

But... these sorts of things aren't what you're looking for? Mah... i'll leave this be then.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

^ No all good mate, this just goes to show how large the vocab actually is, and how different people hear and describe sound. This kind of discussion is exactly what's needed in order to try and come to some form of consensus. Problem is musicians and musicologists haven't been able to come to consensus for over 100 years of trying.

Interesting we have many established theories - 'laws' almost - of pitch, rhythm, harmony, structure... but no theory of timbre.

No one has successfully created a lexicon of timbre that is accepted as a 'standard'. French composer Pierre Shcaeffer had a go in the 1960's with a set of 35 'sound objects' aimed at describing all sounds. It was admired but universally rejected. Me and several other researchers are just trying to chip away at different areas of timbre - mine being percussion. So I must be open minded to terms like hot and forward - they're not out of the equation but I must debate them ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

^ Interestingly (to me at least), it would have been easier about 100 years ago to develop a theory of timbre, than it would be today. Back then there were little to no electronic sound sources, and our notion what is a musical instrument was far more conservative.

Thanks to John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, Leon Theremin, Bob Moog and the rest, life has been made far more complicated  :(

;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's another 3 I dreamt of...

Abrupt

Boing

Clang

Then I thought, why not look up "onomatopoeia examples" (some of which you've already noted)...

buzz, beep, whirr, click, clack, clunk, clatter, clink varoom/vroom, whoosh, swish, swoosh, zap, zing, zip, zoom, twang, ting, ding, ring, ping, clang, bong, brrrring, jingle, jangle, blare, honk, toot, rap, tap, boom, rattle, plunk, hum, clap, snap, crackle, sizzle, splatter, splash, kerplunk, gush, drip, fizz, nibble, munch, gobble, crunch, pow, bif, bam, whomp, thump, smash, zowie, bang, and wham.

Funny, sear doesn't rate a mention. :(

This is an awesome list dude, thanks heaps!

Mr semantics says that adjectives/metaphors and onomatopoeia may be in separate lists. Still exploring the latter, the problem being there are even more words in this list!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

OK here's the list I'm running with, 59 adjectives to describe percussion!

AIRY

BOXY

BRASSY

BRIGHT

BRILLIANT

BRITTLE

COLD

CLEAR

CLICKY

COMPACT

COMPLEX

CRISP

CRUNCHY

CRYSTALLINE

DARK

DEAD

DEEP

DENSE

DIRTY

DULL

FLAT

FULL

GLASSY

HARD

HARSH

HEAVY

HOLLOW

HOT

LIGHT

METALLIC

MUFFLED

NASAL

NOISY

PLASTIC

PLEASANT

PURE

RESONANT

RAW

RELAXED

RICH

ROUGH

SCATTERED

SHARP

SIMPLE

SMOOTH

SOFT

SPREAD

STEADY

STRONG

SWEET

TENSE

THIN

TINNY

TRASHY

WARM

WATERY

WEAK

WOODEN

WOOLEN

The literature shows that in listening tests with musicians and non-musicians, in the end about ten terms are the most commonly used, and have the greatest potential for actually measuring in some way. They are often scaled as opposites:

- DULL vs BRIGHT, also

- DULL vs SHARP

- SMOOTH vs ROUGH

- THICK vs THIN

- CLEAN vs DIRTY

- PURE vs RICH

They've also found that musicians respond well when asked to evaluate in a sound or piece:

- WEAK vs STRONG

- COMPACT vs SCATTERED

- RELAXED vs TENSE

- SIMPLE vs COMPLEX

I'll be interested to see if my list of most common terms after my survey matches these at all...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

- PURE vs RICH

the only ones that aren't 'traditionally' opposing. could they be considered similar then? define this purity of which you speak

How bout a Compass of Percussive Timbre. Could also be adapted for synthetic tonality/timbre too yes?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0