When working with recorded sound, Space becomes a powerful element within compositions. Both the positioning of sound, and the impression of space can be really important.

Position within Space – Using Panning

All sounds come towards us from a specific location, and therefore space is one of the key elements in the way that we understand and relate to sounds.

If we listen to a natural soundscape then we will hear that many sounds come to us from different locations, and that when sounds come from the same direction they overlap and compete with one another.

This is an important fact to remember when combining and creating your own pieces with sound. Panning is a very simple but incredibly powerful tool. It allows you to move sounds apart from one another, to spread and separate them.

Each sound moves away from the centre. At the beginning they overlap and it’s difficult to hear both, at the end they are separate and can each be clearly heard.

Keep sounds apart, Keep them Moving!

Positioning sounds apart from one another can allow each sound its own space to exist and by moving sounds dynamically (over time with Automation) we can amplify gestures within the sounds.

The sound is repeated, the first time there is no panning. The second time the pan shoots (via. automation) from left to right as the car ‘passes’.

An example of how panning automation looks within Compose With Sounds.

Space and the Impression of Scale – Volume Automation

Because space is really important to sounds, we can make pieces that are solely about space. We can create works that transport the listener between different sonic spaces.

We can think of these as similar to perspective changes in film, where the camera zooms in to a specific location, or flies through into a new space. It is possible to change the relative scale of objects by increasing them in volume, and bringing them towards the listener.

This sound begins quietly and is positioned slightly off to the left. This gives the impression that the sound is far away and in a specific location. As the volume increases the impression is that the sound gets closer.

An example of how gain automation looks within Compose With Sounds.

Physical Space and Distance – Adding Reverb

Big Room.

Small Room.

If we also add reverb to sounds and automate the controls, it becomes possible for us to change the relative levels of reverberation, and thus to influence the impression of space.

When an object is far from us, its original sound will be mixed with the local reverberation.

But when a sound is closer we will hear more of the original sound coming direct from the object than the reverberation sound.

Using this idea, if we use a high level of reverberation we can make objects appear to be further away.

Decreasing Reverb One

In this example the reverb gradually decreases, heightening the impression of the sound getting closer to the listener.

Decreasing Reverb Two

In this example the reverb gradually decreases, heightening the impression of the sound getting closer to the listener.

Composition Tip

All of these examples have made use of Automation to change the effects over time. It is a powerful tool that can greatly improve your pieces.

Automation can be as simple or as complex as you like.

An example of more complex automation.

Try to apply automation in a project.