To transform and develop the sound material, we use simple but very powerful tools, as in many other musical genres.


Experimenting with sound manipulation often leads to the discovery of many interesting sounds. But do not forget that a composition is more than pretty sounds together!

One must be able to identify and choose the best sounds, as well as be able to transform and develop them, to take them in a new direction.

Listening challenge

Let’s take an example:

Transformation in Abstracted Journeys

This is an excerpt from the piece Abstracted Journeys. In this excerpt, a “Dry Leaves” record is processed and developed.

This transformation is conducted in three stages:



We present the original sound.



The original sound is juxtaposed with a copy of itself and the copy is transformed, transposing it downwards, giving a darker, more serious sound.



The section concludes by adding other transposed copies of the original sound. But this time, the sounds are transposed upwards, which gives sharp textures.

How does all this work?

The transformation of sounds and their arrangement gives the examples an orientation. Section C is different from section A, but the gradual transformation during section B allows sections B and C to be connected by clear development.


This excerpt contains other sounds than the dry leaves’ granular sound. They are used to ‘initiate’ transformations, and to function as a breakpoint from which sounds can be transformed.

Composition Tip

The development principle works more effectively if there are similarities between the original sound and the ideas developed. In this way, the listener can hear, understand and recognize changes.

Progressive development will allow the listener to hear the changes that are happening. However:

    • If the changes are too subtle, the listener will not be able to hear the development.
    • Excessive changes can disturb the listener, who may not understand what is happening.

Relationships between sound materials

Pierre Schaeffer explains that there must be a relationship between the sound materials used and the way in which they are arranged.

Therefore, it can be very useful to examine the main sounds you use, to identify their properties, and then use that information to predict the part’s developmental structure.

Think about the shape of the sounds and whether they already have progressions or natural transformations.

Listening challenge

Example 1: Porcelain butter dish

The Original Sound – Clay Butter Dish


The clay butter dish has a clean pitched ‘ring’, and a loud ‘ger-dunk’ end.

Possibilities for Transformation

Because there are clear pitches, one obvious method of transformation is to transpose the sound.

The Transformed Sound

Stages of Transformation

    • The original sound was presented first and the moment of the ‘ger-dunk’ closing of the lid was used as a ‘trigger’ for the second ‘transformed’ sound.
    • The transformed sound was transposed to be higher in pitch.
    • A further transformed sound was also transposed and a delay applied to make the sound repeat and fade away.

Example 2: Pepper mill

The Original Sound – Pepper Mill


The pepper mill makes a grainy ‘crunch’ sound, and repeats in a rhythmic way.

Possibilities for Transformation

The grainy crunchy sounds have strong potential to from more expansive granular clouds.

The Transformed Sound

Stages of Transformation

  1. The original sound was presented first and a gap in the grinding used as a point of entry for the second sound.
      1. The transformed sound was transposed to be lower pitch and a delay added to make it move from a clear rhythmic pattern to a more diffuse cloud of sound.
      2. A further transformed sound was then transposed to be higher and an asymmetric delay added, thus creating a more even a diffuse cloud pattern which slowly faded away.


Experiment by creating your own transformation. Start by downloading this ‘Compose with Sounds’ session which contains the examples above:

‘Compose with Sounds’ file: Transformation and development


Perhaps you could radically alter a sound and try to ‘fill in the blanks’, so as to make clear connections and give direction to the transformations between the original sounds and the final sounds.

You could find inspiration with: