Exploration of Sounds

You will develop your knowledge in listening, creating and transforming sounds.

Playing with sounds and sound transformation is one of the best ways to learn how sounds work. It will give you a feeling for how sounds function, and help you to make your own sounds that could be used in a later project.

Transforming Sounds

The Compose with Sounds software has a lot of great tools for transforming sounds. Some of the most important are: ReverseLoop, Transpose and Pan.

There are many other tools which you can experiment with later on, but we will start by exploring these four.

Filter and Splice are also really great tools. They are explored on the Soundscape Music page.


Playing a sound backwards is a really simple idea, but it makes radical changes to what we hear. What used to be at the end of the sound is now at the beginning, and what used to be at the beginning is now at the end.

The Original Voice Sound

Now listen to the reversed Voice Sound

How is it different from the original sound?

Example Two

Here is the original sound. When listening to it, think about the shape of the sound.

Now listen to the same sound reversed.

How is it different from the original sound?

The shape of a sound’s envelope makes up a large part of the sound that we hear. By reversing a sound, we flip this envelope.

Reverse transformations create entirely new sounds that do not exist naturally. This tool is really good for creating sounds that are mysterious or unrecognisable. You could reverse a whole soundscape and it would sound completely alien, or you could reverse only a few individual sounds within a normal soundscape – this might create a really mysterious, yet familiar soundscape.

Again, to loop a sound is one of the most simple transformations, but it can be one of the most effective. When a sound is looped, we begin to forget the identity of the original source and start to hear the internal qualities of the sound.

Loop Example One

Listen to the original sound of a dog barking.

Now listen to the sound again as it is looped.

Woof!Woof!Woof!Woof!Woof!Woof!Woof! … Listen to how the looped sound is transformed by our hearing.

Loop Example Two

Listen to the original train sound

Now listen to the same sound looped


Both loop and reverse were early transformations that Pierre Schaeffer was very interested in. By experimenting and thinking about what was happening to sounds, they allowed him to discover and theorise how sounds worked.


The transposition tool allows us to change the pitch of sounds. We can make sounds higher in pitch (transpose up) or make sounds lower in pitch (transpose down). Transposition can be used to create new sounds, and can also give the impression that the objects causing the sound are changing in siz

Example One

Listen to the original recording of a human voice

Now listen to the same recording when it has been transposed up.

Finally, listen to the same voice recording when it has been transposed down.

Did you compare the pitch of this sound with the original sound?

Example Two

Listen to the pitch of this sound and compare it with the versions that have been transposed.

The following sound has been increased in pitch. It is now higher than the original sound.

Then the sound has been decreased in pitch. It is now lower than the original sound.


Larger objects generally produce lower sounds, while smaller objects generally produce higher sounds. For example, compare the sound of a football with the sound of a ping pong ball.

Experiment with transposition. Why not add multiple versions of the same sound, and then transpose each of them to a different extent?

Pan / Panning

Pan (also known as panning) tools allow you to position sounds from left to right. You can use panning to separate out individual sounds so that they do not sit on top of one another and clash.

The following examples will only work if you are listening on a pair of loudspeakers or to both earpieces of a pair of headphones.

Pan Left

Listen to the audio file below, you should only hear the sound coming from one loudspeaker.

Now we have placed the sound back into the centre, try listening again.

Now listen to the final sound file, you will hear the sound coming from the other loudspeaker.


Pan is a shortened form of panorama – a wide surroundscape.

You can pan each sound individually. Sometimes, you might want all of the sounds to come from one place, other times you might want them to be spread out all over the place.

Experiment with using the pan tool to spread sounds out. Why not have alternate left and right sounds?

Compositional Tip

When combined with automation, the pan tool can make sounds move from one side to the other.


See below for a group activity:

Exploring Sounds with the Voice

Use the following keywords to help you create and explore sounds with your voice.

Perform the actions that are described and listen to the sounds that you make.

  • What similiarities are there in the sounds created if two or more people pick the same word?
  • What differences are there?
  • What might be the causes for these?

Further Challenge

  • Pick a sound.
  • Can you describe the characteristics of this chosen sound (without using the words in the list) so that someone else can recognise what it might be?
  • Try to get them to vocalise the sound based upon your description.

It might be useful to think back to the main parameters of sound:

Here is a full list:

Call Bubble Chat Stammer
Hum Shriek Sing Gurgle
Gulp Whisper Clamour Cry
Gasp Converse Say Sing
Twitter Breathe Cheer Shout
Argue Murmur Speak Pronounce
Heavily Softly Laugh Breathless

Transformation between Sounds

Once you have explored creating all of these sounds indivudually, try to move seamlessly from one type of sound to another.

See Transformation for more information.