Sound Particles allows you to create soundscapes and sound design using virtual particles that can be associated with audio files. The results are then rendered using virtual microphones.
If you want to check it out or follow this review along, you can download the demo here. It has all the features of the paid version but is limited for non-commercial projects only.
I won’t explain how to use the software in depth but I will give an over overview and show some practical uses for everyday work in sound design. If you want to get a more in-depth explanation, you can also watch this tutorial.
The heart of the program are the particles. You can basically create them in three different ways:
A Particle Group will create any number of particles at the same time in an area or shape of your choice.
A Particle Emitter creates particles over time at a particular rate.
A single point source is just a single particle.
By default, particles are created as soon as you hit play, although you can also choose to change the start time to delay their creation. Generally, they last as much as the length of audio file attached to them.
You can choose the coordinates used to create your particles and also move the individual particles around the scene to create different effects. Particle emitters can also be moved. The movements that you can apply to the particles stack with each other, giving you an amazing amount of options to create motion. Keyframes can also be used to match any movement to a reference video.
See the video below for an example with the three types of particles:
So in the video you can see:
A particle group (red) that generates particles in a square shaped area. These particles are not created at the same time because we have also applied a random delay. They have fireworks sounds attached.
A particle emitter (orange) is moving in a circular motion while the particles that creates also have some small random movement. They have magical sounds attached.
A single point source (pink) with my voice paulstreched to infinity.
You can also apply audio modifiers to each particle group. These will randomize certain parameters so you obtain more interesting and varied results. If you think about this, this is similar to how audio works in the real world. Each time you take a step, your shoe makes a slightly different sound: pitch, level and timing will be different. Sound Particles lets you randomize the audio from each particle in a similar way. The audio modifiers are:
Gain: Basically, audio level.
Delay: This determines when the particle is created. It is very useful because usually you don’t want all particles in a group to be created at the start. In the example above, the red particles are being created with a random delay.
EQ: It applies different filters and bands of EQ to each particle so they don’t sound exactly the same.
Granular: This is kind of a special modifier. It slices the audio file and then plays each slice from a certain particle. You can control how long the slice is or even leave it random. You can also control if the slices are then played in sequence or at a random order.
Pitch: It applies a different pitch shifting value to each particle.
For any single parameter that requires randomization, you can choose different probability distributions to get the result that you want. An uniform distribution (all values have the same weight) and a normal distribution (most values will be around the mean) are probably the most useful ones. You can even create a custom distribution which is pretty awesome.
Of course, once you have the particles ready, you need a virtual microphone to capture the result. On this area, the amount of options are simply amazing. Not only you can place the microphone anywhere in the scene but you can choose between many configurations including M/S, X/Y and all sorts of surround and ambisonic configurations.
If that wasn´t enough, you can also create several microphones on the same scene and render different stems per microphone. These stems can contain different combinations of particles so you can have more control later on the mix.
Finally, the project settings page allows you to control how Sound Particles is going to manage sound propagation and attenuation from distance. You can change the speed of sound, simulate the delay of far away sounds, change how much sounds attenuate with distance or wether your scene uses the doppler effect.
Sound design examples
Enough with the theory, let´s hear some real applications. Since sound particles is much easier to understand when you see the particles in movement, I decided to create a video for every example instead of just audio.
This is very simple but could be very useful if you need create a soundscape and don´t want to move every single sound into place by hand. As you can see, is very easy and quick to create a randomized soundscape. Something I feel I miss here is a bit more control on which sounds are triggered. When you have different types of sounds, it would be nice to be able to trigger some sounds only occasionally in the same way you can do this in fmod or wwise.
It would also be helpful to be able eliminate a particular particle that moves too close to the mic or at least be able to prevent them to getting too close without using complex custom distributions.
Now let’s imagine we are building a somewhat cheesy 80´s computer interface with beeps and blops and some folders flying around the screen.
As you can see, we are using two particle systems at the same time. One of them (blue) creates all the beeps in a circle around the listener while the orange is a particle emitter that throws particles horizontally to simulate things flying by.
Playing with pitch
Let’s explore how we can use the pitch randomization feature to create new, complex sounds from simple ones. On this example, I first use a uniform distribution for a more detuned and unsettling effect. We can also use a discrete distribution so the jumps in pitch are strictly within certain semitones, obtaining a more musical result.
As you can see, just changing the distribution can produce very different results.
We can also automate pitch to create dynamic effect like for example making all the frequencies converge on a central one. The THX deepnote was achieved with a a similar method.
This modifier offers many sound design possibilities. You can see an example below of building some sort of alien speech sound step by step.
We can also obtain a “voices in my head” effect by slicing up some speech and distributing it around the listener. As you can see, we can always re-create the particles to obtain a new variations which is very handy for video game work.
There are many plugins that recreate a doppler effect but this one for sure offers a unique visual approach. As you can see below, we can create a doppler effect on a single particle or on many.
I hope you found this software interesting, I think is a very good tool to have in your arsenal and I feel I have barely scratched the surface with the sonic possibilities that offers. I believe there is an update coming soon for Sound Particles and I may have another look then and write a new post covering the new features.
You can also have a look at a couple of plugins that Nuno Fonseca, Sound Particles creator has released. They allow you to use the doppler and air absorption simulations that Sound Particles has but in a convenient plugin that you can use in your DAW.