Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Creating the Illusion of Distance

Even when one is talking about mixing to stereo (as opposed to 5.1), a song's mix can be very three dimensional.  Perhaps not literally, but in the same sense that a painter can simulate the way an image diffuses the further it is away from the viewer, it is not terribly difficult to simulate the characteristics of a sound that is far from the listener.  This can be brilliant at setting a mood and creating a real sense of depth.  Here's two easy steps that when used together can really give them a sense of three dimensional space.

1.  The first thing to remember is that, with all other things equal, a low frequency wave will travel further than a high frequency wave.  If you've ever approached an outdoor venue while a band was playing, no doubt the first thing you were probably able to hear is the rumble of the kick drum.  So distant sounds aren't very bright (in terms of tonal balance, not intelligence).  Use a lowpass filter or roll off the higher frequencies with your favorite EQ to simulate this.  The further the sound is intended to be from the listener, the more high end you should roll off.

2.  If you are standing far away from a sound source in a reverberant environment, there comes a point where you will be hearing more of the actual reverb than the original signal itself.  Thus, if you want to create the illusion of distance, you'll also want to play with the wet/dry mix on your reverb of choice.  The 'wetter' the signal, the farther away the sound will appear to be.

For best results, you'll want to utilize both of these techniques simultaneously and in the correct balance.  Nothing too difficult to figure out with a little messing around.  What about you?  Any favorite techniques for putting a sound "far away" from the listener?


Anonymous said...

If I'm trying to place a mono sound far away from the listener with reverb, sometimes I'll find that the dry signal sticks out too much when a reasonable amount of reverb is applied. In these cases, instead of cranking the reverb up to ridiculous levels, I usually find that applying a bit of stereo chorus to the sound (pre-reverb) really does the trick. Using lots of chorus (while keeping the stereo width in check, possibly with another plugin, or the chorus plugin if it has the option) can put a sound at very extreme distances unattainable with just reverb.

mangadrive said...

Using perspective is one way. If everything is even and pretty close you don't have to try to hard to make something sound further way or vice versa. Sounds like 'duh common sense', but I play the high/low game a lot since I'm not too keen on reverb saturation.