What is noise?
Noise is something that in everyday life we would call a disturbing audio signal. It’s sound that moves through the air in the form of a vibration and sound we can’t precisely distinguish due to it’s random nature, and because of that, the results to our ears appear as chaotic and undefined. The sound of a car engine, a glass shattering, waterfalls and crowd chatter are all examples of sounds commonly described as “noise”. In music, drum hits which are not directly heard as “tuned frequencies”, or even as clusters of disharmonic notes on a piano can be called “noise”. A noise whose spectrometer graph is “flat” (i.e. all frequencies are at the same intensity, as if an instrument could play all the audible notes at the same time) is called “white noise”. That’s the very typical harsh and bright noise produced by a radio tuned to an unused channel. Other examples are “pink”, “brown”, “blue”, “violet”, all depending on their frequency content.
History of noise in music production
Noise has always been used in sound production as a tool for sound design and synthesis. First of all, it’s a basic tool for live sound. Pink noise, because of its particular frequency response (energy is proportional to the frequency, so energy levels decrease as the octaves increase), displays a very natural frequency response. This means that it is used to test P.A. systems and adjust their frequency response in concerts, showrooms, studios and festivals. When producing, it’s very common to filter noise to create different sonic textures. In film production, the majority of the water or wind sounds you can hear (especially in old movies) is simply noise being filtered and modulated. Also, it plays a substantial role in synthesisers, where the inclusion of noise, modulated by envelope generators, LFOs, filters, etc. gives a unique character to the sounds produced. This makes it possible to create tones that sound bright or harsh, or comfortable and warm, simply by layering the right amount of it. If you think of a lot of the famous “rave” synth sounds that are very in your face and harsh, they usually have a good amount of noise content layered on top of more musical wave forms, giving them that “airy” character.
Noise has also been a game changer for inventing drum machines. Since the first models (Rhythmicon, Eko Computer Rythm, Ace Tone) to the widely famous Roland models (think of the snare on a Tr-909 for example), noise has been the central element of drum synthesis. In mixing music, it has always found its spot in different applications. Andy Wallace made white noise famous in mixing by using it to trigger his snare reverb. It has also become a standard to use noise in electronic music, for example, as it can help create risers, or makes whole sections of a song more intense and bright.
Famous songs that use noise in their production
Telefon Tel Aviv feat. Dillon – Feel The Fall
On Telefon Tel Aviv’s “Feel The Fall”, the white noise is pretty evidently layered to each snare hit, helping it stand out and make it aggressive and bright.
Burial – Archangel
Noise is a very strong feature in Burial’s productions. Often using a mix of white noise, found sounds and recorded noise elements to help build a very defined style. Here it here helps build up a strong, emotional and almost hypnotic feeling in each production. The effect is very present at the beginning of the song and at various parts during the song as well.
The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Closer
Right in the beginning you can hear a riser made with white noise, used as a transition from the instrumental intro to the first verse. The same thing happening with the transition from verse to bridge at 30 seconds. Here the noise is sweep-filtered with high resonance, creating a kind of “washing machine” like sound. The whole track is actually full of this kind of transitions.
What is technically happening in noise generator vst plugins?
Noise generating vst plugins like the Noiiz Filter, M Noise, or the denise Noize 2, can act in different ways, but they’re essentially a synthesiser that generates various noise types, or allows you to load samples of it. The generated noise can be static or “adaptive”. A static noise generator plugin will create an extra layer of flat static noise on top of your mix that you can then adjust with filters or dynamic processors (using a gate to create a snare bottom sound is an old classic).
An “adaptive” plugin will follow the dynamic content of the track and mix the generated noise with it, allowing you to shape the sound using parameters from the plugins, like attack and release times.
What practical uses does it have?
From Pink Noise Mixing to sound design, noise generator vst plugins can help you manage the frequency content of your mix. By applying layers of sonic texture you can add grit to your sounds, or simply fill the frequency spectrum in musical sections that you want to sound more powerful. For example, you can make things sound more lo-fi, or completely change the character of an instrument. When applied to drums, it’s an irreplaceable tool for creating texture, new hits or to create space/ambience. It’s a truly diverse tool and a secret weapon for producers.
How do you decide when to use noise generator vst plugins?
- When you want to change the tonal character of your music, adding a layer of noise that can “tell a story”, like a train sample or a field recording.
- When some frequencies of your mix are not powerful enough, and after using EQ you don’t reach the tonal changes you were hoping for, because the frequency content is just not there originally (i.e.: more presence / more brightness / more warmth / more bite etc).
- When you want to rework your arrangement to make it sound fuller but you don’t want to overcrowd your mix with new instruments.
- To create reverb.
- For transitions, risers and sound fx.
- For sound design in films like rain, or background noise.
- To create new drum sounds out of any sample, as a sound design tool.
- To make things sound more lo-fi.
- To calibrate your P.A.
- To quickly check your mix balance.
- To drink your coffee while listening to white noise, because why not?
Four Pro Mixing Tips (by nrec)
Adding an aggressive layer as a riser
Using noise for rising transitions has recently become a classic use. You can use it as a static effect or apply it to the elements in the mix. Use it flat, or open the filter as the song progresses and use a very steep and resonant filter to create “screaming” noise risers and so on. In this example, I’m applying it to the drums channel to add an aggressive layer, and the filter sweeps from 500hz to 20khz while the fall setting (tail) increases.
Add grit 1 (machine room sample)
In this case I’m using a sample of mine (I recorded the sound of my computer room with external HD’s switched on and fans at their max speed and slightly over-driven it) and loaded it into an adaptive noise generator plugin. That’s going to give a very different texture to the synth-line, making it way more organic and “industrial”.
Add more grit 2 (fry vocal)
In this other case I experimented with a vocal sample and I recorded some fry growl vocals for the bassline. It’s a really weird sonic texture which tends to resonate a lot like a vocal would, so it can really change the perception of the sound you’re hearing completely. Listen to how this bassline sounds almost “distorted” as it’s applied.
Add organic sounds to your synth
Birds on top of pluck synths, why not? I’ve gone pretty gentle with the effect to create a natural sound here, but if you lower the fall setting those birds can sound really chopped, and tightened to your plucky synths.