Synthesis, Sampling, and Sound Design in Film Scoring: Electronic and Textural Resources


Authored by Michele Darling


Course Code: OCOMP-677

Next Semester Starts
June 26, 2023

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Electronic sounds have been used in film scores for more than 60 years! As you can imagine, music technology has advanced significantly and with the advancement has come an incredibly rich palette of electronic sounds. From the very first films that incorporated a theremin in the soundtrack to the early electronic and tape delay-based score for the film Forbidden Planet, to the complex electronic scores of today, the sounds and techniques used to create them have evolved. More than ever, the sounds can be expressive and effective at portraying emotion and because of this, the role of electronic-based sounds in film scores has grown.  

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Current music technology helps us add entirely new realms of possibilities for sound. As composers working with synthesized sounds, sampling, and audio effects, you will take on the role of a score sound designer. Creating sounds that no one has heard before is a mission that will engage and excite listeners, and it will make your scores sound unique.

Throughout this course, you will look closely at purely electronic music scores as well as mixed scores that combine electronic-based sounds with traditional instruments. We’ll go through a brief history of electronic music and sound design as score to give us context and we’ll learn to recognize the most influential scores that have had an impact on composers in the field today. We’ll also look closely at current music technology and composition techniques used in film scoring today. 

This course focuses on using sound as texture within the film score, working with raw and electronic sound material to create innovative and cutting-edge soundscapes. Following an overview of music synthesis concepts, students will use software synthesizers and samplers to develop their own unique sounds and create dramatic musical soundscapes. You will create your own electronic and sampled sounds, use effects to enhance the sounds, generate audio loops, and apply these sonic textures to a score.

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Use music synthesis to create a textural score
  • Create original instruments for cinematic composition
  • Manipulate existing sampled or synthesized instruments to customize a sound
  • Apply audio effects for creative sound enhancement
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Lesson 1: Intro to Sound

  • What Is Sound?
  • Propagation: The Creation of a Sound
  • The Physical Properties of Sound
  • Humans and Our Hearing Range
  • Timbre as Tone Color
  • The Frequencies of Complex Sounds
  • Loudness
  • Temporal Envelope: ADSR
  • Direction and Distance
  • Sonic Music and Sound Design in Film Scores
  • Assignment 1: 30-Second Sound

Lesson 2: Subtractive Synthesis

  • Types of Synthesis
  • The Source of Sound: Oscillator
  • Exploring Oscillators
  • Filters
  • Exploring Filters
  • Practice Exercise: Filter Experimentation
  • Amplitude Envelope
  • Common Instrument Sounds
  • Musicians and Technicians: Early Synth Pioneers
  • Examples of Analog Synthesis in Film Scores
  • Assignment 2: Subtractive Synthesis

Lesson 3: Subtractive Synthesis, Part 2: Modulation and Motion

  • Synth Essentials
  • Modulate It!
  • LFOs
  • Automate It!
  • Motion with Filters
  • More Motion with Filter Envelopes
  • Even More Motion: Pitch Envelope
  • The ARP 2500 and 2600
  • Examples of Subtractive Synthesis in Film Scores
  • Assignment 3: LFO, Filter, LFO Envelope, and Filter Envelopes

Lesson 4: Effects and Soundscapes

  • Making Lush Ambient Pads
  • Time-Based Effects Processors
  • Reverb
  • Types of Reverb
  • Reverb Settings
  • Reverb in Sound Design: Ambience
  • Delay in Sound Design: Depth
  • Modulation Effects
  • Examples of Lush Soundscapes and Ambient Soundtracks in Film Scores
  • Assignment 4: Short Film Clip

Lesson 5: FM Synthesis

  • FM Synthesis Basics
  • FM Synthesizers
  • Getting Deeper with FM
  • Techniques for Making FM Sounds
  • Examples of Synthesis in Film Scores
  • Assignment 5: Composing with FM Synthesis

Lesson 6: Drive and Rhythm in the Soundtrack: Step Sequencers and Arpeggiators

  • What's a Sequencer?
  • Focus: Step Sequencers
  • The Arpeggiator: Drive and Rhythm in Film Scoring
  • Using an Arpeggiator
  • Arpeggiator Composition Techniques
  • Examples of Arpeggiators in Film Music
  • Modern Films Using Arpeggiation or Step Sequencing
  • The Terminator Theme Analysis
  • Assignment 6: Create a Short Score Using an Arpeggiator

Lesson 7: Creating Sample-Based Loops

  • A Brief History of Sampling: Musique Concrète
  • Samplers
  • Digital Samplers Change the World of Music
  • Samples Research
  • Let’s Start Sampling!
  • Audio Warping and Looping
  • Processing the Sample
  • Layering Samples
  • Complex Multi-Sample Instrument
  • Velocity Cross-Switching
  • Excitation and Natural Instruments
  • Tutorial Example: Creating a Velocity-Switched Instrument
  • Examples of Composition Techniques in Film Scores
  • Interview with Chris Lane, Sound Designer for Film Composers
  • Assignment 7: Sample-Based Piece

Lesson 8: Drum Production

  • A Brief History of Samping: Dub Reggae
  • Digital Samplers
  • Important Figures in Sample-Based Music
  • Famous Samples
  • Funky Drummer and the Fairlight CMI Orchestra Hit
  • Is Sampling Legal?
  • Virtual Drum Kit Sampler Features
  • Drum Kit Sampler Example: Cubase Groove Agent SE
  • Syncopated Hip-Hop/R&B Beat
  • Creating Drum Kits from Sampled Music
  • Designing Custom-Built Sample-Based Drum Kits
  • Continuing with Your Custom-Built Sample Kit
  • Examples of Custom-Built Kits in Film Scoring
  • Assignment 8: Creating a Custom-Built Sample Kit

Lesson 9: Wavetable Synthesis and Distortion Effects

  • Wavetable Synthesis
  • A Brief Look at Wavetable History
  • Notable Artists Using Wavetable Synthesis
  • Common Software Wavetable Synths
  • Wavetable Synthesizer Parameters
  • Wavetable Synth Example: Logic Pro’s Retro Synth
  • Examples of Wavetable Synthesis in Film Scoring
  • Waveshaping and Distortion
  • Distortion Trends: Lo-fi
  • Waveshaping Distortion with Overdrive
  • Clipping and Distortion
  • Other Distortion Types: Fuzz, Downsampling, Bit Crushing
  • Examples of Distortion in Film Scoring
  • Assignment 9: Wavetable Synthesis Composition

Lesson 10: Vocal Synthesis, Sampling, and Sound Design

  • Vocal Synthesis and Sound Design Primer
  • Vocal Chopping
  • Creative Modulation with Vocal Samples
  • Voice Alteration with Harmonization
  • Common Vocal Harmonizers
  • Harmonizers Up-Close
  • Pitch Shifting
  • Pitch Correction
  • Formant Shifting and Robotizing with Vocal Transformer
  • Vocoders
  • A Closer Look at Vocoders
  • Vocoders in Sound Design: The Unvoiced Channel
  • Overview of EVOC 20
  • Example of Vocal Synthesis and Processing in Film Scoring
  • Assignment 10: Vocal Synthesis Composition

Lesson 11: Granular Synthesis and Ring Modulation

  • What Is Granular Synthesis?
  • A Brief Look at Granular Synthesis History
  • Instruments and Effects that Use Granular Synthesis
  • You Are Already a Granular Synthesis User
  • Common Granular Synthesis Parameters
  • Granular Synthesis in Action: Logic Pro’s Flex Time
  • Time Stretching Algorithms in Flex Time: Overview
  • Granular Synthesis with Logic Pro’s Alchemy
  • Overview of Ring Modulation
  • Amplitude Modulation Synthesis and Ring Modulation
  • Logic Pro’s Ringshifter
  • Granular Synthesis and Ring Modulation in Action
  • Assignment 11.1: Granular Synthesis and Ring Mod Composition
  • Assignment 11: Final Project

Lesson 12: Pushing the Limits: The Future of Film Scoring

  • Timbre and Texture: Sound Design in Film Scoring
  • Skill Sets for Film Composers
  • Fluid Deadlines up Until the Release
  • New Music Genres
  • Trends in Synthesis
  • Expression Control: MPE
  • Immersive Audio: Spatialized Multi-Channel Sound
  • New Platforms: Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality
  • Procedural Audio
  • Artificial Intelligence Assistance
  • Subscribe Is the New Buy


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Completion of Orchestral Mockup in Film Scoring and Mixing the Film Score or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.

Students should have:

  • Graduate level skills and understanding of film scoring
  • Advanced facility in a DAW of choice, one of:
    • AVID Pro Tools
    • Apple Logic Pro
    • Steinberg Cubase
    • MOTU Digital Performer
    • Ableton Live

Required Textbook(s)

  • None required

Recommended Textbook(s)

Hardware and Software Requirements

Film Scoring Rig: Click here for the full software and hardware requirements for the program.

  • This course requires both professional headphones and speakers, as well as the MIDI keyboard.
  • Sample libraries, notation software, and a listed algorithmic reverb are not required in this course.
  • In addition to a listed DAW, the following free software are required:

Note: Most lessons throughout this course will allow you to use your own DAW, synths, and effects. You should be able to apply the lessons to your own technology. In the case where your DAW does not have a particular tool that is a focus, options will be available for relevant free plugins to download in order to complete the lessons.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Michele Darling

Author & Instructor

Michele Darling is the first-ever assistant chair of the Electronic Production and Design department at Berklee College of Music and an instructor for Berklee Online. An accomplished sound designer, composer, recording engineer, and educator, Darling worked for many years as part of an Emmy-winning production team at Sesame Workshop, where she composed music, worked on sound design, and recorded voice work for Muppets characters. 

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Her career highlights include sound work for several animated television shows such as Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, online media, games, and applications for clients such as 4Kids Entertainment, HBO Family, the Learning Channel, Moshi Monsters, and Toca Boca, among many others. Before coming to Berklee, Darling was the director of education at the electronic music and DJ school, Dubspot. Currently, she is a member of the Ableton sound design team, making Ableton Live sound presets for multi-genre music producers worldwide.

Darling holds a bachelor’s from Indiana University School of Music and a master’s in music technology from New York University. She is a founding member of Aerostatic, where she, along with Terry Golob, composes and designs audio environments for films, installations, and music performances featured in galleries and festivals around the world. She is also the founder of the New York-based performance collective Girls Like Bass, a house and funk-influenced band that collaborates with musicians, dancers, and visual artists. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Synthesis, Sampling, and Sound Design in Film Scoring: Electronic and Textural Resources can be applied towards these associated programs:

Associated Certificate Program

Associated Degree Majors


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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