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


Authored by Michele Darling


Course Code: OCOMP-677

Next semester starts April 5

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: Electronic Music and Sound Design in The Soundtrack

  • Intro to Sound
  • Loudness/Intensity/Amplitude, Pitch/Frequency, Shape
  • Tone Color/Timbre, Distance, and Direction
  • Theremin and Electronic Circuits
  • Early Synthesis in Films: Spellbound, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and Forbidden Planet
  • Assignment 1: 30 second piece using 1 noise sound file

Lesson 2: Subtractive Synthesis Part 1: The Basics

  • Sound Source: Synthesis Fundamentals
  • Volume and Shape: Amplify and Amp Envelope
  • Timbre and Tone: Adjust the Sound Through Filtering
  • Creating Lead, Pad, and Bass Sounds
  • Moog and Buchla
  • Early Analog Synthesis in Films: A Clockwork Orange and Halloween
  • Assignment 2: Create Three New Sounds: a Bass, a Lead, and a Pad

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

  • Synth Glossary
  • Creating Movement
  • LFO: Low Frequency Oscillator
  • Envelopes
  • Comparison of Subtractive Synths
  • ARP 2500 and 2600
  • Synthesis in Films: Apocalypse Now and Chariots of Fire
  • Assignment 3: One minute piece with Four Sounds

Lesson 4: Creating Lush Soundscapes with Time Effects

  • Time based Effects: Reverb and Delay
  • Modulation Effects: Chorus, Flangers and Phasers
  • Creating Lush Soundscapes
  • Ambient Soundtracks: Escape From New York, Drive, and Gone Girl
  • Assignment 4: Short Film Clip with Four Layered Ambient Sounds with Movement and Effects

Lesson 5: Getting Creative with FM Synthesis

  • FM Synthesis Fundamentals Overview
  • Creating Bass, Lead, and Bell Sounds
  • Building New Sounds with Algorithms
  • A Brief look at FM based Synths on the Market
  • Film Score Focus: Blade Runner
  • Assignment 5: Create a One Minute Piece with FM Synth Sounds inspired by an image from the film, Blade Runner

Lesson 6: Drive and Rhythm in The Soundtrack - The Sequencer and Arpeggiator

  • Developing a Signature Sound
  • What is A Sequencer?
  • Step Sequencers and the Roland TB-303
  • What is an Arpeggiator and how do you use one?
  • Arpeggiator Techniques For Unique Pattern Creation
  • Composition Techniques With Arpeggiators
  • Film Score Focus: Examples of Arpeggiators and Step Sequencers in Film
  • Additional Film Score Focus: The Terminator
  • Assignment 6: Short Film Clip Incorporating an Arpeggiator

Lesson 7: Sampling in Film Scoring

  • Sampling from Existing Audio Files
  • Sample Editing and Manipulation
  • Organizing Your Samples
  • Techniques for Composing with Samples
  • Film Score Focus: Examples of Samples used in Film and Television
  • Interview with Score Sound Designer: Chris Lane
  • Creating Sample Based Loops Step 1: Build a Sample Kit
  • Creating Sample Based Loops Step 2: Loop Creation
  • Creating Sample Based Loops Step 3: Composing With Loops
  • Assignment 7: Begin Final Project, a Short Film Clip

Lesson 8: Vocal Synthesis in the Film Scoring

  • Overview of vocal synthesis
  • Vocoders
  • Pitch Correction
  • Vocal Chopping
  • Vocal Harmonizers
  • Examples of Voice Sampling in film scoring
  • Assignment 8: Final Project

Lesson 9: Creating New Sounds With Wavetable Synthesis

  • Fundamentals of Wavetable Synthesis
  • Shaping the Wavetable Sound
  • Adding Effects
  • Comparison of Wavetable Synths
  • Hybrid Synths and Hybrid Synth Plugins
  • Modern Film Examples
  • Assignment 9: Final Project

Lesson 10: Additional Sound Processing, Part 1

  • Distortion Effects: Distortion, Overdrive, Fuzz
  • Saturation
  • Ring Modulation
  • Frequency Shifting
  • Modern Experimental Soundtracks and Effects
  • Assignment 10: Post Final Project in Progress

Lesson 11: Additional Sound Processing, Part 2

  • Creative Uses of EQ
  • Creative Uses of Compression
  • Grain Delays
  • Granular Synthesis
  • Modern Experimental Soundtracks and Effects
  • Assignment 11: Modern Experimental Soundtracks and Effects

Lesson 12: The Future of Sound Design, Synthesis, and Sampling In Film Scoring

  • The Future: Styles
  • The Future: Timbre
  • The Future: Platforms and Multi-Channel Sound
  • Your Next Steps


Requirements coming soon.

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 (available in the course when joining your first chat)
  • 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 Major


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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