Skip to content Skip to navigation

Physics-based Sound Synthesis for Games and Interactive Systems

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 to Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Go to Course

About the Course

This course introduces the basics of Digital Signal Processing and computational acoustics, motivated by the vibrational physics of real-world objects and systems. We will build from a simple mass-spring and pendulum to demonstrate oscillation, learn how to simulate those systems in the computer, and also prove that these simple oscillations behave as a sine wave. From that we move to plucked strings and struck bars, showing both solutions as combined traveling waves and combined sine wave harmonics. We continue to build and simulate more complex systems containing many vibrating objects and resonators (stringed instruments, drum, plate), and also learn how to simulate echos and room reverberation. Through this process, we will learn about digital signals, filters, oscillators, harmonics, spectral analysis, linear and non-linear systems, particle models, and all the necessary building blocks to synthesize essentially any sound. The free open-source software provided will make it possible for anyone to use physical models in their art-making, game or movie sound, or any other application.


Course runs until August 31, 2016

Session 1: The Time Domain: Sound, Digital Audio, PCM Files, Noise Vs. Pitch, A Hint Of Spectra 
a) Sound in Air, Traveling Waves b) Digital Audio, Sampling, Quantization, Aliasing c) Soundfiles, Wavetables, Manipulating PCM d) Pitch (vs. Noise), Spectral Analysis 0.1 e) Time-domain Pitch/Noise Detection: ZeroXings, AMDF, Autocorrelation
Session 2: Physics, Oscillators, Sines & Spectra, Spectral/Additive Synthesis 
a) Mass-Spring-Damper system, also simple Pendulum b) Fourier analysis/synthesis, Spectrum Analysis 1.0 c) More on additive Sine-wave synthesis
Session 3: Digital Filters, Modal Synthesis 
a) Digital Filters, Finite Impulse Response (FIR) b) Linearity, Time-invariance, Convolution c) Infinite Impulse Response (IIR) Digital Filters d) BiQuad Resonator Filter, Modal Synthesis
Session 4: Physical Modeling Synthesis: 1D Systems 
a) 1-D systems, Strings, Modal (Fourier) Solution b) Strings II: Waveguide (D’Alembert) Solution c) 1-D systems, Bars, Tubes, solutions d) Advanced Waveguide Synthesis for 1-D systems
Session 5: Physical Modeling II: 2 And 3-D Systems 
a) 2-D systems, plates, drums, higher-order modes Fourier (Sine and/or Modal) Solutions, Waveguide Solutions b) 3-D systems, rooms, resonators, Meshes, Waveguides c) Resonator/Modal view and solution of 3-D systems Pop bottles and other lumped resonators
Session 6: Subtractive Synthesis, Vocal Sounds And Models 
a)  Subtractive Synthesis, Voice Synthesis, Formants b) Linear Prediction, LPC c) FOFs d) FM Synthesis: Horns, Bells, Voices
Session 7: Grains, Particles And Statistical Models 
a) Wavelets b) Granular Synthesis c) Particle Models, Statistical Modal Synthesis d) Wind, Water, Surf, and Other Whooshing Sounds
Session 8: Extending And Refining Physical Synthesis Models 
a) Waveshaping Synthesis, Distortion Modeling b) Time-Varying Systems c) Stiffness, All-Pass Filters, Banded Waveguides d) Commuted Synthesis e) JULIUS on KS, strings, demos
Session 9: Tying It All Together: Applications, Sonification, Interactions, And Control 
a) Scanned Synthesis b)  Don’t forget the laptop!!! SMELT:   c) Controlling Synthesis with game controllers (Wii, mobile TouchOSC, more) d) Walking Synthesis, a complete system e) Procedural Audio: Driving synthesis from process, game state, etc. f) Data set Sonification
* This course is running in Adaptive Scheduling mode. You can learn more about how Adaptive Scheduling works in this help article

What you need to take this course

  • Software: ChucK (also optionally STK, PeRColate for Max/MSP, Processing, GL/Glut)

Recommended (highly) Textbooks & Prerequisites:


Perry Cook

    Perry R. Cook is Emeritus Professor of Computer Science (also Music) at Princeton University, founding advisor/consultant to social music company SMule, and consulting professor at CalArts, Stanford CCRMA. With Dan Trueman, he co-founded the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, which received a MacArthur Digital Learning Initiative Grant in 2005. With Ge Wang, Cook is co-author of the ChucK Programming Language. His newest book is “Programming for Digital Musicians and Artists,” with Ajay Kapur, Spencer Salazar, and Ge Wang. The recipient of a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship, Cook is (still) working on a new book, "La Bella Voce e La Macchina (the Beautiful Voice and the Machine), A History of Technology and the Expressive Voice." Perry is also co-founder of Kadenze.

    Julius Smith

      Julius O. Smith normally teaches a music signal-processing course sequence and supervises related research at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). He is formally a professor of music and (by courtesy) electrical engineering. In 1975, he received his BS/EE degree from Rice University, where he got started in the field of digital signal processing and modeling for control. In 1983, he received the PhD/EE degree from Stanford University, specializing in techniques for digital filter design and system identification, with application to violin modeling. His work history includes the Signal Processing Department at Electromagnetic Systems Laboratories, Inc., working on systems for digital communications, the Adaptive Systems Department at Systems Control Technology, Inc., working on research problems in adaptive filtering and spectral estimation, and NeXT Computer, Inc., where he was responsible for sound, music, and signal processing software for the NeXT computer workstation. Prof. Smith is a Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society and the Acoustical Society of America. He is the author of four online books and numerous research publications in his field.


      Physics Based Sound Synthesis

      View All Courses

      Access learning material from upcoming, self-study, and completed courses...