Processing Sound Using Photoshop

Sound designers, musicians, producers and engineers are all familiar with manipulating sound through the use of audio processing. Most examples of processing, like filters, reverbs, and delays produce a relatively predictable result. I’m interested in processing that has an unpredictable result. For example, the octave pedal that purrs like a robotic kitten when you feed it harmonic input, that I wrote about in Octave Pedal Rhodes. I have a similar interest in producing sound directly from visual media with tools like Michel Rouzic’s Photosounder, which I used for Conversion of Graffiti into Sound.

One of the first things I tried to do with Photosounder was to capture the image it creates from imported audio in order to use an image editing application as an audio processor. This didn’t work very well because much of the resolution was lost with the screen grab. Since then, Michel has added a feature to export full resolution spectral images of sound. This makes the concept of using a Photoshop filter as an audio processor possible.

To test this concept I created a simple pattern with an electric piano patch and opened it in Photosounder. Without changing any settings I immediately saved the sound as a bitmap image. Next I opened the image in Photoshop and started experimenting with filters. Once I had some filtered images I loaded them back into Photosounder to see how they sounded. Gaussian blur and Liquefy created some unique effects, but my favorite of the bunch was Glowing Edges. This filter seems to transform the electric piano into a haunting choral passage.


Original Electric Piano Pattern

Glowing Edges Electric Piano Pattern

34 thoughts on “Processing Sound Using Photoshop

  1. that is fucking awesome.

    my brain has been heading in the same direction — audio is data and we can visualize and modify data in ten billion ways, using methods from e.g. astronomy, medicine, engineering. further, it’s not just sound design, it’s art, if you let it be. For example, I had a function to translate numeric frequencies (i.e. a4=440) into whatever weird values I need in the Arduino to produce the correct note. I screwed up that function so as you play notes above or below the calibrated octave, the results are very weird. So you play a normal song with your fingers and a different song comes out the speakers.

    Fun stuff!

  2. Hi,

    Perhaps it’s faint praise, but that’s my new ring tone … (and yes, I think the idea of using the vast amount of image processing apps on audio has some amazing possibilities).

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  5. Please check out White Noise Additive Synth. (Or, really, any of the more capable additive synths out there… Chameleon Audio has one.)

    …Very similar results, much less work. ;)

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  11. JRice – Convenience is clearly not the goal here. The spirit of this blog is kind of antithetical to the “just use a softsynth and get it over with” approach.

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  13. That is a brilliant idea, and this sample sounds great! I can’t wait to hear more!

    It’s kind of a 21st-century version of the things Tangerine Dream was doing back in the early 70s before they discovered (and became addicted to) sequencers.

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  16. We put Spectral Bitmap import/export into Adobe Audition 3.0, and I did a lot of similar testing with Photoshop effects. The Glass/Ripple filters were very interesting, as well as pitch shifting using copy/paste in different vertical areas. Photoshop also offers so many ways to make selections, that it can really be useful for very surgical noise removal.

    We sidecar the Phase as a separate bitmap as well, so you can leave the audio as-is, but really go to town on the stereo phasing to get some wild effects. Definitely worth more exploration!


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  18. This seems similar to what Melodyne DNA started out as, just without the Melodyne interface and a whole bunch of AI.

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  20. This is a fascinating area. I would love to see a Photoshop plugin to VST converter/wrapper – imagine the possibilities!

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