Electric vehicles give automakers the opportunity to reinvent the way cars sound, and many are asking manufacturers to create a radically new soundscape.
“I drive a black-on-black Porsche 924.” Juan Atkins made the connection between techno and cars clear in his 1985 classic Track Track.
It was unprecedented. The first major electronic pop hit was Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," which was about freeway driving, and Gary Numan referred to cars as safe spaces in the legendary "Cars."
But the Atkins, announced as the Model 500, provided the link between Detroit's auto assembly lines, the automobile's human-machine hybrid, and techno production, itself a cyborg connection between musician and electronic device.
With the growing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs), automakers are seizing the opportunity to redefine how cars sound. Aside from rolling the tires on the pavement, electric vehicles are nearly silent. No engine noise as there is no burning engine. Various safety concerns require electric vehicles to emit a similar sound to alert pedestrians to their presence. However, what that voice looks like depends on the companies.
Some manufacturers are sticking to the old script and perfecting the sound of old-school engines, while others are getting more creative. There are cars where human voices are part of the "engine noise". Another features a didgeridoo. These are not machine noises, but essentially human noises. And the people behind this redefinition of the car sound are often electronic musicians.
Richard Devine connects two worlds. He is known as a musician, but also works as a sound designer. This also includes cars. He lent his talent to Jaguar on the C-X75 Concept and I-PACE, working on both the engine and cabin sounds.
While Kyma and SPEAR are both high-end professional applications (Kyma has long been used by sound designers on major Hollywood films), Richard also used software we know as electronic music producers: Max/MSP and Native Instruments Reaktor. “I also used Max/MSP and Rector in the design phase as most of what I had to design was based on additive synthesis. I also needed to reproduce some harmonics and the easiest way to do that was to combine real harmonics – transient synthesis.” , resynthesis and additive synthesis. Yes, in Jaguar cars. There are Reaktor and Max/MSP sounds.
Cars are very sophisticated machines. This includes your audio environments.
"The software that runs on the i-PACE car is completely proprietary," says Richard. “I designed and modeled the synthesis engine in Reactor and the rest was fixed by two other programmers. The system had to run on this proprietary on-board playback system. It was very limited compared to my computer, so there were a lot of changes.” . And the limitations we faced.
Since the cars are dynamic, the sound engine should also be dynamic.
Sound design is more complicated than running waveforms through a sampler. Cars are almost like tools; They react dynamically to the driver and provide immediate feedback. "The system used real-time sampling and synthesis to read and control the user when they hit the gas pedal," says Richard. “I spent months analyzing the sound of Jaguar's previous internal combustion engines. I did a harmonic analysis study of these engine pickups to take some of the past and incorporate that sound into the new system. It's the old Jaguar that customers are used to, but with an updated future sound.
Techno producers have incorporated Roland's synthesizer sound into their tracks since the genre's inception. Now cars are treated the same way. Japanese automaker Green Lord Motors (GLM) has commissioned Roland to create the audio environment for their 2014 Tomikaira Z car.
When asked about the biggest challenge of the project, Roland's chief engineer Satoshi Wakuda explained that it was changing the speed and the speed of sound. For this to work in the car, a complete overhaul of the existing Synsys code is required.
There was a definite move away from recreating the engine sound of the recent past and instead creating a new soundboard. This is a direct influence of companies hiring musicians as sound designers. "I think my experience creating electronic music made me reconsider how I create sounds for other companies," says Richard Devine. “The sound has to evoke some kind of feeling, it has to express an idea or a feeling. I would say that's the most important thing I've learned over the years as a sound designer."
Sintergod Jean-Michel Jarre recently collaborated with Renault to create sounds for their new cars. In a series of promotional videos, Renault representatives use words like "sneeze" and "friendly" to describe the noises they make with Jarre. It's a far cry from the types we usually listen to, which are aggressive and loud.
Automobile manufacturers know the impact the sound of their vehicles has on cities and public spaces. Finally, we designed cities around cars. With the increasing number of electric vehicles, we have a unique opportunity to bring music back to our urban spaces and create people-friendly environments.
Modern electric vehicles not only create new public sounds, but also allow us to customize the sound inside them, such as a personal Spotify playlist. Richard Devine also benefits from this on a personal level. "I think we're going to see more cars [in the future] with their own built-in playback system," he says. “I started experimenting with creating my own custom sounds using the Glydsphere speaker system for the 2022 Tesla Model 3 performance. I had fun creating my own Tron light cycle sound in this video (below). This made all the other custom UI and spray sounds and hang sounds just for fun.
As electric vehicles become more popular, automakers are seizing the opportunity to redefine how a car looks. On the whole, they push things into a friendlier, more humane sphere. They make cars more human by incorporating the voices of human musicians (voices, instruments, music). Less dystopian cyberpunk and more utopian fusion of man and machine.
It's very techno in the first sense of the word. Instead of devoting themselves to their own humanity and putting the human machine first, they are now collaborating with machines to create a better world, whether it's programming on a drum machine or using technology to compose music with bring to life modern synthesizers like SuperNATURAL and Reactor. Cars.