Sound generation with soundgen

Andrey Anikin




The function soundgen is intended for the synthesis of animal vocalizations, including human non-linguistic vocalizations like sighs, moans, screams, etc. It can also create non-biological sounds that require precise control over spectral and temporal modulations, such as special sound effects in computer games or acoustic stimuli for scientific experiments. Soundgen is NOT meant to be used for text-to-speech conversion. It can be adapted for this purpose, but existing specialized tools will probably serve better.

Soundgen uses a parametric algorithm, which means that sounds are synthesized de novo, and the output is completely determined by the values of control parameters, as opposed to concatenating or modifying existing audio recordings. Under the hood, the current version of soundgen generates and filters two sources of excitation: sine waves and white noise.

The rest of this vignette will unpack this last statement and demonstrate how soundgen can be used in practice. To simplify setting the control parameters and visualizing the output, soundgen library includes an interactive Shiny app. To start the app, type soundgen_app() from R or try it online at To generate sounds from the console, use the function soundgen. Each section of the vignette focuses on a particular aspect of sound generation, both describing the relevant arguments of soundgen and explaining how they can be set in the Shiny app.

Before you proceed: consider the alternatives

In R, there are at least three other packages that offer sound synthesis: tuneR, seewave, and phonTools. Both seewave and tuneR implement straightforward ways to synthesize pulses and square, triangular, or sine waves as well as noise with adjustable (linear) spectral slope. You can also create multiple harmonics with both amplitude and frequency modulation using seewave::synth() and seewave::synth2(). There is even a function available for adding formants and thus creating different vowels: phonTools::vowelsynth(). If this is ample for your needs, try these packages first.

So why bother with soundgen? First, it takes customization and flexibility of sound synthesis much further. You will appreciate this flexibility if your aim is to produce convincing biological sounds. And second, it’s a higher-level tool with dedicated subroutines for things like controlling the rolloff (relative energy of different harmonics), adding moving formants and antiformants, mixing harmonic and noise components, controlling voice changes over multiple syllables, adding stochasticity to imitate unpredictable voice changes common in biological sound production, and more. In other words, soundgen offers powerful control over low-level acoustic characteristics of synthesized sounds with the benefit of also offering transparent, meaningful high-level parameters intended for rapid and straightforward specification of whole bouts of vocalizing.

Because of this high-level control, you don’t really have to think about the math of sound synthesis in order to use soundgen (although if you do, that helps). This vignette also assumes that the reader has some training in phonetics or bioacoustics, particularly for sections on formants and subharmonics.

Basic principles of sound synthesis in soundgen

Feel free to skip this section if you are only interested in using soundgen, not in how it works under the hood.

Soundgen’s credo is to start with a few control parameters (e.g., the intonation contour, the amount of noise, the number of syllables and their duration, etc.) and to generate a corresponding audio stream, which will sound like a biological vocalization (a bark, a laugh, etc). The core algorithm for generating a single voiced segment implements the standard source-filter model (Fant, 1971). The voiced component is generated as a sum of sine waves and the noise component as filtered white noise, and both components are then passed through a frequency filter simulating the effect of human vocal tract. This process can be conceptually divided into three stages:

  1. Generation of the harmonic component (glottal source). At this crucial stage, we “paint” the spectrogram of the glottal source based on the desired intonation contour and spectral envelope by specifying the frequencies, phases, and amplitudes of a number of sine waves, one for each harmonic of the fundamental frequency (f0). If needed, we also add stochastic and non-linear effects at this stage: jitter and shimmer (random fluctuation in frequency and amplitude), subharmonics, slower random drift of control parameters, etc. Once the spectrogram “painting” is complete, we synthesize the corresponding waveform by generating and adding up as many sine waves as there are harmonics in the spectrum.

    Note that soundgen currently implements only sine wave synthesis of voiced fragments. This is different from modeling glottal cycles themselves, as in phonetic models and some popular text-to-speech engines (e.g. Klatt, 1980). Normally multiple glottal cycles are generated simultaneously, with no pauses in between them (no closed phase) and with a continuously changing f0. Starting from version 1.1.0, it is also possible to add a closed phase, in which case each glottal cycle is generated separately, with f0 held stable within each cycle. In future versions of soundgen there may be an option to use a particular parametric model of the glottal cycle as excitation source as an alternative to generating a separate sine wave for each harmonic.

  2. Generation of the turbulent noise component (aspiration, hissing, etc.). In addition to harmonic oscillations of the vocal cords, there are other sources of excitation, notably turbulent noise. For example, aspiration noise may be synthesized as white noise with rolloff -6 dB/octave (Klatt, 1990) and added to the glottal source before formant filtering. It is similarly straightforward to add other types of noise, which may originate higher up in the vocal tract and thus display a different formant structure from the glottal source (e.g., high-frequency hissing, broadband clicks for tongue smacking, etc.)

    Some form of noise is synthesized in most sound generators. In soundgen noise is created in the frequency domain (i.e., as a spectrogram) and then converted into a time series via inverse FFT. Noise is generated with a flat spectrum up to a certain threshold, followed by user-specified linear rolloff (Johnson, 2012).

  3. Spectral filtering (formants and lip radiation). The vocal tract acts as a resonator that modifies the source spectrum by amplifying certain frequencies and dampening others. In speech, time-varying resonance frequencies (formants) are responsible for the distinctions between different vowels, but formants are also ubiquitous in animal vocalizations. Just as we “painted” a spectrogram for the acoustic source in (1), we now “paint” a spectral filter with a specified number of stationary or moving formants. We then take a fast Fourier transform (FFT) of the generated waveform to convert it back to a spectrogram, multiply the latter by our filter, and then take an inverse FFT to go back to the time domain. This filtering can be applied to harmonic and noise components separately or - for noise sources close to the glottis - the harmonic component and the noise component can be added first and then filtered together.

    Note that this FFT-mediated method of adding formants is different from the more traditional convolution, but with multiple formants it is both considerably faster and (arguably) more intuitive. If you are wondering why we should bother to do iFFT and then again FFT before filtering the voiced component, rather than simply applying the filter to the rolloff matrix before the iFFT, this is an annoying consequence of some complexities of the temporal structure of a bout, especially of applying non-stationary filters (moving formants) that span multiple syllables. With noise, however, this extra step can be avoided, and we only do iFFT once.

Having briefly looked at the fundamental principles of sound generation, we proceed to control parameters. The aim of the following presentation is to offer practical tips on using soundgen. For further information on more fundamental principles of acoustics and sound synthesis, you may find the vignettes in seewave very helpful, and look out for the upcoming book on sound synthesis in R by Jerome Sueur, the author of the seewave package. Some essential references are also listed at the end of this vignette, especially those sources that have inspired particular routines in soundgen.

Using soundgen

Where to start

To generate a sound, you can either type soundgen_app() to open an interactive Shiny app or call soundgen() from R console with manually specified parameters. presets contains a collection of presets that demonstrate some of the possibilities.

Audio playback

Audio playback may fail, depending on your platform and installed software. Soundgen relies on tuneR library for audio playback, via a wrapper function called playme() that accepts both Wave objects and simple numeric vectors. If soundgen(play = TRUE) throws an error, make sure the audio can be played before you proceed with using soundgen. To do so, save some sound as a vector first: sound = soundgen(play = FALSE) or even simply sound = rnorm(10000). Then try to find a way to play this vector sound. You may need to change the default player in tuneR or install additional software. See the seewave vignette on sound input/output for an in-depth discussion of audio playback in R. Some tips are also available here.

Because of possible errors, audio playback is disabled by default in the rest of this vignette. To turn it on without changing any code, simply set the global variable playback = TRUE:

playback = c(TRUE, FALSE)[2]

From the console

The basic workflow from R console is as follows:

s = soundgen(play = playback)  # default sound: a short [a] by a male speaker
# 's' is a numeric vector - the waveform. You can save it, play it, plot it, ...

# names(presets)  # speakers in the preset library
# names(presets$Chimpanzee)  # presets per speaker
s = eval(parse(text = presets$Chimpanzee$Scream_conflict))  # a screaming chimp
# playme(s)

From the app

The basic workflow in the Shiny app is as follows:

  1. Start the app by typing soundgen_app(). If RStudio doesn’t open it in a browser by default, select “Open in browser”. Firefox and Chrome are known to work. Safari will probably fail to play back the generated audio, although the output can still be exported as a .wav file.
  2. Set parameters in the tabs on the left (see the sections below for details). You can also start with a preset that resembles the sound you want and then fine-tune control parameters.
  3. Check the preview plots and tables of anchors to ensure you get what you want.
  4. Click Generate. This will create a .wav file, play it, and display the spectrogram or long-term average spectrum.
  5. Save the generated sound or go back to (1) to make further adjustments.

TIP The interactive app soundgen_app() gives you the exact R code for calling soundgen(), which you can copy-paste into your R environment and generate manually the same sound as the one you have created in the app. If in doubt about the right format for a particular argument, you can use the app first, copy-paste the code into your R console, and modify it as needed. You can also import an existing formula into the app, adjust the parameters in an interactive environment, and then export it again.


If you need to generate a single syllable without pauses, the only temporal parameter you have to set is sylLen (“Syllable length, ms” in the app). For a bout of several syllables, you have two options:

  1. Set nSyl (“Number of syllables” in the app). Unvoiced noise is then allowed to fill in the pauses (if noise is longer than the voiced part), and you can specify an amplitude contour, intonation contour, and formant transitions that will span the entire bout. For ex., if the vowel sequence in a three-syllable bout is “uai”, the output will be approximately “[u] – pause – [a] – pause – [i]”.
s = soundgen(formants = 'uai', repeatBout = 1, nSyl = 3, play = playback)
# to replay without re-generating the sound, type "playme(s)"
  1. Set repeatBout (“Repeat bout # times” in the app). This is the same as calling soundgen repeatedly with the same settings or clicking the Generate button in the app several times. If temperature = 0, you will get exactly the same sound repeated each time, otherwise some variation will be introduced. For the same “uai” example, the output will be “[uai] – pause – [uai] – pause – [uai]”.
s = soundgen(formants = 'uai', repeatBout = 3, nSyl = 1, play = playback)
# playme(s)


One syllable

When we hear a tonal sound such as someone singing, one of its most salient characteristics is intonation or, more precisely, the contour of the fundamental frequency (f0), or, even more precisely, the contour of the spectral band which is perceived to correspond to the fundamental frequency (pitch). Soundgen literally generates a sine wave corresponding to f0 and several more sine waves corresponding to higher harmonics, so f0 is straightforward to implement. However, how can its contour be specified with as few parameters as possible? The solution adopted in soundgen is to take one or more anchors as input and generate a smooth contour that passes through all anchors.

In the simplest case, all anchors are equidistant, dividing the sound into equal time steps. You can then use the “short format”, specifying anchors as a numeric vector. For example:

sound = soundgen(pitchAnchors = 440, play = playback)  # steady pitch at 440 Hz
sound = soundgen(pitchAnchors = 3000:2000, play = playback)  # downward chirp
sound = soundgen(pitchAnchors = c(150, 250, 100), sylLen = 700, play = playback)  # up and down

You can also use a mathematical formula to produce very precise pitch modulation, just check that the values are on the right scale. For example, sinusoidal pitch modulation can be created as follows:

anchors = (sin(1:70 / 3) * .25 + 1) * 350
plot(anchors, type = 'l', xlab = 'Time (points)', ylab = 'Pitch (Hz)')

sound = soundgen(pitchAnchors = anchors, sylLen = 1000, play = playback)

For more flexibility, anchors can also be specified at arbitary times using the “long format” - a dataframe with two columns: time (ms) and value (in the case of pitch, this is frequency in Hz). This is particularly useful for noiseAnchors, since the unvoiced component can be present both before and after the voiced component (see the section on unvoiced component), and for adding anchors interactively in the Shiny app. The function that generates smooth contours of f0 and other parameters is getSmoothContour(), and its interpolation algorithm is controlled by soundgen argument method. You do not have to call getSmoothContour() explicitly, but sometimes it can be helpful to do so in order to visualize the curve implied by your anchors. Time can range from 0 to 1, or it can be specified in ms – it makes no difference, since the sound is rescaled to match the duration sylLen.

For example, say we want f0 to increase sharply from 350 to 700 Hz and then slowly return to baseline. Time anchors can then be specified as c(0, .1, 1) (think of it as “start”, “10%”, and “end” of the sound), and the arguments len and samplingRate together determine the duration: len / samplingRate gives duration in seconds. Values are processed on a logarithmic (musical) scale if thisIsPitch is TRUE: observe that C4 (note C of octave 4), C5, and C6 are equidistant on the right-hand Y axis. Also note that the resulting curve is smoothed (using loess for up to 10 anchors and cubic spline interpolation for >10 anchors):

a = getSmoothContour(anchors = data.frame(time = c(0, .1, 1), 
                                          value = c(350, 700, 350)),
  len = 7000, thisIsPitch = TRUE, plot = TRUE, samplingRate = 3500)

A sound with this intonation can be generated as follows:

sound = soundgen(sylLen = 900, play = playback,
                 pitchAnchors = data.frame(time = c(0, .1, 1), 
                                           value = c(350, 700, 350)))

To get more complex curves, simply add more anchors. The assumption behind specifying an entire contour with a few discrete anchors is that the contour is smooth and continuous. However, there may be special occasions when you do want a discontinuity such as an instantaneous pitch jump. The default behavior of getSmoothContour() is to make a jump if two anchors are closer than one percent of the syllable length (as specified with the default jumpThres = 0.01). To make a pitch jump, you thus provide two values of f0 that are very close in time, for example:

s = soundgen(sylLen = 400, plot = TRUE, play = playback,
             pitchAnchors = data.frame(time = c(0, 0.2, .201, .4, 1), 
                                       value = c(900, 1200, 1800, 2000, 1500)))

TIP Given the same anchors, the shape of the resulting curve depends on syllable duration. That’s because the amount of smoothing is adjusted automatically as you change syllable duration. Double-check that all your contours still look reasonable if you change the duration!

To draw f0 contour in the Shiny app, use “Intonation / Intonation syllable” tab and click the intonation plot to add anchors. Soundgen then generates a smooth curve through these anchors. If you click the plot close to an existing anchor, the anchor moves to where you clicked; if you click far from any existing anchor, a new anchor is added. To remove an anchor, double-click it. To go back to a straight line, click the button labeled “Flatten pitch contour”.

Exactly the same principles apply to all anchors in soundgen (pitch, amplitude, mouth opening, and noise). Note also that all contours are rescaled when the duration changes, with the single exception of negative time anchors for noise (i.e. the length of pre-syllable aspiration does not depend on syllable duration).

Multiple syllables

If the bout consists of several syllables (nSyl > 1), you can also specify the overall intonation over several syllables using pitchAnchorsGlobal (app: “Intonation / Intonation global”). The global intonation contour specifies the deviation of pitch per syllable from the main pitch contour in semitones, i.e. 12 semitones = 1 octave. In other words, it shows how much higher or lower the average pitch of each syllable is compared to the rest of the syllables. For ex., we can generate five seagull-like sounds, which have the same intonation contour within each syllable, but which vary in average pitch spanning about an octave in an inverted U-shaped curve. Note that the number of anchors need not equal the number of syllables:

s = soundgen(nSyl = 5, sylLen = 200, pauseLen = 140, plot = TRUE, play = playback,
             pitchAnchors = data.frame(time = c(0, 0.65, 1), 
                                       value = c(977, 1540, 826)),
             pitchAnchorsGlobal = data.frame(time = c(0, .5, 1), 
                                             value = c(-6, 7, 0)))

# pitchAnchorsGlobal = c(-6, 7, 0) is equivalent, since time steps are equal

TIP Calling soundgen with argument plot = TRUE produces a spectrogram using a function from soundgen package, spectrogram. Type ?spectrogram and see the vignette on acoustic analysis for plotting tips and advanced options. You can also plot the waveform produced by soundgen using another function of your choice, e.g. seewave::spectro


Vibrato adds frequency modulation (FM) to f0 contour by modifying f0 per glottal cycle. In contrast to irregular jitter and temperature-related random drift, however, this fM is regular, namely sinusoidal:

# 5-Hz vibrato 1 semitone in depth
s1 = soundgen(vibratoDep = 1, vibratoFreq = 5, sylLen = 1000, play = playback,
              pitchAnchors = c(300, 280))

# slower (3 Hz) and deeper (3 semitones) vibrato
s2 = soundgen(vibratoDep = 3, vibratoFreq = 3, sylLen = 1000, play = playback,
              pitchAnchors = c(300, 280))



It is a basic principle of soundgen that random variation can be introduced in the generated sound. This behavior is controlled by a single high-level parameter, temperature (app: “Main / Hypers”). If temperature = 0, you will get exactly the same sound by executing the same call to soundgen repeatedly. If temperature > 0, each generated sound will be somewhat different, even if all the control parameters are exactly the same. In particular, positive temperature introduces fluctuations in syllable structure, all contours (intonation, breathing, amplitude, mouth opening), and many effects (jitter, subharmonics, etc). It also “wiggles” user-specified formants and adds new formants above the specified ones at a distance calculated based on the vocal tract length (see Section “Vowel quality (formants)” below).

Code example :

# the sound is a bit different each time, because temperature is above zero
s = soundgen(repeatBout = 3, temperature = 0.3, play = playback)
# Setting repeatBout = 3 is equivalent to:
# for (i in 1:3) soundgen(temperature = 0.3, play = playback)

If you don’t want stochastic behavior, set temperature to zero. But note that some effects, notably jitter and subharmonics, will then be added in an all-or-nothing manner: either to the entire sound or not at all. Also note that additional formants will not be added above the user-specified ones if temperature is exactly 0. In practice it may be better to set temperature to a very small positive value like 0.01. You can also change the extent to which temperature affects different parameters (e.g., if you want more variation in intonation and less variation in syllable structure). To do so, use tempEffects, which is a list of scaling coefficients that determine how much different parameters vary at a given temperature. tempEffects includes the following scaling coefficients:

  • sylLenDep: random fluctuations of the duration of syllables and pauses between syllables
  • formDrift: the amount of random drift of formants
  • formDisp: irregularity of the dispersion of stochastic formants that are added above user-specified formants (if any) at distances consistent with the specified length of the vocal tract vocalTract
  • pitchDriftDep: amount of slow random drift of f0 (the higher, the more f0 changes)
  • pitchDriftFreq: frequency of slow random drift of f0 (the higher, the faster f0 changes)
  • amplDriftDep: drift of amplitude mirroring pitch drift
  • subDriftDep: drift of subharmonic frequency and bandwidth mirroring pitch drift
  • rolloffDriftDep: drift of rolloff mirroring pitch drift
  • pitchAnchorsDep: random fluctuations of user-specified pitch anchors across syllables (if nSyl > 1)
  • noiseAnchorsDep: random fluctuations of user-specified noise anchors across syllables (if nSyl > 1)
  • amplAnchorsDep: random fluctuations of user-specified amplitude anchors across syllables (if nSyl > 1)
  • specDep: random fluctuations of rolloff, nonlinear effects, attack

The default value of each scaling parameter is 1. To enhance a particular component of stochastic behavior, set the corresponding coefficient to a value >1; to remove it completely, set its scaling coefficient to zero.

# despite the high temperature, temporal structure does not vary at all, 
# while formants are more variable than the default
s = soundgen(repeatBout = 3, nSyl = 2, temperature = .3, play = playback,
             tempEffects = list(sylLenDep = 0, formDrift = 3))

Other hypers

To simplify usage, there are a few other hyper-parameters. They are redundant in the sense that they are not strictly necessary to produce the full range of sounds, but they provide convenient shortcuts by making it possible to control several low-level parameters at once in a coordinated manner. Hyper-parameters are marked “hyper” in the Shiny app.

For example, to imitate the effect of varying body size, you can use maleFemale:

mf = c(-1,  # male: 100% lower f0, 25% lower formants, 25% longer vocal tract
       0,   # neutral (default)
       1)   # female: 100% higher f0, 25% higher formants, 25% shorter vocal tract
# See e.g.

for (i in mf) {
  s = soundgen(maleFemale = i, formants = NA, vocalTract = 17, play = playback)
  # Since `formants` are not specified, but temperature is above zero, a 
  # schwa-like sound with approximately equidistant formants is generated using
  # `vocalTract` (cm) to calculate the expected formant dispersion.

To change the basic voice quality along the breathy-creaky continuum, use creakyBreathy. It affects the rolloff of harmonics, the type and strength of pitch effects (jitter, subharmonics), and the amount of aspiration noise. For example:

cb = c(-1,  # max creaky
       -.5, # moderately creaky
       0,   # neutral (default)
       .5,  # moderately breathy
       1)   # max breathy (no tonal component)
for (i in cb) {
  soundgen(creakyBreathy = i, play = playback)

Amplitude envelope

Use amplAnchors and amplAnchorsGlobal to modulate the amplitude (loudness) of an individual syllable or a polysyllabic bout, respectively. In the app, they are found under “Amplitude / Amplitude syllable” and “Amplitude / Amplitude global”. Note that they both affect only the voiced component. In contrast, attackLen (“Attack length, ms” in the app) and amDep (“Amplitude / Amplitude modulation / AM depth”) affect both the voiced and the unvoiced components.

# each syllable has a 20-dB dip in the middle (note the dumb-bell shapes 
# in the oscillogram under the spectrogram), and there is an overall fade-out
# over the entire bout
s = soundgen(nSyl = 4, plot = TRUE, osc = TRUE, play = playback,
             amplAnchors = data.frame(time = c(0, .3, 1),  # unequal time steps
                                      value = c(80, 60, 80)), # same as 0, -20, 0
             amplAnchorsGlobal = c(80, 40))  # equal time steps, so shorthand is ok

Maximum amplitude is determined by throwaway, which sets the dynamic range - that is, the minimum level of loudness at which components are discarded as essentially silence. For example, if throwaway = -80 (dB), then maximum amplitude is 80 dB. Since the scale is relative, it doesn’t really matter whether you write amplAnchors = c(80, 60, 80) or amplAnchors = c(0, -20, 0) - the result is going to be exactly the same.

Rapid amplitude modulation imitating a trill is implemented by multiplying the synthesized waveform by a wave with adjustable shape amShape (defaults to approximately sine), frequency amFreq, and amplitude amDep:

s = soundgen(sylLen = 1000, formants = NA,
             # set the depth of AM (0% = none, 100% = max)
             amDep = c(0, 100),   
             # set AM frequency in Hz (vectorized)
             amFreq = c(50, 25),  
             # set the shape: 0 = close to sine, -1 = notches, +1 = clicks
             amShape = 0,  
             plot = TRUE, osc = TRUE, play = playback)

TIP The parameter attackLen affects both the beginning and the end of a syllable. For asymmetrical attack, keep attackLen low and apply fade(fadeIn = ..., fadeOut = ...) to the synthesized sound in post-production. Avoid attackLen = 0, since that can cause clicks

A common special case of modifying the amplitude envelope of a synthesized or recorded sound is to flatten it, making sure the amplitude remains relatively stable throughout the duration of the signal. There is a separate function for achieving this, namely flatEnv():

s = rnorm(500) * seq(1, 0, length.out = 500)
s1 = flatEnv(s, plot = TRUE, killDC = TRUE, windowLength_points = 50)

Another common modification is to fade the sound in and/or out. One way to do this is to change the attack (which affects both the beginning and the end) or to use amplitude anchors. On other occasions, or if your sound already exists and you want to change it, the way to go is to use a separate function, fade():

# Here is a sound with sharp attack
s = soundgen(sylLen = 1000, addSilence = 0, 
             attackLen = 10)  
# playme(s)
s1 = fade(s, fadeIn = 200, fadeOut = 300, samplingRate = 16000,
          shape = 'cos', plot = TRUE)
# playme(s1)
# different fades are available: linear, logarithmic, etc

Spectral filter (formants)

Vowel presets

Argument formants (tab “Tract / Formants” in the app) sets the formants – frequency bands used to filter the excitation source. Just as an equalizer in a sound player amplifies some frequencies and dampens others, aappropriate filters can be applied to a tonal sound to make it resemble a human voice saying different vowels. Starting from version 1.1.0, formants are created in the frequency domain using all-pole models if all formant amplitudes are positive and zero-pole models if there are anti-formants with negative amplitudes (Stevens, 2000, ch. 3).

Using presets for callers M1 and F1, you can directly specify a string of vowels. When you call soundgen with formants = 'aouuuui' or some such character string, the values are taken from presets$M1$Formants (or presets$F1$Formants if the speaker is “F1” in the Shiny app). Formants can remain the same throughout the vocalizations, or they can move. For example, formants = 'ai' produces a sound that goes smoothly from [a] to [i], while formants = 'aaai' produces mostly [a] with a rapid transition to [i] at the very end. Argument formantStrength (“Formant prominence” in the app) adjusts the overall effect of all formant filters at once.

s = soundgen(formants = 'ai', play = playback)
s = soundgen(formants = 'aaai', play = playback)

Manual formants

Presets give you some rudimentary control over vowels. More subtle control is necessary for animal sounds, as well as for human vowels that are not included in the presets dictionary or for non-default speakers. For such cases you will have to specify at least the frequency (and optionally, also amplitude, bandwidth, and time stamps for each value). The easiest, and normally sufficient, approach is to specify frequencies only and have soungen() figure out the appropriate amplitude and bandwidth for each formant. Bandwidth is calculated from frequency using a formula derived from human phonetic research. Namely, above 500 Hz it follows the original formula known as “TMF-1963” (Tappert, Martony, and Fant, 1963), and below 500 Hz it applies a correction to allow for energy losses at low frequencies (Khodai-Joopari & Clermont, 2002). See the internal function soundgen:::getBandwidth() if you are interested. Formant amplitudes are normally assumed to be determined by their frequency and bandwidth (see Stevens, 2000), but you can override this by specifying amplitudes explicitly. Note that you should then specify them for all formants, not just one. For moving formants, provide multiple values, which assumes equal time steps, or specify time points explicitly, where time varies from 0 to 1 (to be scaled appropriately depending on the length of sound). For example:

# shorthand specification with three stationary formants
formants = c(300, 2500, 3200)

# shorthand specification with two moving formants
formants = list(f1 = c(300, 900), f2 = c(2500, 1500))

# full specification with two moving formants and non-default amplitude and bandwidth
formants = list(
  f1 = data.frame(time = c(0, 1), 
                  freq = c(300, 900), 
                  amp = c(30, 10), 
                  width = 120),
  f2 = data.frame(time = c(0, 1), 
                  freq = c(2500, 1500), 
                  amp = 30, 
                  width = c(0, 240)))

Feed these lists into soundgen() to hear what they sound like.

Vocal tract length

In addition to user-specified formants, higher formants are added automatically based on the length of vocal tract length estimated from the user-specified formant frequency values. The function that estimates vocal tract length is imaginatively called estimateVTL:

estimateVTL(formants = c(500, 1500, 2550))  # 17.5 cm
estimateVTL(formants = c(300, 1100, 2000))  # 22.8 cm

TIP A more general function called schwa() both estimates VTL and allows you to compare measured formant frequencies with those expected for a neutral schwa sound and perform more sophisticated operations with formants. See ?schwa for more details if you are working with vowels

It is often useful to allow soundgen to create upper formants automatically based on the estimated VTL, since upper formants are typically less perceptually salient. As a result, we don’t want to spend too much time specifying them manually, but still we don’t want them to be completely absent, either. An approximation based on standard open-ended tube models is often good enough. You can remove them by setting temperature = 0 or formantDepStoch = 0, but note that without higher formants the entire spectrum loses energy at higher frequencies:

s1 = soundgen(formants = c(800, 1200), play = playback, plot = TRUE)
s1 = soundgen(formants = c(800, 1200), formantDepStoch = 0,
              play = playback, plot = TRUE)

Another useful method is to specify vocal tract length without any formants. In this case soundgen() approximates a neutral schwa sound for an animal with a vocal tract that looks like a uniform tube of this length. Crude, but often sufficient. A toy example (check presets for some more realistic sounds created using this method):

s1 = soundgen(formants = NULL, vocalTract = 24, play = playback, plot = TRUE)
s1 = soundgen(formants = NULL, vocalTract = 12, play = playback, plot = TRUE)

Spectral envelope

Sometimes it may be useful to view moving formants before synthesizing the sound. The way to do this is to call explicitly the function that handles all formant processing under the hood, namely getSpectralEnvelope:

# plotting directly from getSpectralEnvelope() in spectrogram form
s = getSpectralEnvelope(nr = 1024,  # freq bins in FFT frame (window_length / 2)
                        nc = 50,    # time bins
                        samplingRate = 16000, 
                        formants = formants,
                        plot = TRUE, 
                        dur = 1500,   # just an example
                        colorTheme = 'seewave',
                        lipRad = 6) 

# Note that lip radiation is also specified here (dB). 
# This has the effect of amplifying higher frequencies to mimic lip radiation. 

Note that, in addition to formants, lip and nose radiation is also handled by this function (see the next section on mouth opening).

TIP When using the app, you can start with a formant preset by typing in a vowel string, and then you can modify it. This way you don’t have to remember the right format. If you edit the list of formants and nothing in the sound seems to be changing, there may be a misprint, missing comma, etc.


For even more advanced spectral filters, you can specify both formants (poles) and antiformants (zeros). This may be useful if you want to create a nasalized sound. The numbering of formants is arbitrary, as long as they are arranged in the right order. For example, if you want to insert a new formant between F1 and F2 without renaming all higher formants, call it “f1.5” or something like that. It is important to use a non-integer number, since otherwise these additional formants will be inappropriately used to estimate the length of vocal tract and adding stochastic formants above the ones you specify (that is, if temperature > 0 and vocalTract = NA). If you want antiformants, you should specify the ampitude of all formants, not only zeros, since there is no simple way for soundgen() to “guess” the most appropriate amplitudes for zero-pole models. For example, a slow transition from [a] to [a nasalized] might be coded as follows (note that formant f1.7 has negative amplitude, so f1.5 and f1.7 form a pole-zero pair):

formants = list(
               f1   = data.frame(time = c(0, 1), freq = c(880, 900), 
                                 amp = c(30, 20), width = c(80, 120)), 
               f1.5 = data.frame(time = c(0, 1), freq = 600, 
                                 amp = c(0, 30), width = 80),   # additional pole
               f1.7 = data.frame(time=c(0, 1), freq = 750, 
                                 amp = c(0, -30), width = 80),  # zero
               f2   = data.frame(time = c(0, 1), freq = c(1480, 1250), 
                                 amp = c(30, 20), width = c(120, 200)), 
               f3   = data.frame(time=c(0, 1), freq = c(2900, 3100), 
                                 amp = 25, width = 200))
# se = getSpectralEnvelope(nr = 512, nc = 100, formants = formants, plot = TRUE)
s = soundgen(sylLen = 1500, play = playback, 
             pitchAnchors = 140, formants = formants)
spectrogram(s, samplingRate = 16000, ylim = c(0, 4), contrast = .5, 
     windowLength = 10, step = 5, colorTheme = 'seewave')
# long-term average spectrum (less helpful for moving formants but very good for stationary):
# seewave::meanspectrogram(s, f = 16000, wl = 256)  

Mouth opening

A convenient shortcut for manipulating formants without coding all transitions by hand is provided by mouthAnchors argument (in the app, tab “Tract / Mouth opening”). This can be thought of as a hyper-parameter offering an easy way to define moving formants within a bout: all formants go down as the mouth closes and rise as it opens (see Moore, 2016). In addition, an open mouth has lip radiation, which has the effect of amplifying higher frequencies. Lip radiation is replaced by nose radiation when the mouth is completely closed, dampening the higher frequencies, and the vowel is automatically nasalized using a simple approximation (Hawkins & Stevens, 1985). Basically, with the mouth closed we switch from a tube open at one end to a tube closed at both ends and coupled with a (simplified) nasal cavity. Despite being a crude model of what really happens when a vocalizing animal closes its mouth, in many cases mouthAnchors can save you a lot of manual coding of formants. The results are often surprisingly convincing, especially for vocalizations of non-human animals, in which formants are not routinely modulated independently of each other, as in human speech. Here is a simple example, with the mouth gradually opening and closing again:

s = soundgen(sylLen = 1200, play = playback, pitchAnchors = 140, 
             mouthAnchors = list(time = c(0, .3, .75, 1), 
                                 value = c(0, 0, .7, 0)))
spectrogram(s, samplingRate = 16000, 
            ylim = c(0, 4), contrast = .5, 
            windowLength = 10, step = 5, 
            colorTheme = 'seewave', osc = TRUE)

Add formants to existing sound

For some purposes it may be useful to separate the generation of glottal source (or another source of acoustic excitation) from its spectral filtering. You may also need to add formants to an existing waveform. To do so, you can call the function that works under the hood in soundgen(). The algorithm is to take an STFT, multiply the resulting spectrum by the filter, and then convert it back to time domain via inverse STFT. The same function, addFormants(), can theoretically be used to perform inverse filtering - that is, to remove formants from a signal - as long as you can provide a very accurate formant filter. See ?addFormants for more information.

Source spectrum (glottal source)

Soundgen produces tonal sounds by means of generating a separate sine wave for each harmonic. However, it is very tricky to choose the appropriate strength of each harmonic. The simplest solution is to make each higher harmonic slightly weaker than the previous one, say by setting a fixed exponential decay rate from lower to higher harmonics. The corresponding parameter in soundgen is rolloff (in the app, “Source rolloff, dB/octave”). Unfortunately, this is often not really good enough, necessitating several more control parameters.

Soundgen allows a lot of flexibility when specifying source spectrum. You can change the basic rolloff of harmonics per octave, producing a sharper or more gentle decline or energy over frequencies (rolloffOct), adjust rolloff depending on f0, so that high-pitch sounds will have a steeper rolloff (rolloffKHz), or add a parabolic correction (rolloffParab) that affects the first rolloffParabHarm harmonics. Working from R console, the relevant function is getRolloff. Its arguments are well-documented: type ?getRolloff for help. Here is just a single example:

# strong F0, rolloff with a "shoulder"
r = getRolloff(rolloff = c(-5, -20),  # rolloff parameters are vectorized
               rolloffOct = -3,
               rolloffParab = -10, rolloffParabHarm = 13, 
               pitch_per_gc = c(170, 340), plot = TRUE)

# to generate the corresponding sound:
s = soundgen(sylLen = 1000, rolloff = c(-5, -20), rolloffOct = -3,
             rolloffParab = -10, rolloffParabHarm = 13,
             pitchAnchors = c(170, 340),  play = playback)

In the app the relevant parameters are found in the tab “Source / Rolloff”. To develop an intuition for source spectrum settings, I recommend practicing with disabled formants in the app (set “Formants prominence” under “Tract / Formants” to 0). This way you can isolate the effects of source spectrum and use the preview plot for instant feedback – it shows the rolloff for the lowest and the highest pitch in your intonation contour. Rolloff parameters are vectorized, but this functionality is only available from R console. However, rolloff also varies over time if temperature is above zero (use tempEffects$rolloffDriftDep to control the amount of stochastic rolloff variation).

Closed glottis

If f0 is very low, as in vocal fry or some animal vocalizations like crocodile roaring or elephant rumbling, individual glottal pulses can be both seen on a spectrogram and peiceived as distinct percussion-like acoustic events separated by noticeable pauses. Soundgen can create such sounds by switching to a new mode of production: instead of synthesizing continous sine waves spanning the entire syllable, it creates each glottal pulse individually (each with its full set of harmonics) and then puts them together with pauses in between.

This is a lot slower than continuous sine wave synthesis and mostly justified for very low-pitched sounds, since with higher pitch there will be too few points per glottal cycle to sound convincing without increasing the samplingRate to astronomical values. For example:

# Not a good idea: samplingRate is too low
s1 = soundgen(pitchAnchors = c(1500, 800), glottisAnchors = 75, 
              samplingRate = 16000, play = playback)

# This sounds better but takes a long time to synthesize:
s2 = suppressWarnings(soundgen(pitchAnchors = c(1500, 800), glottisAnchors = 75, 
              samplingRate = 80000, play = playback, 
              invalidArgAction = 'ignore'))
# NB: invalidArgAction = 'ignore' forces a "weird" samplingRate value
# to be accepted without question

# Now this is what this feature is meant for: vocal fry
s3 = soundgen(sylLen = 1500, pitchAnchors = c(75, 40), 
              glottisAnchors = c(0, 700), 
              samplingRate = 16000, play = playback)
plot(s3, type = 'l', xlab = '', ylab = '')

Nonlinear effects

Soundgen can add subharmonics and sidebands or even approximate deterministic chaos by adding strong jitter and shimmer. These effects basically make the sound appear harsh. Jitter and shimmer are created by adding random noise to the periods and amplitudes, respectively, of the “glottal cycles”. Subharmonics could be created by adding rapid amplitude and/or frequency modulation, but for maximum flexibility soundgen uses a different - slightly hacky, but powerful - technique of literally setting up an additional sine wave for each subharmonic based on the desired frequency of subharmonics (subFreq). The actual frequency will not be exactly equal to subFreq, since it must be a fraction of f0 at all time points (one half, one third, etc). The amplitude of each subharmonic is a function of its distance from the nearest harmonic of the f0 stack and the desired width of sidebands (subDep). This way we can create either subharmonics or narrow sidebands that vary naturally as f0 changes over time, producing bifurcations and switching between different subharmonic regimes (see Wilden et al., 2012).

The main limitation of this approach is that it is too computationally costly to generate variable numbers of subharmonics for the entire bout. The solution currently adopted in soundgen is to break longer sounds into so-called “epochs” with a constant number of subharmonics in each. The epochs are synthesized separately, trimmed to the nearest zero crossing, and then glued together with a rapid crossFade(). This is suboptimal, since it shortens the sound and may introduce audible artifacts at transitions between epochs. shortestEpoch controls the approximate minimum length of each epoch. Longer epochs minimize problems with transitions, but the behavior of subharmonics then becomes less variable, since their number is constrained to be constant within each epoch.

Nonlinear regimes

To add nonlinear effects, you can use just two parameters – nonlinBalance and nonlinDep – that together regulate what proportion of the sound is modified and to what extent. However, for best results it is advisable to set advanced settings manually (see below). At temperature > 0, nonlinBalance creates a random walk that divides each syllable into epochs defined by their regime, using two thresholds to determine when a new regime begins (see Fitch et al., 2002):

  1. Regime 1: no nonlinear effects. If nonlinBalance = 0%, the whole syllable is in regime 1.

  2. Regime 2: subharmonics only. Note that subharmonics are only added to segments with subFreq < f0 / 2.

  3. Regime 3: subharmonics and jitter. If nonlinBalance = 100%, the whole syllable is in regime 3.

nonlinDep is a hyper-parameter that adjusts several settings at once, making the voice harsher in pitch regimes 2 and 3, but without affecting the balance between regimes.


Moving on to advanced nonlinear effects settings, subFreq (“Subharmonic frequency, Hz” in the app) and subDep (“Width of sidebands, Hz”) define the properties of subharmonics in pitch regimes 2 and 3. Say your vocalization has a relatively flat intonation contour with a fundamental frequency of about 800 Hz, and you want to add a single subharmonic (g0). You then set the expected subharmonic frequency to 400 Hz. Since g0 is forced to be an integer fraction of f0 at all time points, it will not be exactly 400 Hz, but it will produce a single subharmonic at f0 / 2 (as long as f0 stays close to 800 Hz: if f0 goes up to 1200 Hz, you will get two subharmonics instead, since 1200 / 400 = 3). The width of sidebands defines how quickly the energy of subharmonics dissipates at a remove from the nearest f-harmonic. For example, our single subharmonic is audible but weak at sideband width = 150 Hz, while it becomes strong enough to be perceived as the new f0 at sideband width = 400 Hz, effectively halving the pitch:

s1 = soundgen(subFreq = 400, subDep = 150, nonlinBalance = 100,
              jitterDep = 0, shimmerDep = 0, temperature = 0, 
              sylLen = 500, pitchAnchors = c(800, 900),
              play = playback, plot = TRUE, ylim = c(0, 3))
s2 = soundgen(subFreq = 400, subDep = 400, nonlinBalance = 100,
              jitterDep = 0, shimmerDep = 0, temperature = 0, 
              sylLen = 500, pitchAnchors = c(800, 900),
              play = playback, plot = TRUE, ylim = c(0, 3))

Sidebands may be easier to understand for high-pitched sounds with low subharmonic frequencies. For example, chimpanzees emit piercing screams with narrow subharmonic bands. If we set subFreq to 75 Hz and subDep to 130 Hz, subharmonics literally form a band around each harmonic of the main stack, creating a very distinct, immediately recognizable sound quality:

s = soundgen(subFreq = 75, subDep = 130, nonlinBalance = 100,
             jitterDep = 0, shimmerDep = 0, temperature = 0, 
             sylLen = 800, formants = NULL, play = playback,
             pitchAnchors = data.frame(time=c(0, .3, .9, 1), 
                                       value = c(1200, 1547, 1487, 1154)))
spectrogram(s, 16000, windowLength = 50, ylim = c(0, 5), contrast = .7)

Jitter / shimmer

As for jitter in pitch regime 3, it wiggles both f0 and g0 harmonic stacks, blurring the spectrum. Parameter jitterDep (“Jitter depth, semitones” in the app) defines how much the pitch fluctuates, while jitterLen (“Jitter period, ms”) defines how rapid these fluctuations are. Slow jitter with a period of ~50 ms produces the effect of a shaky, unsteady voice. It may sound similar to a vibrato, but jitter is irregular. Rapid jitter with a period of ~1 ms, especially in combination with subharmonics, may be used to imitate deterministic chaos, which is found in voiced but highly irregular animal sounds such as barks, roars, noisy screams, etc. This works best for high-pitched sounds like screams.

# To get jitter without subharmonics, set `temperature = 0, subDep = 0` 
# and specify the required jitter depth and period
s1 = soundgen(jitterLen = 50, jitterDep = 1,  # shaky voice
              sylLen = 1000, subDep = 0, nonlinBalance = 100,
              pitchAnchors =  c(150, 170), play = playback)
s2 = soundgen(jitterLen = 1, jitterDep = 1,   # harsh voice
              sylLen = 1000, subDep = 0, nonlinBalance = 100,
              pitchAnchors =  c(150, 170), play = playback)

To get jitter + shimmer + subharmonics, set temperature to 0 (nonlinear effects are then applied to the entire sound) or use nonlinBalance close to 100% with temperature > 0 (effectively the same, but preserving stochastic behavior of other parameters). For example, barks of a small, annoying dog can be roughly approximated with this minimal code (ignoring respiration to keep things simple):

s = soundgen(repeatBout = 2, sylLen = 140, pauseLen = 100, 
             vocalTract = 8, formants = NULL, rolloff = 0,
             pitchAnchors = c(559, 785, 557), mouthAnchors =  c(0, 0.5, 0),
             nonlinBalance = 100, jitterDep = 1, subDep = 60, play = playback) 


There is no way to synthesize true deterministic chaos with residual harmonic structure in soundgen. However, there are several roundabout ways to achieve a comparable effect. As already mentioned, strong jitter and shimmer create harsh sounds that are perceptively similar to deterministic chaos, especially for higher f0 values. Another method is to encode very rapid pitch jumps between harmonically related values, like this:

s = soundgen(sylLen = 1200, 
             pitchAnchors = list(
  time = c(0, 80, 81, 230, 231, 385, 
           # 500 time anchors here - an episode of "chaos"
           seq(385, 850, length.out = 500), 
           851, 1020, 1021, 1085),
  value = c(700, 1130, 1000, 1200, 1860, 1840, 
            # random f0 jumps b/w 1.2 & 1.8 KHz 
            sample(c(1200, 1800), size = 500, replace = T), 
            1620, 1540, 1220, 900)),
  temperature = 0.05, 
  tempEffects = list(pitchAnchorsDep = 0),
  nonlinBalance = 100, subDep = 0, jitterDep = .3,
  rolloffKHz = 0, rolloff = 0, formants = c(900, 1300, 3300, 4300),
  samplingRate = 22000, play = playback, plot = TRUE, osc = TRUE)

Incidentally, you can use similar tricks for introducing variation in any soundgen parameter. For example, you can use runif() or rnorm() to randomly vary things like mouth opening, pitch, amplitude. That’s the best part of working in R!

s = soundgen(sylLen = 800, 
             mouthAnchors = rnorm(n = 5, mean = .5, sd = .3),
             play = playback)

Unvoiced component (turbulent noise)

In addition to the tonal (harmonic, voiced) component, which is synthesized as a stack of harmonics (sine waves), soundgen produces broad-spectrum turbulent noise (unvoiced component). This noise can be added to the voiced component to create breathing, sniffing, snuffling, hissing, gargling, etc. This can be done in two ways (in the app, go to “Tract / Unvoiced type”):

  1. Breathing. This noise type is generated as white noise with spectral rolloff given by rolloffNoise (“Noise rolloff, dB/octave” in the app) above a certain cutoff value (flatSpectrum, the default is currently 1200 Hz). It is added to the voiced component before formant filtering. As a result, it follows exactly the same formant structure as the voiced component, and you cannot modify its spectrum beyond the basic rolloff setting. This is useful for adding noise that originates deep in the throat, close to the vocal cords. To generate breathing, specify noiseAnchors, but leave formantsNoise blank (NA, which is its default value). Soundgen then assumes that the unvoiced component should have the same formant structure as the voiced component.
s = soundgen(noiseAnchors = data.frame(time = c(0, 500), value = c(-40, 20)),
         formantsNoise = NA,  # breathing - same formants as for voiced
         sylLen = 500, play = playback)
  1. Any other noise type is added to the voiced component after formant filtering, and therefore this noise can be filtered independently of the voiced component. To generate such noise, you can use one of the available presets in the app (for now, only a few human consonants) or specify the formants for the unvoiced component manually in exactly the same format (formantsNoise) as for the voiced component (formants).
s = soundgen(noiseAnchors = data.frame(time = c(0, 500), value = c(-40, 20)),
         # specify noise filter ≠ voiced filter to get ~[s]
         formantsNoise = list(
           f1 = data.frame(freq = 6000,
                           amp = 50, 
                           width = 1000)
         rolloffNoise = 0, pitchAnchors = NA,
         sylLen = 500, play = playback, plot = TRUE)

TIP: pitchAnchors = NA or NULL removes the voiced component, so that only turbulent noise is synthesized. In the app, untick the box Intonation / Intonation syllable / Generate voiced component?

In the shiny app, the tab “Source / Unvoiced timing” is for specifying the amplitude contour of the unvoiced component. It shows the timing of noise relative to the voiced component of a typical syllable. Note that noise is allowed to fill the pauses between syllables, but not between bouts. For example, in this two-syllable bout noise carries over after the end of each voiced component, since syllable duration is 120 ms and the last breathing time anchor is 209 ms:

s = soundgen(nSyl = 2, sylLen = 120, pauseLen = 120, 
             temperature = 0, rolloffNoise = -5, 
             noiseAnchors = data.frame(time = c(39, 56, 209), 
                                       value = c(-80, -10, -50)),
             formants = list(f1 = c(860, 530),  f2 = c(1280, 2400)),
             formantsNoise = c(420, 1200),
             plot = TRUE, osc = TRUE, play = playback)

Both the timing and the amplitude of noise anchors are defined relative to the voiced component. Because noise can extend beyond voiced fragmets, however, time anchors for noise MUST be specified in ms (unlike all the other contours, which also accept time anchors on any arbitrary scale, say 0 to 1). If the noise starts before the voiced part, the first time anchor will be negative. This is easier to specify in the app, which provides a preview. From R console, you can also preview the noise amplitude contour implied by your anchors by calling getSmoothContour, for example:

a = getSmoothContour(anchors = data.frame(time = c(-50, 200, 300), 
                                          value = c(-80, 20, -80)),
                     voiced = 200, plot = TRUE, ylim = c(-80, 40), main = '')

TIP: if the voiced part is shorter than permittedValues['sylLen', 'low'], it is not synthesized at all, so you only get the unvoiced component (if any). The voiced part is also not synthesized if the noise is at its loudest, namely permittedValues['noiseAmpl', 'high'] (40 dB)

Unlike the voiced component, breathing noise is NOT enriched with stochastically added formants if formantsNoise are specified explicitly (i.e., if this is not aspiration noise). If formantsNoise = NA or NULL (i.e., if this is aspiration noise), formant structure is calculated based on vocal tract length, as usual. For example, to create simple sighs, you can just specify the length of your creature’s vocal tract:

s1 = soundgen(vocalTract = 17.5,  # ~human throat (17.5 cm)
              formants = NULL, attackLen = 200, play = playback,
              noiseAnchors = list(time = c(0, 800), value = c(40, 40)))
# NB: since there is no voiced component, the only way to control syllable length
# is by specifying the appropriate noiseAnchors$time, in this case 0 to 800 ms

s2 = soundgen(vocalTract = 30,    # a large animal
              formants = NULL, attackLen = 200, play = playback,
              noiseAnchors = list(time = c(0, 800), value = c(40, 40)))
# NB: voiced component not generated, since noiseAnchors$value >= 40 dB
# Another way to remove the voiced component is to write pitchAnchors = NULL

To contrast, this will produce only two specified formants, ignoring the specified vocal tract length:

s3 = soundgen(vocalTract = 17.5, formantsNoise = c(1000, 2000),  
              noiseAnchors = list(time = c(0, 800), value = 40),
              play = playback, plot = TRUE)

Finally, the excitation source for the unvoiced component can be synthesized as white noise (if rolloffNoise = 0) or as turbulent noise with a spectrum that linearly (not exponentially!) loses power over a certain threshold, which is currently fixed at 1200 Hz. The parameter rolloffNoise thus controls the source spectrum of the unvoiced component:

s1 = soundgen(vocalTract = 17.5, rolloffNoise = 0,
              formants = NULL, attackLen = 200, play = playback,
              noiseAnchors = list(time = c(0, 800), value = c(40, 40)))

s2 = soundgen(vocalTract = 17.5, rolloffNoise = -10,
              formants = NULL, attackLen = 200, play = playback,
              noiseAnchors = list(time = c(0, 800), value = c(40, 40)))
# NB: voiced component not generated, since noiseAnchors$value >= 40 dB

Combining two sounds

To achieve a complex vocalization, sometimes it may be necessary - or easier - to synthesize two or more sounds separately and then combine them. If the components are strictly consecutive, you can simply concatenate them with c(). If there is no silence in between, it is safer to use crossFade(), otherwise there can be transients like clicks between the two sounds:

par(mfrow = c(1, 2))
sound1 = sin(2 * pi * 1:5000 * 100 / 16000) # pure tone, 100 Hz
sound2 = sin(2 * pi * 1:5000 * 200 / 16000) # pure tone, 200 Hz

# simple concatenation
comb1 = c(sound1, sound2)
# playme(comb1)  # note the click
plot(comb1[4000:5500], type = 'l', xlab = '', ylab = '')  
# note the abrupt transition, which creates the click
# spectrogram(comb1, 16000)  

# cross-fade
comb2 = crossFade(sound1, sound2, samplingRate = 16000, crossLen = 50)
# playme(comb2)  # no click
plot(comb2[4000:5500], type = 'l', xlab = '', ylab = '')  
# gradual transition
# spectrogram(comb2, 16000)
par(mfrow = c(1, 1))

Here is a more elaborate example, in which two components of the same syllable are so different that it’s easier to synthesize them separately and then cross-fade, rather than to try and find a set of parameters that will generate the entire syllable in one go:

cow1 = soundgen(sylLen = 1400, 
                pitchAnchors = list(time = c(0, 11/14, 1), 
                                    value = c(75, 130, 200)), 
                temperature = 0.1, 
                rolloff = -6, rolloffOct = -3, rolloffParab = 12,
                mouthOpenThres = 0.6, 
                formants = NULL, vocalTract = 36.5, 
                mouthAnchors = list(time = c(0, 0.82, 1), 
                                    value = c(0.6, 0, 1)), 
                noiseAnchors = list(time = c(0, 1400), 
                                    value = c(-25, -25)), 
                rolloffNoise = -4, addSilence = 0)
cow2 = soundgen(sylLen = 310, pitchAnchors = c(359, 359), 
                temperature = 0.05, nonlinBalance = 100, 
                subFreq = 150, subDep = 70, jitterDep = 1.3, 
                rolloff = -6, rolloffOct = -3, rolloffKHz = -0, 
                formants = NULL, vocalTract = 36.5, 
                noiseAnchors = list(time = c(0, 26, 317, 562), 
                                    value = c(-80, -23, -22, -80)), 
                rolloffNoise = -6, 
                attackLen = 0, addSilence = 0)
s = crossFade(cow1 * 3, cow2,  # adjust the relative volume by scaling
              samplingRate = 16000, crossLen = 150)
# playme(s, 16000)
spectrogram(s, 16000, osc=T, ylim = c(0, 4))

If you want the two sounds to overlap, you can use addVectors(), which simply makes sure two waveforms are padded with zeros to the same length and overlapped intelligently. Note that in this case cross-fading is not appropriate, so it may be safer to apply fade-in/out to both sounds to soften the attack. For example, here is how to add chirping of birds in the background:

sound1 = soundgen(sylLen = 700, pitchAnchors = 250:180, 
                  formants = 'aaao', 
                  addSilence = 100, play = playback)
sound2 = soundgen(nSyl = 2, sylLen = 150, 
                  pitchAnchors = 4300:2200, attackLen = 10,
                  formants = NA, temperature = 0, 
                  addSilence = 0, play = playback)

insertionTime = .1 + .15  # silence + 150 ms
samplingRate = 16000
insertionPoint = insertionTime * samplingRate
comb = addVectors(sound1, 
                  sound2 * .05,  # to make sound2 quieter relative to sound1
                  insertionPoint = insertionPoint)
# soundgen softens attack by default, so no clicks
# playme(comb)
spectrogram(comb, 16000, windowLength = 10, ylim = c(0, 5), 
            contrast = .5, colorTheme = 'seewave')

Morphing two sounds

Sometimes it is desirable to combine the characteristics of two different stiimuli, producing some kind of intermediate form - a hybrid or blend. This technique is called morphing, and it is employed regularly and successfully with visual stimuli, but not so often with sounds, because it turns out to be rather tricky to morph audio. Since soundgen creates sounds parametrically, however, morphing becomes much more straightforward: all we need to do is define the rules for interpolating between all control parameters. For example, say we have sound A (100 ms) and sound B (500 ms), which only differ in their duration. To morph them, we could generate five otherwise identical sounds that are 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 ms long, giving us the originals and three equidistant intermediate forms - that is, if we assume that linear interpolation is the natural way to take perceptually equal steps between parameter values.

In practice this assumption is often unwarranted. For example, the natural scale for pitch is log-transformed: the perceived distance between 100 Hz and 200 Hz is 12 semitones, while from 200 Hz to 300 Hz it is only 7 semitones. To make pitch values equidistant, we would need to think in terms of semitones, not Hz. For other soundgen parameters it is hard to make an educated guess about the natural scale, so the most appropriate interpolation rules remains obscure. For best results, morphing should be performed by hand, pre-testing each parameter of interest and creating the appropriate formulas for each morph. However, for a “quick fix” there is an in-built function, morph.

morph takes two calls to soundgen (as a character string or a list of arguments) and creates several morphs using linear interpolation for all parameters except pitch and formant frequencies, which are log-transformed prior to interpolation and then exponentiated to go back to Hz. The morphing algorithm can also deal with arbitrary contours, either by taking a weighted mean of each curve (method = 'smooth') or by attempting to match and morph individual anchors (method = 'perAnchor'):

a = data.frame(time=c(0, .2, .9, 1), value=c(100, 110, 180, 110))
b = data.frame(time=c(0, .3, .5, .8, 1), value=c(300, 220, 190, 400, 350))
par(mfrow = c(1, 3))
plot (a, type = 'b', ylim = c(100, 400), main = 'Original curves')
points (b, type = 'b', col = 'blue')
m = soundgen:::morphDF(a, b, nMorphs = 15, method = 'smooth', 
                       plot = TRUE, main = 'Morphing curves')
m = soundgen:::morphDF(a, b, nMorphs = 15, method = 'perAnchor', 
                       plot = TRUE, main = 'Morphing anchors')
par(mfrow = c(1, 1))