The Case For Adding Bitcrushed Audio to Music, Film & Video Games

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Have you ever watched a movie, played a video game, or even listened to a song where everything sudden goes lo-fi from a HUGE impact? Whether it’s a bomb going off, shotgun blast, or some other special effect, audio engineers are able to take these sounds to new extremes with in the box processing.

These digital processors add a new dimensionality to the listener’s experience. They’re not just hearing some loud pop that goes off – they’re hearing the effect of what those loud, powerful explosions do to human hearing.

We’re effectively able to recreate a sense of panicked hearing loss in our listener – which is absolutely crazy to think about. We’re not just talking about capturing and mixing good sounding audio any more – we’re diving into the psychology and physical aspects of human hearing.

With that, let’s dive right into the how and the why you’d want to use this type of affect in films, video games & music.

Bitcrushed Video Game Sounds

Perhaps one of the most prevalent uses of bitcrushers comes from video games, and for good reason. There’s a certain amount of nostalgia that comes from video game sound effects going all the way back to the earliest systems with 8-bit audio. This bit rate was inherently low resolution to begin with. Couple that with cheap audio cards and a lack of sound design tools and you get old-school arcade sounds galore.

But more recently, video game developers have used tools like Pixelator to crush, distort, and simulate a lower resolution from more modern sounds. In fighting games and shooters, bitcrushed sound effects can add to the sense of aggression in the game. You can actually make a game feel faster paced with just a bit of good sound design.

Bitcrushed Effects in Movies/TV

Hollywood is no stranger to this effect either, and most of the time they’re using the effect so successfully that you don’t even notice it’s happened. The best examples come from war and spy movies, where the action is already high and the sound designers need a way to break out of a scene that’s already got gunshots and people running all over the screen.

Enter the bitcrusher.

Usually coupled with some slow motion effects, a bitcrushed explosion simulates something blowing up very close to the actor we’re watching on screen. It somewhat simulates the hearing loss that can occur, and is often coupled with a low-pass filter while they re-establish their surroundings post explosion.

Done correctly, bitcrushing is one of the most cinematic effects in a sound designer’s toolbox for film. By combining a well-shot, well-directed & well-acted scene, this audio effect can suck the viewer right into the film in a way that nothing but audio can.

Bitcrushing In Music

Bitcrushing isn’t exactly an effect that can be made transparent. Using it in light doses might make a performance sound a bit more aggressive, but using it at it’s full power will give you a sound usually best left as an effect.

I tend to use Pixelator on two main things in music: transitions and sound effects. Because of the dynamism of these two mix elements, it’s easy to use them just like the sound designers from games and movies do.

For sound effects, bitcrusing can be used without as much concern about retaining something “musical”. You’re usually working with sound effects that are more for impact than any tonal characteristic, and they’re usually layered with a snare hit or something similar to tie the music together with the effect.

For transitions, I’m usually only using the plugin for a short section, making an intro, bridge, or outro sound a bit low-res. Depending on how much I want to change that section, I can apply it to the mix bus or just a group of tracks within the mix. It all depends just how destructive you want to get. Reducing bit depth and dividing samples can be a great combo for making it sound as if your song is completely falling apart.

Check out how Nick automates Pixelator to transition between sections in this In The Studio clip:

Hear how the keys start out with that old-school video game sound and slowly transition back to a more realistic tone?

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