Solo Diary: with a single sound source, create a piece using envelopes

The past two weeks of workshops have shown several different ways to create sound “sources”; single oscillators, more complex networks of oscillators & filters, soundfile playback objects, noise sources, etc. In building your patches for performance, you’ve even found several different ways to shape the relative trajectories of these sound sources over time; such as multiplying signals with slider values.

This week, we look at envelopes—the more general term for this type of “sound event shaping”. Envelopes are a key part of taking the “raw signals” you’ve been generating so far and shaping them into more structured and recognisable musical elements like notes, bars, choruses, and movements.

The effect of applying an envelope to a carrier

Goals for this week

  1. be able to control the sound sources in your patch in a reliable & repeatable manner

  2. to explore how different envelope parameters can be used from a compositional perspective

  3. to start using processing sound with more effects.


You’ve probably already tried the line~ object for scheduling a slow change to a value. The vline~ object lets you “schedule” several changes in sequence. The syntax is a bit tricky, so you’ll have to look at the resources above to help.

Anatomy of a vline

An extra goal for this week is to start experimenting with some basic digital effects. You might have some experience with popular effects like “reverb”, “chorus”, “tremolo”, or “distortion”. Effects like these can modify both the envelope and timbre of sound (depending on the effect) and effects like reverb can help to make synth sounds sound better, or blend perceptually with other sounds. The Pd examples features a few demo effects, try adding one or two to your work to see whether they help with your ideas for this week.

Creative Notes

  • does an envelope have to control the amplitude of a sound source? or can it control other things? can envelopes control other envelopes?

  • when is an ADSR (attack-decay-sustain-release) envelope the right choice, and when do you want a different type of envelope?

  • can you take a patch (or part of a patch) that you’ve made in a previous week and add an envelope to it? you might want to try the metro object to generate a sequence of “bangs” to keep triggering your envelope generator

  • for some further reading, e.g. ADSR Envelopes: How to Build The Perfect Sound

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