Welcome to the quickstart guide of Echotopia, the innovative immersive soundscape designer by SoundFellas.
In the following paragraphs, you will learn the basic concept of Echotopia and how to create your first project.
Have fun creating awesome sound!
Echotopia is a new kind of audio editor born from the fusion of interactive audio practices, gaming technologies, spatial sound methodologies, research into acoustics and psychoacoustics, and the growing need for creators of all kinds to be able to produce easily highly-immersive soundscapes for many types of projects.
It all started more than a decade ago, circa 2011 when SoundFellas released DMDJ, a soundscape generator app for mobile devices, through SoundFellas’ in-house software development team titled Blueface Games.
DMDJ is still offered for iOS and Android mobile devices through the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store, and the Amazon Appstore.
DMDJ offered an innovative – at the time – set of features which still are proven very powerful when it comes to procedurally generated soundscapes from a mobile device, but through the years of getting feedback from our ever-growing user base, we saw the need for more.
During the last 10 years, we witnessed an explosion of creativity in all sectors and the rising of immersive audio boosted by the wave of new technologies such as virtual reality, the internet of things, and the convergence of all media industry sectors which is still moving towards unity.
It was clearly time for us to take the next step.
It took Pan Athen, our founder and lead designer, more than a year to create the first drafts of the design document, and he together with Manolis Benetos our software engineer one year more of R&D to develop the technology stack and the audio engine of Echotopia, our next generation soundscape designer.
And that was a big difference! Echotopia would not be another soundscape generator like the many that exist together with our own DMDJ, but a soundscape designer, an authoring environment that would make it easy for everyone to create dynamic and immersive acoustic environments.
Installing Echotopia on your machine is a straightforward process. It all happens through the installer/setup utility that will guide you through the steps.
Sometimes, depending on your system and settings, you might get a warning that you are trying to install software from an unknown publisher. We don’t sign our applications as we have a completely controllable environment to develop our software so there is no danger of some employee to inject malicious code in our software. You have the same level of security by choosing to continue despite the various alerts you might get from Windows User Account Control, Defender, or you antivirus and firewall software.
When you run the installer, the first screen you see is the End User License Agreement. You should read this agreement as it defines the relationship you have with SoundFellas and Echotopia. To proceed with the installation you must agree with the rules of this agreement. If you agree press “I Agree”, if you do not agree press “Cancel” and end the setup process.
On the next step of the setup process, you will define where in your system’s storage devices Echotopia will be installed.
After finishing the installation, the installer will prompt you to finish the setup, and if you don’t change the option, it will automatically launch Echotopia.
That’s it, you successfully installed Echotopia in your machine!
Echotopia is using a classic automatic request-response activation mechanism to manage the licensing of the application on your machine(s).
You are allowed to install Echotopia in two different machines, provided that you use one at a time (one user/not multi-user license).
If you have any trouble with any of those steps, you can create a ticket at our customer support portal, and we will assist you in the process.
When you launch Echotopia for the first time, you will see the launch hub, which will prompt you to activate the license on your machine.
Enter here the email address that you used to purchase Echotopia. If you enter a different email address the activation will not work and will return an error.
Under the email address field, enter the license activation code that you received with an email together with the receipt of your purchase. If you didn’t receive your receipt with the activation code, please check your spam folder. It might be a good idea to whitelist our domain (soundfellas.com) in your email client, to make sure you receive future updates and news for your product.
When you run Echotopia the first after activating your license, you will see the Echotopia Launch Hub.
The Launch Hub is a tool that allows you to access your recently opened projects, some basic global settings of the application, and useful links.
From the hub, you can also create a new project, open another project, or just open the application directly. don’t worry, you can access all those features from within Echotopia itself.
That’s all you need to setup. Now Echotopia is ready, activated, and the basic setup is concluded.
Keep on reading to learn the basic concepts and start your first project!
To achieve a high level of productivity and remain open to artistic expression, Echotopia needs to be a specialized audio authoring application, meaning that is highly opinionated in the way it organizes its interface and all its resources.
Let’s take a look at the interface and the basic structure of data, so you get a good idea of what can be found where and how asset files are handled.
Don’t worry about all this theory, you will see everything in action later in this guide, in “Your first project” section.
Below you can see a screenshot of Echotopia open in the “Scene Workspace” on the “Editor Section”. Echotopia’s user interface uses the workspace paradigm meaning that you can switch to different workspaces depending on what you want to do, and each workspace has a set of sections to further organize its tools.
Here’s what you see in the screenshot above:
The highest level entities in Echotopia are Projects.
A project contains everything related to itself in the project folder. Actually, in Echotopia the project is the project’s folder. So, in contrast with other applications, i.e. Adobe’s Photoshop, who save all the project’s data in a single file, in Echotopia the project is saved in a project’s folder.
Inside that folder, you will find all media assets that are used in the project and other files that save the settings of that project and any related information.
A project can contain many scenes.
Think of the scene as one map upon which you can position various sound sources and then experience the complete acoustic environment from a specific point in the map.
For example, if you create a project for a pen and paper DnD session, then you could create a project for all the campaign, and in there create as many scenes as the number of maps you want to have in that campaign.
Each scene needs an image file to use as the map upon you will position the sound sources.
Media assets are the lowest level of entities supported by Echotopia.
Those are sound files, image files, impulse response files, etc.
Media assets can be found in Echotopia’s Library and imported in your project folder, or imported directly in your project folder to be used only for that project.
Reusable media is nice to be stored in the Library, while random media or media only for specific projects can be imported directly to the project folder from any location.
IMPORTANT: any media asset that gets imported in your project will be copied in the project folder. That means that the original files are not in danger from accidental destructive changes and that you project is fully portable as everything is contained inside the project folder. This means also that the project folder can grow fast in size if you don’t practice some housekeeping or you start importing assets you don’t really need in your project.
One of the main objects that you will be handling all the time are the sound source areas you set on your maps. We simply call them Areas from now on and you use them to define the locations from where sound is emitted in your scenes.
In the screenshot below you see two areas titled “Fields” and “Deep Sea” respectively.
As you can see the Fields area has a rectangular shape, while the Deep Sea area has a circle shape.
Each area contains:
The red icon with the human form is called the Explorer, and it is very important, as it defines the point from which you are experiencing the acoustic environment of the scene. For now think of the Explorer as your virtual set of ears, a “listener device” if you like.
By the way, the Explorer doesn’t have a set of two ears, it has an even better number of ears, matching your soundcard and speaker configuration, so you can listen to the surrounding acoustic environment in a fully immersive way. But more of that on the Echotopia User Manual.
The roles of the Main and Fade zones are important to understand if you want to learn how to create realistic soundscapes.
Actually the clever combination of how those two zones together with the appropriate shape that you choose, can be used to create almost all of the natural behaviors of real-world sound sources.
Consider the following:
To simulate all those, Echotopia features different shapes of areas and two zones for each area.
The first zone, called Main Zone, will playback the sounds you assign to the area (more on that later) without altering anything.
The second zone, called Fade Zone – if activated – will playback the sounds you assign to the area, but it will simulate how the sound energy dissipates over distance because of energy loss.
The dissipation effect starts where the Main Zone ends (the outer boundary of the Main Zone) and ends at the outer line of the Fade Zone (the outer boundary of the Fade Zone).
The dissipation effect includes both the loudness dissipation and the higher frequency damping that happens in the real world.
By using those Area properties you can create realistic areas that the Explorer will experience louder as it enters the Fade Zone and gets closer to the Main Zone, and on the Main Zone, the Explorer will be fully immersed in the Area fully experiencing all the sounds.
By combining various Area shapes and with clever use of the rectangular area zones that can be set individually, you can create areas to represent large buildings that emit sound only from one of their sides, cave or secret room openings that wind slips through giving away their existence, and many more.
This overlapping mechanism is very important in realism but also in sound design, as it provides the freedom to both add realistic transitions between locations on the map, and also offers the freedom to the storyteller or sound designer, to position the Explorer at any point on the map.
Imagine that in a pen and paper role-playing game scenario, the party can go exactly where they like on the map and explore, always getting the appropriate acoustic experience. The Dungeon Master can create hidden points that give away their existence with sound, like cave openings or dungeon entrances, and the party should explore the terrain to listen for those sounds.
It’s a whole new way to engage your audience and make them use all their senses, dragging one more sense into the experience for total immersion.
In the real world, sound comes from everywhere, but as we know from psychoacoustics, for our brain to make sense of the environment fast, specific mechanisms exist that create simplified versions of reality containing only the information we need to survive and make decisions in context.
This is why when you’re standing next to a city street you can experience the present with detail (cars, voices, birds, etc.) but as soon as the information is on the past it becomes an impression (the city was noisy today, there was more traffic than usual).
To keep this impression real (meaning believable) with pre-recorded audio material we need to simulate the behavior of the various events to be like in nature, almost random (the official term is stochastic) and somehow dynamic. That way, the brain doesn’t detect a repetitive pattern that will make it bring the sound out of context and into the foreground, where the information is subject to analysis and disbelief.
On the other hand, the designer needs an easy way to define and set the behavior in a controllable and predictable manner.
To solve this duality between natural behavior and productive predictability, Echotopia introduces the concept of “Audio Layers”.
Audio Layers are actually specialized instruments that can be used as layers to define the behaviors of the audio content playback of an Area. Different types of Audio Layers simulate different behaviors of sound events from nature.
For now, we have two kinds of layers (instrument types), but many more are coming in the near future. The layer types we will be talking about in this guide are the “Looper” and the “Randomizer”.
If we open the Wind Looper you will see that this type of layer is made to simulate the behavior of continuous sounds that playback indefinitely in a loop (meaning when the playhead reaches the end it starts automatically from the beginning).
It can load only one sound file and the designer can set the volume of playback and, if needed, change the pitch/speed for creative or other reasons.
Randomizers are more complicated instruments as they simulate a more complicated behavior. Randomizers are used to simulate sound events that are triggered once every now and then and when the sound reaches its end the sound is not repeated. We call those types of sound files one-shots, as each file contains a single sample, and many are needed to create a realistic result.
The Randomizer instrument can load many sounds, usually, those are variations of the same sound event, i.e. bird chirping or car pass by sounds.
You can set the range between two volume levels, two pitch shift values, and two trigger ranges. Those are used to randomize the triggering and playback of each of the loaded files.
In the example below, when a sound is triggered, the instrument will way for a random time between 3 to 10 seconds and when the next sound is going to be played, it will have a random volume between 70 to 100 percent and a pitch shift between -2 to +3 semitones.
One of the major innovations of Echotopia in soundscape design technology is the inclusion of acoustics for each area you create, and the inclusion of those simulations in the final result through the virtual ears of the Explorer.
Acoustic phenomena like reflection and occlusion are the basic ingredients that define the sound of an acoustic environment.
What is the main difference between a common city street and a long tunnel in a cave? Well, besides the first having cars and the second bats and water dripping. It’s the reflection of the sound on the different surfaces. Reflections are also known as reverberation and they are the basic elements of the sound that reaches our ears that gives our brain information about the size of a space and the distance of the sound sources within that space.
In Echotopia we use the most open and accurate standard for recreating the reflectivity style of a space, convolution processing using impulse responses.
To paraphrase Wikipedia, convolution-based reverb uses digital recordings of physical spaces (using impulse responses) to recreate the reverb of those places. Convolution-based reverb is often used in film production so sounds can be added in post-production with realistic reverberation.
Except recreating the reverberation of any space in a very realistic way, using impulse responses (also known as IRs) has the added benefit of availability, as you can search and find a lot of impulse response files from real places like i.e. Hagia Sophia, famous caves and castles, known canyons, awesome tunnels, hangars, and many more for free online. You can also go a step further and create your own using a simple audio editor and noise generators.
Reverberation in Echotopia is easy to set up. You just choose an IR file, set the amount of the effect that all the sound layers will be affected, and you’re set. You don’t need to tweak odd and arcane parameters, the convolution processor under the hood will transfer all the characteristics captured on the IR file to your Area’s Layers in the amount you set on the Wet/Dry parameter.
Occlusion’s importance in soundscape design is easily understood if you ask yourself “what is the sound of an apartment’s room on the 1st floor located downtown with the main balcony right above the main city street?”. The answer is that a major part of the soundscape experienced by a listener within that room, are the sounds of the city street outside the apartment, with the reverberation of the streets, as they pass through the building materials of the apartment’s structure.
Echotopia’s audio engine features the simulation of Inward Occlusion, meaning that the simulation can be set Area-wise. The only thing to set here is the type of occlusion and we price a range of basic wall material with future additions planned very soon.
The type of occlusion you set to an Area will affect the sound of all other Areas that are coming to that Area when the Explorer is in that Area. Usually, you set that to common indoor Areas and you have to plan accordingly to your design, based on the story you want to tell or the experience you want to create for your audience.
If you reached this point, you have learned a lot about Echotopia’s high-level functions, but also a lot about the elements of soundscape design.
How layers of sounds with different behaviors create the impression of an acoustic area. How filtering an acoustic area through reverberation and inward occlusion creates realism. And how using different areas with main and fade zones can finally create a complete acoustic environment that can be experienced through any position on a map.
For the final chapter of this quickstart guide, we will see the basic steps you have to take to create your first project containing a scene with a map and an area with a looper and a randomizer layer. We will also finish by switching to the workspace used for live performance “Live Mode”.
This is a simple tutorial to show you the basic steps you need to take in order to create a rudimentary project in Echotopia.
The tutorial is presented with a series of images with numbered steps stamped on them and each image is followed with the corresponding numbers and a description of the step.
Open Echotopia and then,
To create a scene we need to add one more step in between, because a scene also needs to contain a map image.
We are still in the Project workspace. Here you can find all options to manage your project.
That way you import the map image files into your project folder.
When you select the import icon, the dialog window in the screenshot below opens and you can drag-and-drop files in the area marked (1) or click in the area marked (1) and a file explorer will open to choose files. The files you prepare for importing appear at a list on the right, and when you are ready press [Import] (2) to import them in your project.
Now that you imported your map images into your project, you can create a new scene and associate it with a map file.
After the map image selection window closes you press [OK] in the Create Scene dialog box and your new scene is created.
After you created your scene successfully, it’s time to add an Area and then populate it with layers and sounds.
As with the map image, to use audio files we need to import them into our project first.
I went right ahead and added some files. Two loops, one for water and one for wind, and four oneshots for random lake laps to sound here and there.
Here’s a screenshot of the lake laps:
As I will also need an impulse response file later to simulate the acoustics on a lake, I also went over and imported one too.
Apart from commercial impulse response collections, there are also many places to find them for free. One of my favorites is the IR Data repository of the OpenAIR project. I found a great impulse response that captures the reverberation of a landscape very similar to the land around a lake, Troller’s Gill made by Andrew Chadwick and Simon Shelley for the OpenAIR project.
Here’s a screenshot of the IR file in the project’s asset manager:
Now let’s add those audio assets to the area we created. Let’s start with the Water layer.
On the layer window that appears you can:
Let’s also add the Wind layer the same way we did for the Water layer. Add another layer and the layer window appears.
To give our area a little randomness, let’s also add a Randomizer layer with some water laps recorded from the coastline of a lake. After you choose to add a Randomizer the appropriate window appears with the Randomizer settings.
And now the final step. To add the important element of realism, let’s configure the acoustics of the area.
The area we design here is a lake which is located in an open terrain, so we will not need any occlusion for that area, only reverberation.
There are also some useful tools on the audio layers section of the inspector to help you preview and tweak the audio settings of the selected area.
Finally, don’t forget the basics:
The Live workspace is where everything we created comes together. This is a specialized mode that strips down everything not needed for live performance, so you can playback your scenes and switch between them easily using a specialized interface.
For now, let’s see what we can do using Live mode:
Congratulations! You finished the basic tutorial on making your first project with Echotopia, and on the way, you gained some useful knowledge on soundscape design.
From here you should continue your quest by:
From all the team at SoundFellas, have fun creating!