Why are we reading this?

One of the best things I’ve read while taking my education is a small chapter from Philip Tagg’s book, “Music’s Meaning”. The chapter is about something called Anaphones. Today is kind of a dry post compared to others I’ve done before, but I promise you that it will at least be interesting and at best very inspiring and helpful! Let’s dig in!

Now what exactly is an Anaphone? You can basically think of it as a musical analogy, where you use the language of music to create an analogy to something else, like water, thunder, tactile sensations or a specific language.

While Tagg is focused mainly on music, Anaphones are also applicable to sound design. I’ll be going through a bunch of different kinds of Anaphones next, so after absorbing the information and understanding it in a musical context, try to imagine using this kind of stuff while designing a sound effect.

List of different Anaphones

Non-Vocal Anaphones:

A non-vocal anaphone relates to everything that isn’t generated vocally by anything. This could things like thunderstorms, heartbeats, water, motors and bombs. Some words to describe these kinds of sounds could be; bang, beep, boing, clunk, plop, fizzle, pop, pow, smatter, snap, swoosh, whoosh, whizz, grind, rattle, ring, ding-dong, trickle, crumble, just to give you an idea.

Vocal Anaphones:

Vocal-anaphones relates to everything that is generated vocally, like speech, language and such. There are different kinds of vocal anaphones starting with…

Transscansions: Most notably used in the branding business, transscansions are wordless motifs that resemble a phrase. A good example is the intel inside sound logo, where the melody mimics the words “Intel Inside” being spoken. These kinds of anaphones are usually used to highlight and reinforce the meaning of some words in a musical context.

Language Identifiers: Using melody and rhythm to mimic the way a certain language sounds. Think of the italian language, how would you describe that and how would you musically create analogies to that language?

Stock Phrase Homologies: Using music to create analogies to certain phrases that we use all the time like, “I love you”, “Get off my lawn” and “Fuck off”. You would typically use melody and rhythm to do this.

Paralinguistic Anaphones: Describing non-verbal vocal expressions that are used by all humans and isn’t limited to any specific language. This is stuff like; booing, crying, giggling, sighing, laughing, moaning and so forth. Also general states of mind like; panic, worry, confusion, anger, apathy and introversion.

Tactile Anaphones:

Tactile Anaphones relates to the physical feelings of things. Say, if you wanted to create an anaphone to a very soft piece of silk, you would probably use a very smooth synth pad or a string section with very little bow being heard. Think of the difference between a very distorted metal guitar and a pan flute being played very softly, what tactile feelings do you get from each? Look at the first thing you see to the left of you, what instrument would give you the right tactile feeling of that object?

Gross-Motoric and Fine-Motoric:

Think of gross-motoric anaphones as anything that requires big movement like pulling, running, trudging and dragging.

Fine-motoric anaphones are of course the opposite of this, anythings that requires small movement like clicking, ticking, rustling, glittering and shimmering.

Spatial Anaphones:

Spatial Anaphones are basically what we all know and love as “Reverb”. The idea is that you create an analogy to the space you want the sound or music to exist in. This could be a spaceship, a big warm hall, a dungeon and so forth, and you do this using reverb to “describe” the room and its features.

Gestural Anaphones:

Think of gestural anaphones as anything we can gesture using our bodies. This could be things like waving our hand, long flowing hair in the wind and so forth.

Gestural anaphones are also used in relation the shape of things, so the shape of the hills, the house, the cars, the mountains and so forth.

There are a lot more anaphones than these, and honestly you don’t even needs to categorise them this way. The useful skillset to learn here, is to be able to make sound that create analogies to something else… be it by movement, tactile sensation or something complete different.

How Is This Helpful In Sound Design?

When creating music, the benefits of thinking in anaphones should be pretty obvious by now, but what about when you’re dealing with sound design?

For more musical sound effects, you can of course use many of the same tools and thinking patterns that you use for music.

When you’re making more “normal” sound effects like gunshots, you can use it to make more creative sound design decisions instead of just straight up using “the sound”.

Let’s say you wanted to create the sound of waves on a beach without using realistic source material. You could take some white noise, add an EQ and use an LFO on a low-pass filter to create a sound that is reminiscent (Anaphone/Analogi) to the sound of waves.

You could alter the ambiences in your game depending on your characters’ state of mind, using tactile anaphones. Say your character is frustrated, you might want to add some more saturation to create analogies to a more grainy emotional landscape.

It’s all up to you to find ways to use this, and its definitely not something that’s useful, or works, for everyone. The point is to give you another tool in your toolbox, even if you don’t use it (like that weird screwdriver your father-in-law gave you years ago). At one point, you might just need it! Think of this when you’re stuck or looking for inspiration.


  1. Think of 5 ways to use each kind of Anaphone presented here
  2. Get a hold of Philip Tagg’s book and read the chapter on Anaphones

See you next week!

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