I ordered Designing Sound to consider using it in a computer audio class. As soon as I got it, I had to jump in. The book itself is inviting, and the writing style is engaging. Once I started, I found that I couldn't put it down. What is so remarkable is the balancing act that Farnell pulls off so admirably. To explain what I mean, I must give a brief description of the pedagogical approach.
The primary goal is that students learn to design sounds (for game audio, etc.) using physical modeling. It cannot be assumed that students have the requisite background in the several fields that come into play, so the book must introduce those first. They need to know and be able to implement some physics (not just essential wave theory and acoustics, but the physics related to all kinds of things that make sounds). They need background in psychoacoustics (anatomy, perception, cognition--yes; but also listening strategies, physiological responses to sound, and how sound interacts with language and knowledge). They should understand how programming and digital audio works, and have some audio processing and synthesis tools in their belt. They should do exercises using a particular programming environment, so they must learn about that language and how to use it. They must understand how interactive gaming and immersive environments work. And, of course, they need to learn a theory and a set of strategies for sound design. Tall order! But the execution is stunning. The beauty is that the background information is presented in such a way that is tailored to the goals of the book.
In the first section, Theory, Farnell breezes through the important physics and psychoacoustics concepts through a series of concept summaries that are so well organized, focused, and written that the whole thing works quite well. Each section has plenty of references for further reading, but the text is adequate for gaining a working understanding of the key concepts. I described this as a series of summaries, but I should clarify that the coverage is really quite thorough.
The author uses the Pd environment, which works very well for this. The coverage in the "Tools" section is "just what you need and nothing you don't need," but the trick is in the brilliant organization of the material and the comprehensible explanations.
The "Techniques" section is fairly thin compared to more traditional digital audio books, but it is sufficient for the task. If you are looking for a book focused on detailed coverage of techniques for synthesis, filtering, spatialization, and so on, this is not it.
The first three sections are background, and the fourth section, Practicals, is the goal. Farnell gives the reader/student no fewer than 35 hands-on exercises in sound design. For each sound type, whether natural or synthetic, the first step is to analyze how the sound is made, down to the smallest detail. The second step is to create abstractions to perform the various components of the creation of the sound. The third step is to design a program that makes the sound given a number of input parameters. Farnell provides not only graphics of the Pd programming in the book, but the actual programs as well, which can be downloaded from the book's website. Most of the practicals involve physical modeling, and Farnell teaches the applied science here. The topics range from physical (the stick-slip motion of a door hinge) to environmental (the components of fire), to mechanical (the ticking of the gears of a clock), to biological (the syrinx of a bird). Most of these feature elegant solutions for the combination of disparate elements. A good example is the automobile, for which he accounts for the type of engine, number of cylinders, the exhaust system, the engine block and chassis, changing speed, sputter and jitter, and other sounds from tires, belts, and so on. He goes on to show the implementation of a "warping circular waveguide" as an efficient way of making the exhaust system more realistic.
Farnell's love for his craft is apparent throughout this book, and the attention to detail and to design that makes him good at that craft goes a long way to making this an excellent book--for budding sound designers, hobbyists, or anyone interested in the physics behind many of the sounds we hear everyday.