This seems like one of the toughest fields to come up with ideas for given the abstract nature of magic. Now if you're doing something like fire spells it's straightforward enough, and for ice/frost magic it seems to me that it's very popular to use shattered/broken glass. Arcane missiles and magical barriers and the likes is where things get tricky for me. Trying best as I can using bells, synthesizers with dissonant harmonies, etc. If anyone has any tips or inspirational techniques I'd love to hear it.
Force fields make me think of sounds like this:
just with a relatively slow fadein and a faster fadeout,
something similar to the first 2 bits of this:
but shortened and with a less brutal fadeout
Missiles make me think of sounds recalling motion, so something more on the swoosh/sweep side (not rocket-like of course)
...not close enough to what I'm thinking of, but just as an example:
...of course that's just me, and it will also depend a lot on how the spell effect comes into play: sudden appearances from nowhere? Transition from transparent/ethereal to solid? Portal-like origin?
The more detailed you describe the spell to yourself, the more you'll hear it.
Convolution, you can use any sound as impuse to create weird sounds.
Create complex chain of flangers/phasers/reverbs/delays... with high feedback and play with them for a while (and record it in realtime). I'm sure you'll generate some interesting transformation sounds that way (key is to record a lot a then select just the interesting bits).
Granular processing/synthesis together with other efects... lot's of possibilities. Makes drones from virtualy anything .
FTT based effects (including noise reduction), makes some interestin chirping/ringing noises.
Plain old pitch shift and reverse are very powerful tools too.
And don't forget to record some stuff too. It's part of the fun to use just your own (re)sources.
I would go for recording sleigh bells, or Indian Ghungroo bells that wrap around the dancers ankles. Then I'd record things like sparklers, explosions, fireworks. Simply the gas hob igniting might be quite cool... Mix them all together and see what ya get.
I am assuming this is to be used in a game.
What sound to use and how well it works depends on context. - is it a 'in your face' real-time kind of game (think Doom, Halo, etc) or more of a strategy game (think Warcraft)?
What does the spell look like? What actions take place?
You mention "magical barriers". If the barrier in question actually builds a brickwall or a stonewall between you and the adversary, the sound of stones falling on top of each other could work very well, as the barrier builds itself up stone-by-stone (brick-by-brick).
'Sparkling', jingly sounds, expecially with added echo or delay work generally well for appearing or disaparing objects.
A reversed sound (possilby a piano, snare or even an explosion) can work well of object or character appearneces too.
For magigal animals (e.g. dragon), why not try a pitched down sound of a dog howling or horse neigh?
IF you are looking for very unnusual sounds, the ideas already suggested are good starting points: long effect chains (especially if they involve feedback), convolution, mixing different sounds together.
If experimenting with long effect chains or effect chains with feedback loops, do record things as you go and then select the good bits. The results of these effect chains can be unpredicatable and impossible to reproduce, so do record as you fiddle about... you may not get a second chance.
If you are unsure what kind of sounds can be generated in this way, check these (old examples generated using a low quality webmic)
Happy sound design!
In Diablo II, the sound designer used comb filtering to signify cold magic in a lot of cases, particularly the Drewid's Arctic Blast spell and the sound creatures make as they die while frozen, as wel as the Frost Nova spell. I thought this was really effective. People also use resonant filter sweeps on noise to create cold wind effects. Perhaps these could help?
I agree completely with AlienXXX that considering the context can really help when designing the appropriate sound. you mentioned arcane missiles. How big are these missiles? How devestating? Do they leave a trail behind them as they travel? Do they vaporise what they touch, melt it, burn it etc? Can a caster shoot a large number of these very quickly in Diablo style or is it more like Dungeons and Dragons, where your average spell takes about four seconds to cast, which means that the sound can include a portion that depicts the summoning and weaving of magical energies to form the spell followed by its release and result if desired.
these energy barriers, do they kill, injure or knock back whatever touches them or are they simply impassable? Are they for protection? If the barriers are dangerous, then perhaps the noise they make might need to be threatening, somewhat reminiscent of high voltage electricity. The light saber is an excelent example of a threatening drone. You could achieve threatening or sinister sounding drones by using augmented fourth intervals between components of your sound.
Even considering the appearance of the barrier may help. Does it shimmer? What colour is it. An impenitrable mist, a prismatic sphere and a glowing and sparking red energy barrier would sound very different. Once you have a clear image in your mind of what exactly the spell's effect is, how the spell is conjured and in what time frame, what the associated graphic looks like etc, it's much easier to know what kind of sound you want to go for and what techniques would serve you best.
Even something as simple as adding some sort of flanging to an explosion or fire sound can give it that magical dimension.
Hope this helps!
Thanks for all the suggestions. I tried experimenting recently with notch sweeps on explosions/fiery sounds and that works pretty well for a foundation. I'll try with combs as well. Is there some interview or something where you got the Diablo 2 insights from? I don't have Diablo 2 but I do have Torchlight 2 and I have extracted the sounds to take a closer peek at them.