Shepard-tone-like octave effect?

I would like to have a synth sound whose overtones confuse the listener as to what octave they’re hearing. The desired effect is similar to a Shepard tone. The idea is that you’d go up the chromatic scale from C3 to C4, and that each individual note would sound higher than the previous one, but it would be ambiguous whether C3 or C4 was higher, whether C#3 or C#4 was higher, whether D3 or D4 was higher, and so on.

Here’s why I’m asking: I want a sound that pairs with a circular pitch class representation, so you can go around and around the chromatic scale without seeming to go into higher or lower octaves. I’m sure this is possible with additive synthesis just by selectively filtering lower and higher overtones, but creating such a thing is beyond me. An Ableton-compatible solution would be ideal but am open to all suggestions.


Maybe Endless Series V3 would work? It’s available in VST format and can do tone generation. I’m not sure about generating notes in a scale though because I don’t own it.

The only other thing I know of that can do Shepard tones in scale is the Expert Sleepers General CV eurorack module. You would need the MIDI breakout in order to get the MIDI out from it into Ableton though. Here’s a demo of the Shepard-Risset mode

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Make noise Telharmonic has a shepard tone generator as a hidden mode if you use Euro?

This sounds like a few things done with comb filters that track pitch. Set up so it’s evenly spaced and you feed it extremely rich content (noise) you’ll get your note at different octaves. How much emphasis on the root depends on the sound source. If you put a wide bandpass in series you can get a bit more emphasis on the root, or layer an oscillator under where you want it.

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I was able to achieve this by varying the relative amplitudes of the odd and even harmonics. See my pitch circularity page (which includes demos) at , and the pdf by Deutsch, Dooley and Henthorn (2008) posted on this page.


So cool to see you post here!! I’m a huge fan!


Oh wow, thanks for the response! Both because it answers the question, and because I assign the speech-to-sound illusion in the first week of class every semester.


Thanks for your note - it’s great to hear that you are assigning the illusion in your class!


Also a huge fan. So glad you’re here!

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