How Does Arca Make Music & Design Sounds?



May 30, 2022

Arca, otherwise known as Alejandra Ghersi Rodríguez, is one of the 21st century’s most fascinating and talented musicians. Her musical work ranges from production, songwriting, DJing and more, with eight studio albums to date.

She has produced for artists such as FKA Twigs, Kanye West, Bjök, Kelela and more, working with artists including Rosalía and Frank Ocean.

Arca is most well known for her talent in sound design. From the beginning of her music career, Arca’s music has known exactly what it is, harnessing industrial dissonance and electronic shrapnel, warmed by the comforting arms of classical composition.

Whether you’re a music producer, normal everyday being, or mutant, you’ve probably wondered how Arca makes her music. Her sound designs are unlike any other artist’s. High-fidelity, yet textured. Gritty, but warming. Fluid, yet part of her identity.

It can be hard to pinpoint the exact techniques that Arca uses in music production and sound design. Though, she has shared many of her techniques, and many more have been observed by fans and fellow producers.  

This article explores a range of music production and sound design methods used by Arca. From granular synthesis, spectral manipulation, song arrangement styles and more.

Granular synthesis

The most recognisable feature of Arca’s sound design techniques is the use of granular synthesis. This is a sound design technique that splits audio into tiny fragments at around 1 to 100ms long. These audio fragments are then replayed and rearranged - becoming what is referred to as a ‘sound cloud’. 

Granular synthesis clouds contain the shifting regions of sound energy that move around a sonic space, triggering echoing fragments of sound that change in frequency and amplitude over time.

Granular synthesis diagram

The graph above shows a visualisation of granular synthesis. Each plotted point represents a fragmented sound grain occurring at a particular frequency and time. You can see why they’re called sound clouds.

Granular synthesis sounds fittingly futuristic, but it is essentially just a form of sampling - only on a different scale to regular sampling. 

Arca can be heard using granular synthesis on a range of different tracks and track elements. For instance, Arca’s Mutant starts with 2 minutes of granularly synthesised sounds, ranging from percussive elements, kicks, hats, and subtle synth stabs. Granular synthesis, alongside many other sound design techniques from Arca are used commonly in IDM music.

Granular synthesis can also be heard in the synth sounds of Anoche (video below). This is what makes the synth sound textured and emotive, turning a clean synth sample into something more ethereal and warm.

It is actually fairly easy to create interesting sound designs and soundscapes with granular synthesis. All you need are the right tools and a set of samples to get started. Granular synthesis has a lot to offer, so get ready to experiment with different sound designs. 

Tools for granular synthesis

There are several tools for granular synthesis out there. It is unknown exactly which tools Arca uses for granular synthesis, though the following list contains some of the most comprehensive tools available.

Spectral manipulation & synthesis

Spectral processing is a type of technology in music production that is used to shape audio. This gives a visualisation of the audio signals in the sample, letting users manipulate isolated parts of the sound.

Spectral manipulation software began as a tool for audio restoration and more basic editing purposes - such as pitch correction. However, spectral processing has since evolved into a tool for much more sophisticated forms of audio manipulation. It is largely based on manipulating frequencies in order to carve out new sounds.

Arca is known for using spectral manipulation techniques in order to design new sounds. She specifically uses iZotope’s Iris 2 for spectral synthesis and manipulation, a formidable VST and some highly creative spectral filtering tools. 

The sounds that Arca manipulates using spectral synthesis range from drums, pads, synths and more. This is often combined with a lot of randomised LFO. For instance, kick drum sequences are edited with LFO automation, meaning no one kick drum sounds exactly the same - each differing slightly in frequency.

Tools for spectral manipulation

Spectral manipulation tools are becoming more and more popular. Here is a list of some of the best spectral manipulation tools available, including Arca’s VST of choice. 

  • GRM Tools
  • Iris 2 - Arca uses this tool herself. It is a highly capable spectral manipulation VST with a lot of creative capability. Its spectral tools have almost limitless capabilities. 
  • Soundmagic Spectral

Song arrangement

Another key aspect of Arca’s music production approach is her style of song arrangement. Arca’s productions range from structurally unbound, to more conventional pop music structures - though both are almost certain to contain unfamiliar elements.

On the whole, Arca’s song arrangement style is far from the conventions of pop music type progression (introduction, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, outro). Instead, favouring fluid mixes with unexpected attacks on the senses. Though her work as a producer for other artists show her ability to inject just the right amount of deconstructed sound design into other genre conventions.

For instance, her production work on FKA Twigs’ EP1 is a testament to how Arca’s sound design and music production work can lend itself to familiar structures of pop; whilst retaining its luscious textures and quirks. This fusion of arrangement and sound design can be heard in FKA Twigs’ Papi Pacify, produced by Arca.

In contrast, many pieces of Arca’s solo work follow less conventional song arrangement structures - fusing unusual sounds with equally unusual structures. These more unfamiliar song arrangements can be heard in Xen.

To summarise, Arca’s style of song arrangement can usually be categorised into the following three types:

  • Familiar Structure, Unusual Sounds
  • Unusual structure, Familiar Sounds
  • Unusual Structure, Unusual Sounds


Lots of artists underestimate the power of automation. But, this is just one of the many music production techniques in Arca’s arsenal.

Automation is used to make sounds flow more organically. Many of Arca’s songs sound like they’re moving because they are literally moving. Automation across filters, volumes, reverb lengths, sends, cutoffs, delay times, and other effect mixes will improve the fluidity of your mix. 

This is the reason why everything Arca makes is so fascinating - there’s no real repetition of sounds, because there is so much subtle automation going on to make each sound appear unique throughout the song.

The best thing about automation is that you don’t even have to draw each envelope yourself. Let your DAW handle the automation that you input and experiment with.

Separating sound design and music production

This is not necessarily a music production tip that is specific to the style of Arca, but it is definitely important if you want to create more interesting sounds: separate sound design from music production. 

One of the most characteristic sonic qualities of Arca’s music is that you can feel every element. Every sound is textured and complete, and fits organically together.

Separating sound design from music production is a great way to focus your attention solely to the sound textures and even create your own sample packs to use in later projects. This doesn’t have to be a total cutoff from one another, the two go hand in hand. But, do try and pay attention to each finer detail of sound if your intention is to sound more detailed.


Sampling is a key element for creating any kind of music that sounds organic and textured, as opposed to coming straight off your DAW grid. Whilst Arca’s music style is high fidelity, it still avoids sounding too clean by using subtle sampling.

Sample anything you hear, and with the right manipulation tools, you can create totally unique sound designs. This could be YouTube clips, your voice, the sound of the outdoors, your pets - literally anything. 

I have personally created field recordings of construction sites for my own music productions. This type of field recording can result in some really interesting sounds. 

Field recording resources

Here are some useful sites for sourcing field recordings. You’ll find field recordings of anything and everything here, all of which can be manipulated in your DAW into something more out of the ordinary.


Many people that make this kind of music use resampling methods to create new and interesting sounds. Resampling is simple: take an audio clip or synth sound and import it to a sampler, then, use portions of that sound to create a new one.

It sounds simple, and it is, though resampling can result in some really unique effects. It can often make sounds more erratic and ‘off the grid’, since resampling them at random can push any LFO out of sync, making it no longer tempo-synced.

What DAW does Arca use?

Arca uses Ableton Live as her DAW of choice. This has been verified via a 2015 Instagram post from Jesse Kanda (@truekanda).

Arca producing music using Ableton Live

This Instagram post is from a while ago, so it is unknown whether Arca still uses Ableton. Though, a DAW is like home to a music producer, and Ableton is one of the most highly recognised DAWs in the industry. So, it is likely that Arca still uses Ableton Live.


To conclude, the essence of Arca’s sound design is all in the details. Whether that’s the details of the audio file itself, or the wider song arrangement. In either instance, neither can be compromised or forgotten - Arca’s music is refined from head to toe, and to every detail. 

Consider similar details in your own work. Granular synthesis and spectral manipulation techniques especially can help you expand on the finer audio details. It’s really about experimenting with these, with the end goal of creating unique and fascinating sounds.

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