Sci-Fi Sounds

Every year on the 4th of May, cinema and sci-fi fans from across the world gather for Star Wars Day. Did you know there are some cool science experiments you can do to simulate Star Wars sound effects; in particular, there’s a cool way to make your own blaster gun noise.

 

Ben Burtt

The sound effects for the Star Wars films were by the legendary sound designer Ben Burtt (who also did the Indiana Jones series, E.T. and Wall-E amongst others).  At a time when sci-fi sound effects were mostly being made by electronic instruments (like the weird yet wonderful Theremin), Burtt made most of his effects from real world sounds.

The noise of the blaster guns actually came from him hitting the wires on a radio mast with a big wrench.  The vibrations of these large metal cables under tension give the sound that distinctive “pew-pew” effect.  (Sound blogger Noise Jockey gives a great demonstration of how it’s done here).

 

Try it yourself

Many of us don’t have an accessible radio mast nearby to try this out on.  However, you can get a similar effect using a metal slinky and a foam cup.

star_wars_cup_and_slinky_full

First, try holding the slinky and bouncing it into the ground.  The metal coil is vibrating and making a faint noise, but it’s not very loud.

star_wars_zoe_slinky_no_cup_full

To amplify the sound, place the foam cup in the top of the slinky, holding it in place with your fingers.

star_wars_cup_in_slinky_full

While still holding the top of the slinky and the cup together, drop the rest of the slinky so that it bounces into the ground again.  The blaster gun sound will be much louder this time.

star_wars_zoe_slinky_with_cup_full

Why does this make it louder?

The sound effect is made by the vibration of the metal slinky when it hits the ground. When you drop the slinky on its own, the metal vibrates the small amount of air around the coil. When the cup is attached, the coil also vibrates the cup, which in turn vibrates the large amount of air inside the cup and makes the sound effect much louder.

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