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With a new episode only a week or so away, we wanted to pay homage to our favorite science fiction film series, Star Wars, by looking back to some of the classic sounds heard in the original films. Though many of the effects in the film were derived from manipulated samples of real world objects, some of the most iconic sounds in the films are synthesized including the laser blaster sounds and the ubiquitous chirps of R2D2. Today, we’re looking at one sound that is sprinkled throughout the original trilogy, the radio communications effect heard in many battle scenes.
This effect can be heard in all three of the original films, making a notable appearance in the final Death Star Battle sequence in Episode IV: A New Hope. While not all of the radio based communications have this same effect, we clearly hear it in the scenes where the attacking pilots are contacting the main base. The effect is not reminiscent of normal radio interference, but rather of a classic scifi film sound effect, the Ring Modulator.
Ring Modulation is a type of amplitude modulation with a twist. Two waves are multiplied, resulting in the sum and difference of the two waves. This generates a frequency mixed combination of harmonic and inharmonic qualities of both multiplied sounds, resulting in a unique resonant amalgamation of the original signals.
This effect was used heavily in early science fiction film productions to achieve an otherworldly tonality in the human voice, finding it’s most popularly known use with the Dalek from Dr. Who. An alien race trapped in cold, robotic shells, the Dalek needed a strange and unnatural vocal flavor. Combining a monotone human voice with a simple waveshape via ring modulator, that voice was discovered and the same effect is still used in modern productions of Dr. Who.
This same effect is employed in Star Wars, the main difference being the Dalek voice generally used a sine or square wave oscillating at around 30 Hertz, while the Star Wars radio voices are modulated using a much faster rate, usually with a definable tone. With some slight tweaking, we can zone in on this sound pretty quickly with Mutable Instruments Warps.
What kind of sci-fi sounds are you making with Warps? Let us know in the comments!
Want to know more about crafting the sounds you love? Check out our Sound Design 101 Course!