Sound of Trek   Hacker Article   Listen Lab  Bonus!   Final Frontier

Synthesizing Star Trek

Listen Lab

Synthesized Replicas Vs. Original Effects

On this page you can compare Kirk Slinkard’s Star Trek replica patches with the the original “inspiration” tracks. I think you’ll agree that most of them pass for the originals to an amazing degree. In the case where the replicas can’t match the sonic thickness of the tape versions, the author has done a good job coaxing sonic complexity from only three oscillators.

An artifact that you might notice right away is that the synthesized reproduction essentially “isolates” the effect from other tape elements, which have most likely gone through many generational duplications, each introducing subtle distortions. These distortions are famous for their tendency to thicken and saturate the sound. Synthesists are free to run these sounds through tube amps or saturation plug-ins to simulate this effect, but I have made no attempt to simulate distortion in these examples.

CD mastering may introduce other differences.  To my ear, it sounds like a stereo chorus effect, along with some other audio sweetening, was applied to many CD tracks. Therefore I have attempted to play the patches across the keyboard to achieve a similar effect to the mixed-for-CD examples. Also, I have matched the volume levels of the master tracks as much as possible.

Now let’s take a sonic voyage to the final frontier...

Transporter ControlBACKGND (Transporter room background sound)

A versatile background that also served as a the bed for a number of Trek effects. A close listen to the remastered surround track of the actual show reveals that this effect is also the bed of the bridge “wallah”. You can hear the sound prominently in the right rear surround channel in a number of episodes.

Kirk (Slinkard, not James T.!) can’t be held responsible for instances where the CD tracks have been “sweetened” beyond their TV originals. This sound is a case-in-point.  The CD track seems to have a reduced-speed copy of the same sound mixed at a low level.   This effect would be easy for a synthisist to duplicate either in a DAW or via key tracking. The mix can be reproduced by applying ENV4 volume scaling to reduce the volume of lower-pitched notes.




Enterprise ViewscreenVUSCRN (Viewscreen)

I didn’t quite match the rhythm of the CD track as I played the reproduction, but I think you’ll see how similar they are anyway.  As Kirk notes in the Hacker article, if you play this sound every two seconds, you’ll match the effect most commonly heard in the series. 

This CD track seems to have “bulked up” the sound by layering a quieter version underneath the main “ping”.  I’m sure it probably occurred in the series this way occasionally, but to my memory, Kirk’s single-strike “ping”  was the most common view screen sound.



Kirk at Intercom WHISTL (Boatswain's Whistle)

Except for the ambient reverb (which could be easily added digitally), this sound could almost work as a drop-in replacement.

Excuse me! Lieutenant Uhura is calling...



Red AlertRDALRT (Red Alert Klaxon)

Kirk doesn’t venture to guess the origin of this sound, but I think it was sourced from a Destroyer’s Horn (which would be a cool band name). My guess is they applyed a VariSpeed pitch-up to the siren blast from a World War II era navy destroyer. Listen to the final reel of cinema classic “Guns of Navarone” for many examples.

Of all the sounds Kirk attempted, this one had the most real world “grit”, which is very tough to reproduce.  This sound might benefit from some post-production reverb to ground it in physical space. You might also try layering it with a distorted copy to add a little extra veracity.


The Synth

Spocks Scanner SENSOR (Sensor)

I know I’m showing a picture of Spock’s scanner here, which makes a different sound than the sensor--a looped sound more like screeching tires through a rhythmic trance gate.

But I challenge anyone to locate the specific piece of bridge equipment that makes the Sensor sound. Maybe it’s that barbecue grill-looking thing in the center of the “nav console”. If so, I offer my apologies.

Kirk recommended randomizing the LFOs by playing a different patch before playing this one. You can probably find a better combination than I did to make the patch sound more like the source example below.



Type II Phaser firing (closeup)PHASER (Phaser)

I did not reproduce the ship phaser like Kirk says, but you are free to do this yourself.

For fun, try putting a “phaser” guitar pedal or VST effect on the phaser! It isn’t accurate, but boy is it “meta”!

Again, to my ear, this sound is a bang-on replica.

You would do well to try the “engine room” and “overload” mods from the Hacker article.  We may explore these extra sounds in future articles.



Sickbay Medical ScreenSICBAY (Sickbay)

The mark of a great sound designer is not just nailing the initial sound, but maxing out the modulators and truly extending the synthesizer beyond what it was intended to produce. Kirk really went above and beyond on these last two sounds.

This patch actually provides two different sounds. Inspired by the then brand new VFX synth, which could morph between different patches, and the Wavestation, which called the same trick “Vector Synthesis”.   Play the sound with the mod wheel up and you get the sickbay “bass guitar” heartbeat sound. Slam the wheel down and, uh-oh!  Medical emergency!

The sound examples below first play a few heartbeats followed by the emergency sound.



TribblesTRIBBL (Tribbles)

Another home run for Slinkard. This patch also features two different sounds. The original Tribble sound is achieved by slowing down various recordings of birds. But this patch reproduces them with two sine waves and a single sawtooth waveform*.  Amazing!

This is probably the most impressive patch for my money, because “organic” sounds are by far the toughest to synthesize.  And here are two entirely different organic sounds somehow blended onto a single patch.  Surely this is some kind of sonic sorcery.

Here is another example of a tape artifact.  You can hear a good amount of distortion on the first part of the reference recording.  But even though the master is over-saturated, the synth effect is clean and distortion-free.

The examples below first play a few soothing “trills” followed by a very unhappy sound!




Copyright Information

Original effects examples on this page were derived from a variety of sources but are copyright © CBS/Paramount.

STAR TREK is a registered trademark of CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The official sound effects CD  Star Trek: Sound Effects from the Original TV Soundtrack is available from GNP Crescendo Records, and is highly recommended.

The Original Transoniq 
Hacker Magazine Articles

Fascinating!  Kirk Adds
Some Bonus Patches! >>>

[Sound of Trek] [Hacker Article] [Listen Lab] [Bonus!] [Final Frontier]

Post your comments below