I think we’ve reached a geekdom singularity. Nintendo Wii controller + physical computing + OpenSoundControl + Mac + Kyma granular synthesis = Star Wars lightsaber sounds?

Nicely done, Matteo Milani! More details from these Kyma sound synthesis experts at Unidentified Sound Object, which also has lots of resources on sound design in general on the main blog.

Ready to do this yourself? Full details on how-to at kyma-tweaky, the Kyma collective, for users of this advanced DSP-powered synthesizer.

This demonstrates the potential power of granular synthesis, so geeking out aside, there is something to be learned here. What’s fascinating is just how much power it takes to reproduce the original sound, which was far simpler (and yet still sounds better). Sound designer Ben Burtt explains:

… we had a projection booth with some very, very old simplex projectors in them. They had an interlock motor which connected them to the system when they just sat there and idled and made a wonderful humming sound. It would slowly change in pitch, and it would beat against another motor, there were two motors, and they would harmonize with each other … it was just a humming sound, what was missing was a buzzy sort of sparkling sound, the scintillating which I was looking for, and I found it one day by accident.

… the microphone passed a television set which was on the floor which was on at the time without the sound turned up, but the microphone passed right behind the picture tube and as it did, this particular produced an unusual hum. It picked up a transmission from the television set and a signal was induced into it’s sound reproducing mechanism, and that was a great buzz, actually. So I took that buzz and recorded it and combined it with the projector motor sound and that fifty-fifty kind of combination of those two sounds became the basic lightsaber tone.

From FilmSound.org, which has more wonderful Burtt stories and lots of other fantastic info on sound design. You could probably learn everything you need to know about sound design just from sound cues from Star Wars.

Still, there’s a lot to be learned from synthesizing sounds, too. Lay people I think don’t appreciate how much harder synthesis is than recording. What the two have in common: listening closely. Ben Burtt had an unusual talent for that, one that makes you want to pick up a microphone and a synthesizer. Well, after you’re done playing lightsaber battle, anyway.

Previously, because I never get tired of talking about this:

Star Wars and Sound Design

  • Peter, thanks for the plug!

    Keep up the good work.


  • Nintendo Wii controller + physical computing + OpenSoundControl + Mac + Kyma granular synthesis = Star Wars lightsaber sounds

    = lame eggs

  • anon

    "But the Original was Cheaper"

    EVERYTHING is cheaper than a kyma and a mac1 ๐Ÿ˜‰

    … Pity…

  • While I agree with the points that the Kyma-wii controller doesn't sound as good, and is obviously more expensive to create, I think that an important point is being left out.

    It is easy to stress the simplicity of the idea behind Ben Burtt's lightsaber sounds, but don't forget the pain staking ours of getting the sound to synchronize with the movements (or vice versa, as is the case sometimes).

    It's also challenging task to write audio applications in Kyma (or whatever platform).

    The exciting part is that its not challenging for the user to the device (the Wii controller in this case) to get the sounds out of it. There is also a direct correlation between the movements of the user and the sound coming out of the program.

    To me, this has a lot of potential. I can imagine a future where prop swords are packed with accelerometers which transmit control data to be used by the sound designers. This kind of thing has been happening in the visual world for some time, with stand-ins with special suits acting out the parts of digital characters to be rendered later.

    Whether or not sound design should head in that direction is open for debate. However I do think with the decreasing cost of these devices, as well as increasing computer speeds opens up a world of possibilities where physical actions could be recorded and could sound rendered to those actions.

    …did I just describe the MIDI spec in that last sentence? ;]

  • erm.. I meant to say hours instead of ours.

  • Aren Downie

    The process you describe as "..getting the sound to synchronize with the movements.." is called sound editing… ๐Ÿ˜›

    "..prop swords are packed with accelerometers which transmit control data to be used by the sound designers…" This sort of thing is pretty common in video game sound design…

    I'm not so sure it would be that useful in film sound design… good sound editing is all about intuition and what works for the scene or moment. Oftentimes, it works better to ignore parts of the action to better tell the story, which is one of the things that makes sound design for games challenging: that kind of moment by moment audio storytelling is hard to do in an ever-changing game environment.

    That being said, this is the most interesting use of the wii-mote that i've seen ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Francis Preve

    Further proof that high-end Wii scratching is around the corner.

    Turntablists beware!


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