A few weeks back, in One Trek Mind #39, I went into some deep, deep nerdish territory by listing my favorite TOS sound effects. (Hey, nobody said these One Trek Mind columns would be for the weak!) I promised you all that, if asked politely, I'd continue the idea by listing my favorite beeps, blurts and whirrs of the post-TOS era.
Obviously I expected one or two “go for it!” comments, but the daily sacks of mail I keep receiving (plus phone calls, singing telegrams and sky-written messages over my home) are getting a little out of hand. In an effort to try and quell the deluge of correspondence, I figured I'd better get cracking on this list sooner rather than later. To that end, here are my favorite 10 Star Trek sound effects from “Turnabout Intruder” and beyond.
10 – TNG Combadge
The communicator chirps from TOS landed 6th on that list, and while I definitely want the Next Gen version represented, it's a little lower down here.
What I like about this is how it really does sound like a more modernized version of the original. It, too, sounds like sparks flying out into the ether, looking to connect to a proper receiver. This time, however, it's about three times faster. They're still little chirps calling out into space, but at such a high pitch that they lose a few style points.
9 – The Jem'Hadar Transporter
Transporter tech is obviously much improved, and the sound effect has more of a sheen to it now than a haze. Rather than list the Federation version, I thought I'd go with the Jem'Hadar variant. It has the same ethereal whirr to it, but with an added metallic crackle.
Maybe it's just because I'm terrified of the Jem'Hadar (or that shields did so little to prevent their popping up) but something about this one makes my hair stand on end.
Here's the sound of a TNG transporter. To remember what the Jem'Hadar's sounded like just add a little evil.
8 – Interrupted Forcefield
Hey, imprisoned person! Why don't you just run out of the brig? There's nothing holding you there. Just get up and – oh. I see. There's actually an invisible forcefield and I suspect that coming into contact with it hurts a great deal. The SOUND of coming into contact with it, however, is really neat. A crisp, flanging thwerp that perfectly represents what a sturdy snap of energy feels like.
7 - V'ger's Light Probe
Star Trek: The Motion Picture delighted fans when it got an Oscar nomination for its visual effects. Not to take anything away from that achievement, but those visuals wouldn't be half as effective without the cool sounds that came with them.
Among the film's tenser moments is when a shaft of light appears on the bridge of the Enterprise. It soon starts crackling, sending scurrying tendrils around the helm and consoles. This in itself is cool, but once it starts poking at our beloved characters it emits a fearsome Dzzzt sound that even sends Mr. Spock tumbling.
You can check it all out in this little moment.
6 – Borg Phaser
Phaser tech grew even more fearsome since the end of TOS, but if you figure that the Borg are an assimilation of the entire galaxy it's no wonder theirs sounds the coolest.
It has the propulsion of a photon blast with the hum of traditional phaser fire, combined to create a brightly colored blast of pure, sci-fi destruction. This is the sound we all make in our shooting plastic ray guns when we should be inside doing our homework.
5 – Holodeck Shutting Down
If sci-fi whirrs had an “aww, man!” it would sound like this.
When playtime is over in the future, this tinny whoosh is what it sounds like.
Nine times out of ten, you'd hear this when some real world problem was interrupting one of our characters' social activities. Can't you just picture Captain Picard suddenly turning all serious and marching through the arch with his fedora on?
4 – Vulcan Reeducation Program
I've had no computer sounds on these lists. No “WOR-KING”s or “Incoming Message”s. I dunno, I just feel like a recorded voice didn't count as a sound effect.
Spock's reeducation program asking “HOW DO YOU FEEL?” gets a special dispensation. For starters, it sounds genuinely electronic enough, not just somebody doing a robot voice. More importantly, when Star Trek IV was still a recent film I went around saying “HOW DO YOU FEEL?” constantly. Drove my parents and teachers crazy. (Hey, I was twelve years old, what do you want?)
3 – V'Ger
Forget about its light probes, how about V'Ger itself?
The terrifying klanngs and bwonngs from V'Ger were created on an instrument called a blaster beam. Essentially, enormous metal strings over 12 feet long are struck to create ominous vibration sounds. These are then amplified through guitar pickups and, voila, you have a lost probe returned to the solar system with destructive sentience.
If you are any type of fan you probably have an instant recollection of what V'Ger sounds like, but you can also hear it a bit at the beginning of this clip.
2 – TNG Door Chime
Yes, above fearsome V'Ger or the power of the Borg phaser I'm placing… a doorbell. But not any doorbell, a doorbell from the future!
I can't give you a logical reason why I like this sound so much. It's really just a quick chirp, but it is an agreeable little sparkle – and maybe I like what it represents. Most of the time it is when one of my beloved characters wants to come and say hi to one of my other beloved characters. Dr. Crusher having tea with Captain Picard or Geordi stopping by Data's to talk about warp drive or Riker coming to flirt with Counselor Troi. In my perfect world the crew of the Enterprise is still out there having adventures and hanging out together, and this is the sound effect that represents their friendship.
1 – Whale Probe
Star Trek IV changed my life. I wouldn't be writing this if it weren't for seeing that movie at a critical age. And the movie wouldn't be anywhere near as good if the instigating MacGuffin, the ocean-stirring whale probe, wasn't truly scary.
Its echoey sound, like a dissonant interstellar cello, is truly striking, even today. Once put through the proper filters it becomes friendly whale song, but in the inky blackness of space it is a beacon of destruction – one that still strikes terror down my spine.
It isn't just me who loves this sound effect. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails even sampled it for his cover version of Queen's “Get Down Make Love.” And now that you know that you will be virtually indestructible at bar trivia.
Considering how vast the known galaxy is I'm sure I left out some of your favorites. That the ship going to warp isn't on here is a crime against humanity, I know. Please leave your outraged comments below and we'll discuss.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at UGO.com for more than four years. He has produced two independent films (look 'em up!) and is a member of the New York Film Critics Online. In 2005, he was named the Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast by IFC. Jordan fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy.