June 2, 2023

Turning Electromagnetic Interference into Sound Effects

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Whenever and wherever electricity flows it will create a magnetic field as a result. This magnetic field moves and fluctuates in relation to the electrical signal it originates from. With our technological gizmos and gadgets becoming more capable and jam packed with electronics by the day, you can imagine that there are lots of different currents and signals flowing between all these thousands of electrical components.

The interference these signal cause is also referred to as EMF or Electromagnetic Fields. Using a simple inductor and some basic electronics, these fields can be made audible and make for some seriously otherworldly sound design material.

LOM, a small company from Bratislava were pioneers in building and distributing audio pickup systems that let recordists capture these sounds with any field recorder or audio interface. Their Elektrosluch and Priezor pickups have become highly sought after among sound designers - to the point of them selling out within less than a minute of becoming available through their store, which occurs maybe one or two times per year.

With the help of their simplified EMF pickup, the stereo ElektroUši and Zoom's amazing F6 recorder, I decided to create a free primer SFX library for anyone wanting to try their hand at manipulating these alien soundscapes: EMF Essentials.

To create this library, I simply waved the two pickups of the ElektroUši across the surface of my MacBook, iPhone, Apple Watch, a TV Remote, and my wireless keyboard which made for some wildly varied sounds that instantly made me think of alien bug swarms, cyber reality ambience, and futuristic weapons and machines.

192 kHz - discover unheard Harmonics when pitching down

Since most processors and digital circuits operate at clock frequencies way above the range of human hearing, its only natural then that EMF recordings are almost always super rich in ultrasonic overtones. When recording these signals at 192 kHz I discovered that the sounds I captured feature high-frequency content north of 80 kHz. This means that you can pitch-shift them downwards by 2 octaves or more without losing high-end and while discover new upper harmonics with each semitone.

This source material thus makes for a great starting point when designing original sound effects that need a distinctly electric or digital edge to ground them in a futuristic setting. They can also be turned into some truly unsettling creature swarms or bursts of electricity.

Happy designing!

Get EMF Essentials for FREE!

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