2013-01-27

Trek Sound Continuity

In an era of smartphones with the option of myriad ringtones and notifications for every little thing, I have been paying more attention to Trek computer and device beeps.  The old TOS communicator 'ringtone' with its two low-pitch beep tones, for instance, makes a great unobtrusive ringtone.

This brings me rather quickly to one point I wanted to make, in that it's really annoying that the TNG era did not include a similar communicator ringtone.  Instead, of course, everyone hears "so-and-so to Picard," "hey Captain," or somesuch, like a walkie-talkie.  I can't imagine, especially in a military setting, having someone call me and in doing so letting everyone around know who it is.  And as we saw in some episodes, such as "Sin of the Father", Picard gets a call while in the middle of something and then must excuse himself, but only after everyone knows who's calling.   It's rather absurd.

And what's worse, when on the ship, there's an attention tone when someone calls, consisting of three or four short low-pitch tones (possibly even derived from the TOS communicator noise, really).   Why have that on the ship but not use it elsewhere?   You're less likely to need such a thing on the ship.

Of course, with the communicator sitting right on the chest a mere vibrate setting could've been used, but even that wouldn't have always been useful.  But I digress . . .

So, in the course of rewatching assorted episodes, I've kept an ear open for the noises.  To be sure, I've always been a little more attuned to it . . . I recall watching Generations and noticing the door chime to Picard's quarters being very different and somewhat obnoxious compared to during the TNG run . . . but only when you really start to consciously listen for it do you realize different things.

For one, going from an early TNG episode to a Voyager episode is truly jarring.   It doesn't even feel like you're watching a ship from the same organization.    At least with the Defiant on DS9, they generally kept a level of audio consistency, so that much as you have the TNG transporter effect still in use, you also have the same computer beeps and doorchimes (save for occasional hiccups, like a really odd door tone for Sisko's quarters in one episode).

And really, I think the DS9 example is how it should be.  Audio feedback and signalling from the computer is as important as visual readouts, and it truly makes no sense to me that they would have such vastly different noises between two Starfleet ships as you see with Voyager versus the rest of the fleet.  If you have ten different sounds for ten different things, then your training over the years ought to have included knowing just which noise means what, so that you don't even have to look to know what some beep-beep-beep means.  The information just filters into your consciousness just as if the computer had just spoken the words to you.

True, folks can retrain themselves with different noises, and you could even have multiple sound packages or themes available, but that's all just a little messy.  In a military setting where folks might go from one ship to another in situtations where milliseconds count, that just annoys me greatly.

And no, I don't mind that sounds would've changed over time.  It might be nice to have the same sounds have the same meaning for a hundred years, but I'm content with an evolution over time . . . but that should be a fleetwide phenomenon, or system-specific.   For instance,
A.  "Hey, the impulse manifold alert tone on this duotronic computer system makes a toot-toot-toot sound, but on the new panels it's more a wheep-wheep noise."
B.  "You get used to it."
Okay, I can roll with that.   But eventually that duotronic thing is going to get replaced, and that's a single noise and people will know it.

This, unfortunately, brings me to my other point, in that the actual sound effect continuity was not necessarily what it could've been.  Sure, there were certain occasions where we can try to be forgiving, such as the terrible nasty comm button chirp thing in "Trials and Tribble-ations" when Kirk calls Dr. McCoy to the bridge.  (Of course, there *was* a CD released with all sorts of TOS sound effects by that point, so why make up some new sound that was so jarringly different?)   And there's "In a Mirror, Darkly", where T'Pol tries to contact another area from the conference room of a Constitution Class ship and the TNG in-ship comm tone (the three or four tones referenced earlier) is used.

But the real problem was that even during early TNG, noises were getting repurposed somewhat haphazardly, as if nobody was keeping notes on what the sounds had been used for before.   True, I can't say much, as I haven't been keeping exceptionally good notes myself just while listening, but then I don't get paid for this.

And yes, for the most part, the sound effects are more of a subconscious thing for most, and it is probably enough to simply get the point across that the computer wants their attention or something.  But of course, that same sort of thinking is not always true . . . red alert is red alert, the little bwopbwop of Worf's panel saying the weapons are firing was distinctive, and so on.

That's also not the case visually, where vast fortunes have been spent to alter the visual representations for the Original Series, and a vast fortune is in progress to bring the effects of TNG up to modern standards.  Wouldn't it have been nice to have the sound continuity be as good, too, so that when you heard a noise you knew what was going on as fast as the characters, even just by subconscious osmosis from excessive watching?

I think so.

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