Audio Blog 05 – 1.21 Gigawatts?!


It’s been a while since I’ve written an audio blog, so figured it was time to remedy that. As such, I’m gonna share some super handy tips on how to make electrical sparks on the cheap and without blowing up a fuse box! Or yourself, as that’s also bad.

As a quick heads up, this isn’t a detailed how to, or a step by step on how to create massive, pulsing electrical spaceships and weapons. Although that’s not to say you can’t use some of these ideas and evolve them into that. It’s a fast and inexpensive solution for some ambience sounds that I’ve been using to develop some first pass/prototype sounds which works quite well in building atmosphere on an abandoned ship.


This is a pickup coil. You can grab them for not much at any electrical or hardware store, like Maplins in the UK, or from a number of online retailers, like Amazon, or eBay if you wanna chance your luck. There original purpose is for things like recording telephone calls (sound guys are weird), but they also pick up any electrical interference from devices. They are also pretty noisy, so take that into consideration when you record with them.

But this is where the fun begins! Let’s do some basic stuff.

Take the humble CRT television, sitting unloved and dusty somewhere. Unpowered for many moons.

Remember, curved screens are the future!

Plug it in and attach your handy super spy telephone pickup to it. Stick it on the screen. Stick it on the side or back near the PCB and tube. Hit record and PUSH THE BUTTON.

Straight out of the 70’s. Kinda.

Kinda cool for just doing nowt right? Let’s tweak it a little. First some quick EQ corrections to get rid of some of the low end hum and make space for an extra layer an octave lower. Also some boosts in the mid-highs where the more rhythmic stuttering lies to bring it out a bit more. For a better look.

Now lets say you’re powering up an area. We can use the auto filter and reverb send (pre-fade!) to simulate a slight dropoff over distance, and use the chorus to bulk up the sound even further. I like sticking them on electrical/power up sounds as they tend sweeten it a lot more, and works well with that sort of content. Here’s a little before and after:

Subtle, but we’re being quick.

You can also run the coil past sources to generate you own electrical pulses. When I was running around Junkfish Manor trying things out I swiped it past the LED on the oven in the kitchen, which generated a pretty nice sound. This was used as a base for the alarm powering up. I added in some sweeps using an EQ to give it a bit more movement and finally added a more obvious beeping layer on top.

Here’s a quick look at the EQ automation, without audio sadly:

And here’s how it progresses from dry recording to finished sound. You can hear the sweeps from the second part onwards.

Also responsible for breaking programmers.

Let’s do something a little different now. Usually in horror games or films you’ll see broken and sparking electrical equipment. You can use a number of different ways to create your own, with some people resorting to… literal measures…

Stops Light Tanks in their tracks.

However, if you’ve not got access to anything like that, or generally don’t want to risk ruining equipment/underwear/yourself there here’s something a little safer.

First, grab some styrofoam.

It sometimes looks like this in case you didn’t know…

What you want to to is close mic it, and quickly scratch, rub and flick it to get some quick squeaks and noises. You know, the really annoying squeaks that you get when styrofoam is involved in something. Once you have a fair amount of takes then get chopping as is tradition and you’ll end up with a fair amount of things that sound like this:

Sounds like styrofoam right? Lets have a quick mess around.

First, a pretty vicious high pass up to about 1.5kHz to knock out all of the low end which has a lot of unwanted squeaks and noise, and has an effect on the distortion. The combo of the two focuses on the main energy of the sparks and gets that pop and crackle you’d expect. I tend to edit things as finely as I can, but I’ve got a gate on there anyway as I felt it helped with the sudden attack/release that I wanted from these sounds. Here’s the before and after:

Kinda works right? Lets stick the sparks from here and the first sound that was knocked up together:

Tadah! It’s not too bad, sounds like an old monitor wired up to a massive computer being turned on for the first time in years.

Like I said, this was a fairly quick knock up, but the basics are there. You can use stuff like wire brushes striking things then processing them to for similar electrical effects, but mess around with stuff. That’s the point of sound design, finding out what noises you can get out of anything! So give it a go!