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Whenever people transport in Star Trek, we hear a distinctive sound which seems to be unique for each Trek series.

In-universe, where does this sound come from, what produces it and why is transportation followed by this sound?

  • I don't quite understand the question - are you asking how the sound was made (as in sound generation in production), or if it came from another source (as in another TV show/movie/radio production)? – Often Right May 5 '14 at 8:29
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    @N.Soong I thought the question was about "What [device, phenomenon/effect in the star trek universe] does this sound come from. E.g. displacement of air molecules. – Einer May 5 '14 at 9:02
  • @Einer that too is a valid interpretation (now that I think about it, better than my interpretations), but do you see where I'm coming from too? I think the question needs clarification. – Often Right May 5 '14 at 9:06
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    @N.Soong No, you're absolutely right. My own interpretation doesn't feel very certain even to me. – Einer May 5 '14 at 9:13
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    @Einer was right. Edited the question to clarify it. – madfriend May 5 '14 at 10:10
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WARNING: This answer contains speculative conclusions

Here is a list of canonically known components of the transporter:

Annular confinement beam
Biofilter
Gravitational compensator
Heisenberg compensator
Molecular imaging scanner
Particle lock
Pattern buffer/multiplex pattern buffer 
Phase discriminator
Phase transition coil
Primary energizing coil
Site-to-site transport interlock
Targeting scanner
Transporter console 

List copied from memory alpha

First of all we can deduce things, that do not make that sound: Since this sound appears not only in transporter rooms but also on target sites where there is no transporter equipment, we can safely assume that it is not produced by the machinery inside the transporter room. So we're looking for things outside the transporter room, things, that can make a noise some 40.000 km away.

This shortens the list to two items:

  • Annular confinement beam This is the "forcefield" that confines the matterstream. It would need to be present at the beam out site as well as the target site; transporter room or no transporter room.

  • Molecular imaging scanner/Target scanner The object needs to be scanned. It doesn't matter, if you beam it down to a planet or up. It must be scanned otherwise it cant be reassembled.

Now I would like to argue, that it cant be the scanner because

  1. Scanners don't make a noise. A tricorder beeps, but the scanning itself is silent. If a ship is scanned this usually cant be heard either: It is detected by the sensors.
  2. If someone tries to get a lock on a person, that person doesn't hear a scanner fumbling around in the vicinity.
  3. In VOY "Prophecy" Kim states, that the targeting scanners work on the same principles as Klingon. Now as Klingon teleporters don't make that sound, it can't be the scanners.

On the other hand I'd like to argue, that it is indeed the annular confinement beam, because:

  1. If the transporter chief looses the acb we often hear a change of the noise produced. Instead of a steady, clear ringing, we hear a "flickering" up and down noise, which sometimes can be helped, when the acb is re-enforced.
  2. Scanners are only needed to find out the configuration of particles of an object. It might be needed, to reassemble it. But absolutely necessary are they only for the initial scan. If that's true, we shouldn't hear a sound if someone arrives on a planet. Yet that is, what's happening. If that would be the target scanner making that sound, we wouldn't hear it when that person departures the ship.

So coming to my strictly speculative conclusion: It's the confinement beam.

  • For the record, when the Enterprise is scanned (by an alien race) it's often protrayed as a bright light and a loud high-pitched sound... – Valorum May 5 '14 at 17:27
  • @Richard Right, apparently the scanners of other alien races tend to make a sound sometimes. However the scanning of Federation is portrayed as being silently. And afterall: This is the technology the OP is concerned about, isn't it? As we know: Some alien transporter don't make a sound at all... – Einer May 5 '14 at 17:31
  • I don't disagree with the logic behind it (your answer is basically the same as mine), I'm just playing devil's advocate. – Valorum May 5 '14 at 17:34
  • @Richard I agree. Yet your answer apparently didn't satisfy the op, so I expanded on it. Hope you don't mind! – Einer May 5 '14 at 17:47
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    Both answers are great, but I like this one more because of it's logical structure. – madfriend May 5 '14 at 20:39
2

The transporter sound effect is present at both the 'beam up' and 'beam down' sites which restricts the possible cause to either the Annular Confinement Beam itself or the "Rematerialisation Sequence" (e.g. where all the particles reappear after having been transported).

Ben Burtt, Sound Effects Producer for the latest Star Trek film is quoted below as saying that the sound comes from the dematerialization or materialization sequence.

"I was searching for a method by which they might have created the materialization tones in the original transporter. I wanted something like that," he related. "It was a magical sound but I don't know how they did it. I experimented with a lot of different things, and I found that if I started out with the very highest notes [of the chimes] [...] and I just did a [steady finger] roll [...] you got a really good approximation of something that sounded like dematerialization or materialization.".

It's also worth noting that in the TOS episode "Day of the Dove", the Klingon transporters were silent, so clearly this sound can be restricted if the need arises.

  • Another logical question would be: why does materialization/dematerialization make sound (if it can be silent)? – madfriend May 5 '14 at 11:05
  • @madfriend - I'm assuming that the underlying technology is similar but that certain safety features found in Federation technology may be missing from other race's transporters. The Breen's transporters are much faster, the Klingon's are silent, etc. – Valorum May 5 '14 at 11:31

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