Picture if you will.
1977, the world is introduced to the menacingly evil and dastardly Darth Vader, creating an iconic vision of evil that has persisted for over forty years, and probably will for at least forty more. His jet black suit, with the hard bodybuilder physique of David Prowse, is made even more imposing by the deep, dulcet tones of James Earl Jones emanating from behind that iconic mask.
Fast forward to 2005, and the character of Anakin Skywalker (the man who becomes Dath Vader) is an angsty 20-something with a mullet, a leather fetish and an annoyingly whiny voice. How on earth does this metamorphosis occur?
According to the movie canon, the trick to turning from emo and sad to kickass and bad is to have your former BFF and teacher cut off all your limbs and leave you to burn near a river of molten lava. Then, get your new master to give you some new robotic arms and legs along with a wicked new suit, and your voice will suddenly drop several octaves into the sexy tones we know and love.
Most of us don’t have the money (or force ability) to follow this procedure. So, without a vocal chord transplant from James Earl Jones, how can we, ourselves, sound as cool as everyone’s favourite Darth?
In order to achieve this, we’ll need to understand how sound works- if you are unsure or have forgotten, have a look at the brief explanation that I gave way back here.
In summary, sound is made by vibrations which travel through the air around us and hits our sound receptors- the ears. Now, we can apply this to the human voice. Within our throat, we have vocal cords (aka. vocal folds), which vibrate very quickly when we produce a sound- according to wikipedia, they oscillate 440 times per second when singing A above middle C. The higher pitched the sound, the faster these cords need to vibrate. The length of our vocal cords also contributes to the resultant sound.
So, how did Anakin the high-and-whiney become Vader, the smooth-and-seductive? And more importantly, how can we copy it?
One answer is simple to achieve, although temporary in nature. Many people would be aware of the effects of breathing in Helium gas: your voice takes a leap into the stratosphere, and the higher pitch is guaranteed to leave somebody laughing at you. This effect is due to the fact that Helium gas is six times less dense than normal air. This doesn’t mean that there any any fewer molecules in the way- it’s just that a molecule of Helium is lighter than the molecules of Oxygen or Nitrogen that would otherwise be encountered. These lighter molecules have little inertia, and allow the sound waves to propogate much, much faster than we are used to. This increase in the soundwave speed also increases its pitch, something we call the Doppler Effect, and describes how a racecar sounds high pitched when it’s heading towards you, but lower when it heads away.
So to get this effect in reverse to deepen the pitch of your voice, you’d need to use a gas that’s much denser than air – something like Sulphur Hexaflouride ( SF6 ). Now SF6 is six times denser than the normal air we breathe so the Doppler Effect applies in reverse – the sound waves travel much slower and drop in pitch accordingly, providing us with beautifully deep Darth depths.
To see exactly how both helium and sulphur hexaflouride work on the human voice, check out this video starring Redbeard the Savage (AKA Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame):
Whilst this is only a temporary measure, we now know one way to sound like Darth Vader. *Note* Sulphur Hexaflouride is both difficult to obtain and potentially dangerous to breathe in overly large amounts, so Scikat does not recommend trying this method!! Nor does she recommend turning to the dark side, but that’s your choice, we suppose.
As always, leave a comment and let us know your take on the situation!
*Thanks to Sun-Tsu for enthusiastic debate over the intricacies of this topic*