Toy Tops

Toy stores are a good source for finding things that make interesting sounds. As such, I try and stop in from time to time (this has nothing to do with my love for Legos, I swear). At one point, I found a pair of tops (made of metal) which made an interesting hum when spinning. Each top had a different quality to its hum, instantly cementing my double purchase. What I thought would be a quick recording session turned into two full days as I experimented and was able to consistently milk more and more interesting sounds from these puppies.

The first set (Tops_01) includes Pumps, Hums, Contact Spins, & Hanging Spins. The Pumps are pretty explanatory, that’s simply the pumping of the top to set it spinning. The Hum is the sound made when the top was left to spin on its own. The tonality of the hum could be modified by closing off a series of holes around the edge of the top. Contact Spins were a spontaneous find and occur when letting objects rub against the spinning top. These required the closing of all holes on the top to keep any hum from occurring--which also led to the top slowing down at a much more rapid rate and made getting long, loopable takes difficult. The recording here is one of the cooler sounds I pulled from that part of the session. Finally, Hanging Spins were made by pumping the top to a high speed and then holding it off the ground by the pump and letting the top spin freely in the air.

Toy Tops 01 by dsteinwedel

The second set (Tops_02) were made by attaching stuff to the top as if it had helicopter blades. The first few attempts were unsuccessful--I tried only attaching one or two blades which set the top off balance and caused it to crash. However, once I got 4 blades evenly spaced, the sounds coming out were fantastic. In this set you’ll hear velcro, zip ties, paperclips, and fishing line used as the blade source.

Toy Tops 02 by dsteinwedel

These sounds have been used all over projects I’ve done. The humming is great for looping and attaching to projectiles. The helicopter spinning (I label them as Spin Downs in my library) provide great texture and can be reversed to indicate a fast startup. I last used them as part of a sound for the upcoming XCom: Enemy Unknown. I remember the Contact Spins being used by Pam Aronoff on a project to make some awesome magic effects.

Recording Geek Notes: Neumann RSM 191 direct to ProTools via a Sound Devices 302 @ 24/48.