Working with the Shooting Fish Theatre Company, I recently developed sound effects and composed music to accompany the production of 10:01 The Minute They Came, a psychological thriller conceived and created by FLARE students as part of a community learning initiative in Gainsborough.

The play incorporated fantastical elements that offered an amazing opportunity for a sound designer to get their teeth into: from Wiccan rituals to an alien abduction!

Below is a composition I created for one of the more pleasant Wiccan rituals in the play:

Being my first theatre project, I was keen to see how my experience in film and games would transfer to this medium. One challenging aspect came from working remotely since I would not get the instant visual feedback I’d become used to working with video files.  Fortunately, I had frequent correspondence with—and feedback from—the production team which helped immensely.  I was also able to sit in on rehearsals towards the end and hear my sounds alongside the action, allowing me to go back and make tweaks where needed. But for the most part, I would work from the script out of my home studio relying on daily feedback to steer my course.

Ambience
Environmental ambiences were created to underpin scenes and help describe the world beyond what was immediately visible—whilst in some scenes also functioning to create mood and atmosphere.

In one scene, set during the day at a farmhouse, two of the main characters are engaged in discourse.  Much of the drama in the scene comes from the dialogue between the characters, so the ambient sounds of the functioning farm are purely incidental: describing the wider environment in which the drama is taking place, without getting in the way.  Despite playing a more passive role, these sounds are important as they help cue the audience into the present location as scenes move from one place to the next.  In a film, these changes would be more obvious since there is also a visual shift of location to cue the viewer in.  But in theatre, the visual changes are more subtly limited to what you can arrange on a fixed stage during a transition, and so sound can help to bridge that gap when orienting the viewer.

Another scene, set late at night outside the farmhouse, required the ambience to take more of an active role in creating mood and supporting drama. Here, gusts of unrelenting wind created an ominous atmosphere as the characters frantically searched the exterior grounds following an abduction. These sounds would play loud, forcing the character’s dialogue to compete, and functioning as though indicative of a dark, unseen presence in the scene.

Alien Abduction
Designing sound for an alien abduction was one of the most creatively stimulating aspects of the project; a sound designer’s dream, indeed!  In the play, an infant is lifted from its crib via the machinations of a mysterious white light. Whenever I think ‘alien’ I always consider some kind of synthesis for its ability to create otherworldly, inhuman sounds not possible with conventional instruments.  The presence of a bright light also inspired the notion of shimmering, high pitched sounds, as well as the idea of something metallic or mechanical that would allude to a nearby alien craft not actually depicted in the scene—for, as a sound designer, I am concerned with describing that which exists beyond the confines of the frame, or set.

The basis for the abduction sound was indeed metallic: utilising drum cymbals but in an unconventional way.  By scraping across the top surface of a cymbal with a drumstick, you can create some interestingly jarring and otherworldly effects that shimmer and sing in a most unsettling way!  Synthesis played its part in the way I processed the original cymbal sounds, using granular sampling techniques to stretch and extend the samples, whilst pitching and modulating to address the various layers of the finished composite sound.  For example: using an LFO linked to a panner allowed for undulations in the low-frequency layer, suggesting the presence of a large craft complete with propulsion, while slight distortion in the upper layers suggested a sharp, piercing quality to the bright light.