A little while ago I posted a few thoughts about using phone rings in theatre sound design, and I posed some questions about the nature of ring tones, and how to communicate to the audience that a musical ringtone was actually a phone ringing and not just some song playing on a radio somewhere.
Here’s what I said at the time:
However, there’s a further issue in that most pop-song ringtones these days are mp3 snippets of the actual recording. This is a dicey thing when you’re dealing with diegetic sounds and scoring, because if the audience hears a short piece of music in a play or film, they’re not going to automatically think “telephone.” They might first think “radio” or “soundtrack.” You could make sure the song is filtered and sounds like a low-quality mp3 through a tiny speaker, but it still may not communicate “telephone” as quickly and directly as the electronic chirps.
Since then I’ve worked on a couple more shows that required celphone rings (including a production of Hamlet in which Ophelia sends and receives texts throughout the show), and I found a simple and –on reflection– pretty obvious solution to the issue. I recorded the distinctive brr-brr sound of a celphone vibrating, added that to the sound of the ringtone music, and voila. No question what that sound is, to a contemporary audience.
So simple it’s silly. Funny how the obvious solutions can escape us sometimes.
“I think people over here, they’re far too down on American history: ‘Oh, well, we have no history because we’re such a young country.’ But that’s not true at all. It’s such a rich history that you guys have. And now we’re utterly bastardizing it.” – Tom Mison, actor, Sleepy Hollow
In between the new season of Walking Dead and the amazing formerly-lost-forever Doctor Who episodes, I’ve been taking a look at some of the new TV shows that premiered this fall. One of them is Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. The show is pretty astounding, mainly in its ability to unabashedly borrow from so many iconic TV series and still attempt to be unique and new. It has the believer/skeptic dynamic of The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully front and center (with Orlando Jones standing in for Mitch Pileggi’s Walter Skinner). It has a Holmes/Watson vibe going on, complete with Tom Mison as a low-rent Benedict Cumberbatch clone. It trots out the same “Book of Revelations Is Actually Happening” storyline we saw in Season 5 of Supernatural. And so on. The storyline about Abbie and Jenny, two sisters who are traumatized at a young age by experiencing a supernatural event and wind up on completely different life paths as a result, and then come back together as adults to chase/face their demons, is in many ways a cooler setup for a show than the time-displaced Ichabod Crane, and I kinda wish I could watch that show instead. Wait, I already do, but it’s about two brothers named Winchester…
But none of those things are the thing that really bugs me about Sleepy Hollow.* Here’s the thing that really bugs me: Ichabod Crane.
Crane is, in this incarnation of the tale, a man who was born in England in the 18th century, educated at Oxford and part of George Washington’s Colonial army – specifically, the “fighting supernatural baddies” part of Washington’s army. And I understand why the show’s creators needed him to be something other than the slightly conceited, fraidy-cat small-town schoolteacher from Washington Irving’s short story, because that guy would never have been able to be the heroic center of a supernatural adventure show set in the 21st century. It’s that first bit that gives me pause: Born. In. England. In Irving’s story, Ichabod Crane was a native of Connecticut. Born after the Revolutionary War, so he’s American, whereas even if Tom Mison’s quarter-century-older Crane had been born in America he would’ve been a British citizen.
Why is this a big deal? I hear you cry.
It’s a big deal because of the place “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” holds in the history of the United States of America. Irving wrote his tale at a time when the USA was a very young country, which had yet to be taken entirely seriously by the superpowers of the time (whether we’re taken entirely seriously now is a discussion outside the scope of this post). In terms of art, music, and literature, countries like England, France and Spain were decades or centuries ahead of us. The U.S. had no literary canon, no folkloric tradition; in 1819 we hadn’t had much time to develop any. Washington Irving was the guy who gave Americans our first taste of having a national mythology and authors we could call our own. As such, it’s probably no accident that Ichabod Crane was an American by birth – he was, after all, one of the nation’s very first fictional protagonists. Why in the world would you make him French, or German, or – heaven forfend – English?
People argue about whether Batman should be played by a Welshman, or whether they should ever cast an American to play James Bond. This is different. This is like rewriting Bond as a CIA agent, born in Louisville, Kentucky, or better yet, making King Arthur a Saxon.
I don’t think that would go over so well.
Note: my complaint is concerned with literary tradition. It starts and ends there. It’s not about nationalism or politics. Please keep those aspects out of any comments you decide to post, and please do not attempt to ascribe any political motivations to me or my little essay. Thank you.
*Though the fact that we’re what, five episodes in and Ichabod is still wearing 18th century clothes kinda drives me up a wall. Abbie even told him to start wearing contemporary clothes. Come on!
We’re getting closer and closer to having a finished Print and Play version of Specimen for you, and here’s the latest piece of the puzzle. This is the new layout for the game board, based on Steve’s original prototype and the ship design by John Eiberger.
We’ve recently started a series of podcasts, which are available in audio form from DrivethruRPG.com and with video at our Vimeo channel. Our most recent podcast, episode 6, is available now at Drivethru and the video version will be up in a couple of days. This month we have a special guest, local Chicago actor Ele Matelan, who appears as Navigator Whitaker in the Specimen Board game and was also The Girl With the Dagon Tattoo. Ele joins us to talk about her time on board the TCS Brown , her new work with Wildclaw Theater and Factory Theater in Chicago, and what summer movies she still wants to see.
If you’ve been following us through the development of the Specimen board game, you know that our original game board featured a map of the space freighter TCS Brown that was pretty basic. It worked fine for playtesting, but wasn’t very visually interesting. We actually did get some compliments on the utilitarian simplicity of the board, but we wanted something a wee bit more fancy. So we teamed up with Chicago area graphic designer John Eiberger, who created our new ship map. We still have to add all the game mechanics to it, but we feel like the new ship design looks fantastic!
Watch this space or the main Toxic Bag website for an announcement about our Print and Play version of Specimen, coming very soon!
Our newest sound collection is Zombie Apocalypse Volume Three: The City. Two six-minute background ambiences set in a city that has become infested with the walking dead. Or the living dead. The ambulatory-and-kinda-bitey dead. Whatever you want to call them. They’re the slow shambly ones.
“Our whole perimeter is collapsing. Those things are everywhere!”
The dead are returning to life and attacking the living. The military has responded and now major cities have become battlefields.
Can you survive in this nightmare world?
Zombie Apocalypse Volume Three includes two six-minute scenes of zombie terror.
Track One: The city has become a maelstrom of combat: the gunfire and explosions, the armored vehicles and airstrikes – and everywhere, the dead.
Track Two: The living have abandoned the now devastated city. It now belongs to the dead.
You’ve made a break for it. You and your buddy finally decided it wasn’t safe to stay at the pub any longer, and it was time to make a run for the car. You sprint across the parking lot, dropping a few of the walking dead with your last bullets. Finally you reach the relative safety of your car.
Say…you didn’t leave the headlights on, did you?