Blog Archives

May Projects update

Lots going on in Toxic Bag Land lately! We’ve completely revamped, making it easier to find the sounds you need for your game. Individual track downloads will be enabled soon.

Reviewer Megan R, on, gave the “Ghost in the Graveyard” soundtrack 5 out of 5 stars! The review is posted on the page for the Lobby Card Set (which can be purchased separately):

A delightful conceit… after carefully creating a completely fictitious movie soundtrack so that you can generate the right background and moon for your horror game without distracting players who have seen whatever horror movie whose soundtrack you might otherwise be using…

They give you some movie posters and adverts for the fictitious movie that the soundtrack was purportedly written for!

Even before I’ve finished listening to the soundtrack – and I tend to use music as background and inspiration when WRITING rather than playing games – this has spawned a plot.

Thanks Megan!

In theater sound-design news, I just wrapped up a production of “Richard III” and am now working on a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Lotta Shakespeare this year!

We’ve also been working on audio post-production for our friend Eric Neal’s short film, “Fate Accompli.” We did a day of foley work last week and a temp mix for a Friday night screening of the film in Chicago.

We’re also a few days away from the “Specimen” photo shoot, which will provide many of the images for the game. Costumes and props are all looking spectacular, and we’re very excited about it. We’ll be posting some of those shots early next week, and hopefully have some other news as well (I can say no more).

Stay tuned!

Mackers 2010 and the Waterphone

As I mentioned earlier, I revisited Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth this summer, having done a sound design for it at another school a year and a half previously. The challenge as I saw it was not to repeat myself or simply regurgitate my own sound design and music. I think I was pretty successful at that. The music and ambient sound for the 2010 production is not as heavy and industrial as the one I did in 2008, but still manages to be creepy and unsettling.

For this new Macbeth, I made liberal use of Todd Barton, Joel Henigson, and Richard Waters’ Waterphone sample collection. It’s set up for Kontakt, but I don’t own that software, so once I’d bought the sample set I built 2 sampler instruments in Reason, placing the samples where they seemed to make sense (one of the sample sets, Todd’s I think, came with a handy .pdf that showed how he mapped the samples in Kontakt, so I just aped that layout in Reason). I also threw some of the bowed samples way down in the lower octaves and they gave me some fantastic drones.

For $15 the Uncharted Waters Waterphone sample set is a great sound design tool. I recommend it highly.

I’ve also posted a montage of sounds from Macbeth on my Soundcloud page:

If I had it all to do over again…

And, as it turns out, I do.

I’ve been doing sound design for theatre in and around Chicago for about seven years. It’s a little strange that in that time I’ve never had to design the same show more than once (I have re-mounted shows, but that’s different). I know lots of designers who have done multiple productions of the same show over their career. I almost had two back-to-back productions of Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure last year, but the director of the second production changed his mind and put up As You Like It instead. At the time I was actually looking forward to the challenge of doing one show, then immediately tossing out everything I’d just come up with and starting again from scratch. For good or ill, it didn’t go down that way.

This summer, though, I’ll finally be re-visiting a show I’ve done once before: Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. I did sound design and music (with a little help from Beethoven) for Oakton Community College’s Macbeth in 2008, and now Moraine Valley Community College is putting it up for their summer show. Not quite back to back, but it will still be a new challenge.

The upside is, I already know the show pretty well. The downside, of course, is that I still have associations that tie my previous design to the show. I generally avoid looking at other versions of a show (or filmed versions) when I’m working on it, to avoid stealing. Maybe this time I should watch a couple of movie versions of Macbeth, just to cleanse my palate.

One thing I know is going to be different is that on this show I am going to explore Tonehammer’s new Waterphone sample library to create the music for the show. That will definitely give this production a different sound and I’m pretty excited about it.

Designers and directors, please chime in: how do you approach a second –or a third or fourth—production of the same script? Do you worry about repeating yourself? Do you embrace the possibility of trying stuff you wish you had before? Do you ever deliberately recycle?

Songwriting with the Bard

“If music be the food of love, play on.”
-Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 1.

Mister Shakespeare gave us lots of great words, but not a whole lot of catchy tunes. What this means to modern directors and sound designers/composers is: when you put up a Shakespeare show that has songs in it, you have to write the music. This actually works out well for those directors who decide to set their production in some other setting besides Elizabethan England (which it seems is most directors these days), as they don’t have to somehow defend the existence of 17th century music in, say, New York in the 1930s or Sydney in 2006 or Mars in the 35th century.

The last two Shakespeare shows I’ve designed, “Measure For Measure” and “As You Like It” contain six songs between them, which has presented me with lots of opportunities to “collaborate” with Old Will on some tunes. I generally try not to listen to what other composers have done with these songs so that I don’t get locked into melodies, so when my brother handed me Barenaked Ladies’ version of the “As You Like It” music I listened to it once and then tried my best to forget it. Once my director had approved all of my demos I went back and listened to the BNL record again to make sure I didn’t inadvertently cop any of their ideas (we’re safe).

Here’s a few examples of the music I came up with for the two shows. I invite any composers reading this to post links to their own interpretations of these songs. I think it’ll be fascinating to hear the different approaches.

Under the Greenwood Tree: the director for “As You Like It” wanted to set the show in the late 1950s, moving through the early ‘60s to about 1966/early ’67. The show opens with this song, presented as a rockabilly number complete with “Jordanaires” backup vocals. The backup vocals played for the show, but the lead vocal was performed by the actor onstage. This version features the demo vocal.

Blow, Thou Winter Wind
: later in “As You Like It’ we’re closer to the mid-1960s, so this song is more reminiscent of the jangly British Invasion pop music of 1964/65. Once again, this vocal is the demo version and the vocal was performed live for the show.

Moated Grange Blues: Promethean Theatre’s “Measure For Measure” was set in a modern New Orleans-but-not-really-New-Orleans, and this blues interpretation of the song that opens Act 4, Scene 1 was played as if Mariana was hearing it on her iPod. The vocal is by Herman Wilkins.

Whiles A Wedlock Hymn: One of the final songs in “As You Like It;” in our production the character Hymen appears as a man in drag, lip-sync’ing to an old girl-group hit. Vocal by Karla Beard.


Updates and Downdates

  • Our current theatre sound design project is Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” at Moraine Valley Community College. I’m working on adapting the songs in the show to work as 1950s/60s pop tunes. Elvis, Donovan, the Supremes. I’m having lots of fun trying to mimic the orchestration and production styles of the era. And of course, trying to sing like the Jordanaires…
  • Tim Bradstreet has worked on Hellblazer, the Punisher, a series of sourcebook covers for Vampire: The Gathering, among many other things…and also created the cover art for my 2006 album, Rough Cut Love. If you’re a comics or graphic arts enthusiast, check out Tim’s new series of podcasts.
  • As I ease back into performing music, I’ll be doing a short set with Tim Hort and Tamara Vendetta in Madison, WI at the Art Fair on the Square, Saturday, July 11 at 2 pm.
  • Jared Newman at Technologizer posted a link to a Hollywood Reporter article: the 1979 arcade game Asteroids is going to be made into a movie.

    “Universal has won a four-studio bidding war to pick up the film rights to the classic Atari video game “Asteroids.” …As opposed to today’s games, there is no story line or fancy world-building mythology, so the studio would be creating a plot from scratch. Universal, however, is used to that development process, as it’s in the middle of doing just that for several of the Hasbro board game properties it is translating to the big screen, such as ‘Battleship’ and ‘Candyland.'”

    I’m not sure what disturbs me more about this, the idea of turning a completely plotless video game into a movie or the fact that four studios in Hollywood were bidding on the rights to do it.

  • We’re now done with shooting for the second Michael Brownlee short. Fortunately the weather was cool enough that it never got really nasty hot on set (the actors may disagree with me on that one). Props to Kevin, Steve and Phil for outstanding performances. Dave and Blood got some great noir looks on tape, and we’ll continue editing after the holiday. Happy Fourth everyone!
  • Ends and Odds

  • There’s a new car commercial on TV that features a song that I used in a design last year. I’m glad the timing worked out that way. When it works the other way, it’s a bad trip. One of the songs we recorded for The Diviners was a very cool old-timey version of the traditional folk song “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” I thought it was a fantastic performance by the band and fit the mood of the show pretty perfectly. Unfortunately, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” is the melody used in a certain series of television and radio ads, and after two days of tech where all the actors and designers walked around saying “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” every time the cue played, we were forced to find another piece of music.
  • Promethean Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Measure For Measure,” sound design and music arrangements by yers truly, closes next weekend. So if you’ve wanted to see it but haven’t yet…the clock is ticking.
  • I’m now hard at work on another Shakespeare show, “As You Like It” at Moraine Valley Community College. “As You Like It” opens July 30.
  • As much as I took issue with the music choices in “Watchmen” I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the use of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” in Star Trek.
  • Update of my post about Star Trek vs. Wolverine:

    According to AdAge, Wolverine is on track to pull in twice as much money in its opening weekend as Paramount’s Star Trek reboot.

    As it turns out: Wolverine edged out Trek in its opening weekend (Wolverine pulled in about $85 million, Trek about $75 milion). But as of May 24, Trek’s gross in the USA was $191 million, and Wolverine had taken in $165 million. And Wolvie had been out a week longer.

    So there you go. I loved the new Trek film and am glad my dire predictions were off base.

  • The conversation…

    This week’s Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast features an interview with Nick Keenan (sound designer for Court Theatre’s “The Piano Lesson”) and Josh Horvath and Ray Nardelli (sound designers for the Goodman’s “Rock and Roll”).

    I haven’t seen Nick’s “Piano Lesson” design (though I intend to) but I thought the design for “Rock and Roll” was pretty fantastic.

    The three designers do a great job of taking us through some of the design choices behind their shows, and as Nick says, it’s a good piece of the aesthetics conversation we’ve all been talking about.

    And since I’ve been saying that at some point I should join this discussion, I’m going to jump in on some topics they covered..

    The Palette
    The mention of “the palette” was cool. I’d like to hear more from them about it. It’s an important facet of the way I tend to work—the musical palette especially. Drawing the palette into sharp focus (or not) gives me a very clear idea of what I’m driving towards. Frequently it’s my “way in” to the show. To wit:

    Boy Gets Girl: A stalker gradually eradicates a young woman’s identity. The palette for this show was two musical pieces, one of which gradually insinuated itself into the other until all traces of the original music were gone.

    re: Alice: this show almost had a non-palette. In Wonderland anything can happen, so the music runs the gamut from orchestral electronica to ambient acoustic guitar to screaming Minor Threat-esque punk rock.

    Macbeth: the director wanted to use Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D Major (the “Ghost”) but have a hard industrial edge to the music. The main music palette, then, was “Ghost” as it would appear on a Nine Inch Nails album (for lack of hipper shorthand). Every piece was based on some theme or phrase from the Beethoven piece, which tied the show together while (hopefully) not becoming redundant. Limiting the instrumentation to processed piano, low horns and drum machine helped as well. This also gave me an opportunity to find a place to break out of the palette: when the MacDuff family is slaughtered, Macbeth has moved beyond killing politicians and soldiers—men whose lives inherently carry some danger—and now we’re seeing a child butchered onstage. The heavy drums were still there, but a distorted electric guitar and a processed female wail replace the melodic instruments, and Beethoven is nowhere to be found.

    The Cinematic Approach
    Nick, Josh and Ray make an interesting point about the influence of film on theatrical sound design and how it pushes designers, especially their generation (and I think these guys are 5-10 years younger than me) to produce more lush, full designs. I’m very influenced by cinematic sound as well (being part of the Summer Blockbuster generation myself) and I think for me it goes in phases. I remember doing very immersive sound designs where I wanted every location to have its own signature, its own background sound, and I’d create ambient beds that would run under entire scenes. I’d do that for a few shows and then back off of it and go completely in the other direction, aiming for a more stark approach. Part of that (of course) had to do with the shows and directors I worked with. But I also know that I go through phases of wanting to try different approaches, and recently that’s involved how lush or spare I get with designs.

    More on this soon!

    When geeks do theatre

    Last week I was talking with Liz, the lighting designer for Measure For Measure, about cue numbering. I tend to number cues by tens in case I have to add in more cues later. I think I learned that from one of the designers I trained with, but this is not #namedrop Friday. Either way, it’s a strategy that has puzzled at least one technical director I’ve worked with. It’s not uncommon to get up to Q350 or more, but of course if you’re going by tens that only sounds like a big number.

    In any event, somehow Liz and I came up with the idea of cueing a show using prime numbers, which then led (naturally) to the idea of using the Fibonacci sequence. For some reason the thought of a show with two Cue Ones was really funny.

    There may have been beer involved. I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s scarier if there wasn’t.

    Tomorrow! O, that’s sudden.

    Raise cue G to –3.

    Bring down RR to –8.

    Make the fade in TT.5 2 seconds shorter.

    Hit Save. Copy show files to thumbdrive.

    And with that, my tech for Measure For Measure is done. In a few hours we open. I’ll show up in my cleanest dirty shirt with my spare laptop (once bitten…) and watch my new friends tell me a story. Come join me if you can.

    Congratulations and best wishes to the cast, design team, our brilliant director June Eubanks, our fantastic stage manager Bethany Schrader, and everyone at Promethean Theatre Ensemble. I look forward to working with you all again. Meet me where they play the blues.

    Out of office memo

    Next week I’m going to be in tech for Measure For Measure, and I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting. In the meantime, please visit some of the other blogs over in the sidebar. For those of you who are minded towards politics, media, science or religion, I direct your attention to CyberINK, my mother’s new blog.

    Have a great week if I don’t see you!

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