Our new sounds for this month are tied in with a common horror trope: trapping the demon in a circle of enchanted flame. The binding ceremony usually involves drawing symbols on the floor in blood or salt, and setting the circle on fire once the demon steps inside.
Our Demon Fire soundpack comes in three varieties; the differentiating factor is the ignition source for the flame. ‘Cause, let’s face it – you don’t want your players asking, “hey, if we’re in a medieval setting, why am I using a Zippo to light this fire?” Or alternately, in a modern game, “where the heck did I get a torch?”
And in addition, each download comes with a ten-minute loop of magic flame with no ignition sound, so if you just want continuous fire, you can do that too at no extra charge!
Of course, these fire sounds don’t have to be used exclusively to depict demon traps. Really, you could use them for just about anything your players feel like setting on fire. And if your players are like ours, that’s a lot of things!
The daemon has walked right into your carefully-laid trap; directly into the center of the circle of blood sigils on the stone floor. In the dim light of this dank dungeon, it was easy to conceal it with some hastily-arranged dirt and pieces of rat dung. You touch your torch to the edge of the circle, and the floor erupts in a magical flame.
Now, daemon, we will talk.
This effect is the sound of a torch igniting a magic flame that burns for ten minutes.
You have the demon right where you want it. It’s just walked right into the center of the circle of blood sigils you painted on the floor. Before it knows what’s happening, you light a stick match and touch it to the blood. The circle erupts in a magical flame that spreads out to both sides and surrounds the demon in a second.
Shall we begin our conversation, hellspawn?
This effect is the sound of a wooden stick match igniting a magic flame that burns for ten minutes.
You’ve got the demon right where you want him. The smug sonofabitch just walked right into the center of the circle of blood sigils you hid under the throw rug. You smile, just a little, and spark up the chrome lighter in your hand. You throw it to the floor, and the circle erupts in a magical flame. Now old blackeyes there is trapped until you say so.
Before I gank you, you’re gonna spill, buttwipe.
This effect is the sound of a modern lighter igniting a magic flame that burns for ten minutes.
Demon Flame Loop
Now that the demon is trapped within the blood circle, the flame will continue to burn and he won’t be able to leave. This ten-minute loop of magic demon fire will allow you to question him all you like.
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.
Last year, we did post-production sound on a short film, Fate Accompli, which was written and directed by our friend Eric Neal. Steve did some fantastic foley work, and I handled the dialog edit, effects and mix. Music was composed by Andrew Edwards. Reviews of the short are starting to show up, and here’s a good one that came out this week.
We have a new soundpack! Drones and Atmospherics Volume One consists of two six-minute ambient drone sounds that GMs can use to underscore unsettling, creepy or otherwise dramatic scenes in their adventures. You can hear and download our new drones at toxicbag.com or drivethrurpg.com.
A blasted heath. An alien planet. Cyberspace. A distant moon orbiting a dead world. The End of Time.
Sometimes you don’t need a specific ambience. Sometimes you just want there to be something…ambient. A background, an atmosphere, a drone.
Whether you’re running a horror campaign, sci-fi opera, fantasy epic or anything in between, the Drones and Atmospherics series gives you a variety of creepy, mysterious sounds to underscore your most unsettling locations. Each drone is six minutes long. We’ve given them names, because “Drone 1” and “Drone 2” wouldn’t be very evocative. But don’t just take our titles as gospel – use them for whatever you like!
Drones & Atmospherics Volume One includes two six-minute creepy mood-setting drones.
Haunted Drone: an electronic hum supports random bursts of mystic energy that drift back and forth across an unearthly abyss.
The Ruins Drone: A wasted land? A devastated planet? The slow song of a dead people drifts across the shattered sky.
Recently I was at a trade show here in Chicago, doing field recordings of the crowds milling around. As I walked from the food court area to a spot near the registration desk, a young woman spotted me and noticed the large microphone and digital recorder I had hanging around my neck.
“That’s cool,” she said, and asked what I was doing. I explained that I was a sound designer and that I was collecting sounds for my library.
“Do you do sound for movies?” Yes, movies sometimes, and also theatre, advertising, and so on.
“Wow,” she said, “it’s awesome that you have your own sounds to use. I get so sick of hearing the same baby cry sound in every movie! It really wrecks the film for me.”
That was an important thing for me to hear. I hear sound designers talk all the time about sounds that get re-used ad nauseam, and I imagine we tend to think we’re the only ones who are bugged by it. But this woman isn’t a sound designer. She’s not a sci-fi fanatic picking out every instance of the Wilhelm Scream. I’m sure the sound effects probably aren’t first in her mind when she’s watching a movie – so if she’s noticing it, there’s a problem.
Like other sound designers, I certainly rely pretty heavily on my commercial sound effects libraries. Time and budget and a whole host of other factors dictate that I can’t make a fresh new sound for everything I work on. But I do try to build and maintain my own personal library (and she was pleased to hear that I do have my own sounds of a baby crying and rarely use the library babies), and use those sounds instead of library stuff whenever I can. And every now and then, while I’m standing there with the mic in my hand and the headphones on, I get a really great reminder of why I’m going to the trouble of doing it.
Lots going on in Toxic Bag Land lately! We’ve completely revamped toxicbag.com, making it easier to find the sounds you need for your game. Individual track downloads will be enabled soon.
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.
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).
I’ve been fortunate, of late, to work steadily in a few college theaters. There I find solid equipment, purchased and maintained by excellent TDs. I work with well-trained student crews who can set up the sound system and run the shows. I can walk into tech week with confidence that, even if things do break down, there’s a support structure in place to get it sorted by opening.
I’m spoiled, really.
Walking into a rental theater in Chicago, on the other hand, can be a bit of a crap shoot. Over the ten years I’ve been designing sound in this city, I’ve worked in quite a few of them, and it’s frequently an adventure. One theater’s mixing board was a 1970s-era Radio Shack DJ mixer with a bashed-in faceplate and a microphone transformer adaptor (also from Radio Shack) duct-taped into the input. At another place I found that the stage left speaker was facing a wall, and the stage right speaker was not plugged in—though there was an orphan ¼” plug sticking out the back and a severed speaker wire hanging from the grid ten feet away. Recently I spent several hours troubleshooting and rewiring a system that had purportedly been used the previous day by the outgoing production –though given the condition I found the gear in, I don’t see how.
On the other hand, I’ve also put up many shows in theaters that had nice speakers and amps, a mixing board with a full complement of functioning channels, and even (in one case) a computer running QLab…though the EQs for the mains were in a closet down the hall where you couldn’t conveniently use them for…well, anything, and there were no audio lines from the booth to the stage to run mics or specials.
But see, there I go. This last place clearly put some thought into their sound install. Not as much as I’d like, but more than a number of places. And all of their gear worked. What the hell do I expect?
No, seriously, what do I expect? And what should I expect? If the company that hires me to do a sound design is renting theater space, what do they expect to get out of their (sometimes pretty darn expensive) rental, soundwise? What does their money buy them?
Of course, one very valid response is, “work all that out in your production meetings. Get a gear list from the rental space and figure out what more you might need, and make arrangements. A rental theater can’t be all things to all people and shouldn’t be expected to cater to your grandiose need for surrounds, subs, 4 onstage specials, 16 wireless mics and wedges for the band if the majority of the shows they host are only as demanding sound-wise as The Glass Menagerie.” And that’s a good point…so I think I’m talking about two different issues here: gear selection and gear maintenance. As far as selection, the basics are fine, and all I think I can reasonably expect: some FOH speakers, amps, a mixer with a few channels. A CD player is nice, but do people design shows for CD much anymore? A cable for plugging in an iPod or iPad might be a good, modern alternative (and they cost less than ten bucks at Radio Shack). The in-booth QLab rig was a great find (I will admit, it’s nice to not have to wonder where the show computer is coming from), but does that fall into the “I can reasonably expect this to be there” or “my, that’s a nice extra perk” category?
If the audio gear is itemized on the rental house’s list, that’s lovely. Without insisting that I be able to test-drive the system in advance of tech, though, I can only trust that what the list promises, the list will deliver. Which brings us to gear maintenance. Walking in to find a pile of broken or improperly-wired sound equipment is frustrating and takes valuable tech time away—sometimes hours, sometimes days. Ultimately I’m not expecting a custom install or a big mic closet or infinite routing options. I’d just like to find all the gear that’s promised on the rental list in working order.
Is that too much to ask?
Lighting designers, I’d like to hear from you as well: what do you expect to find already there when you walk into a rental?
We’d like to announce the Toxic Bag Free Sound Club. Once a month -give or take- we’ll send you a link where you can download a new sound effect from the Toxic Bag effects archive. All you have to do is open our emails when they show up. Though if you want to be really groovy, you could leave us a note on Facebook, or on our messageboard, or here at the blog, to let us know how you like the free sounds, or how you’re using our sounds in your games, or what sounds you’d like us to make for you!
You can grab the Free Sound for September at http://toxicbag.bandcamp.com. You’ll be asked to give your email address, and from time to time we’ll send you en email with some news, as well as download links for future Free Sounds. We promise not to overwhelm your mailbox, and of course you can unsubscribe at any time.
To go along with this month’s new Soundpack, “SPY #1,” September’s free sound is a badass spy car–equipped with flame throwers!