Archive for the Music Category
Oh hi. I haven’t posted here in a while, but I won’t dwell upon it or riddle this page with apologies. I’ve been plenty busy elsewhere on the internets. I definitely need to learn that blogging is not the same as writing, say, an essay for a literary journal. I just need to pick a topic and go without over-thinking it.
So here goes.
I’d like to sing the praises of Coursera. It’s a completely free portal through which you can sign up and take college-level courses, tests and all. You get a certificate upon completion, but no college credit. These days, I’d rather just have the knowledge anyway.
A friend of mine talked me into taking a course on Sound Design and I initially resisted. My resistance was manifold. I felt like I was “too cool for school” at this point and have been engaged in completely self-directed learning for many years. Then there was the embarrassment of saying I was taking a course in something that I’ve already achieved some level of expertise and success in. Would I be bored?
And then there’s the fact that I hate tests. I’ve never enjoyed testing, but now that I’ve been away from them for a while, they seem increasingly antiquated. I’m talking about traditional tests (which are still 99% of them), which are all text and have you answer multiple choice or true/false questions. They are as much about linguistic trickery and mental regurgitation as they are about testing knowledge of a subject. If you’re good at language games, you’d be good at testing no matter what the subject, even if your functional knowledge is essentially zero. If you have perfect memory, you also should also do well. But shouldn’t tests in any subject do more than test memory and linguistic ability?
I’m not calling for radical, unimagined change. Certainly, in this day and age, someone can design test questions that combine sound and visuals (and maybe even some interactivity) to probe one’s true knowledge of a subject like Sound Design. Sure, it would take more effort to create than a written test, but it would also approximate an accurate assessment of knowledge. Do I sound bitter? Being dyslexic, I often do look back at the many years I was subjected to the Testing Industrial Complex and think about how much wasted time that was.
Okay, end rant. Where was I? Coursera. The course I took does not fix any of my issues about testing. It uses a very traditional test format. But the other aspects of the course were fabulous. I found it enriching despite the fact that I already knew a good deal of the material because it was organized so well. Steve Everett, the professor, walked us through the major aspects of sound and drew connections directly to modern music technology we can use right now. I did learn some new tidbits along the way, and I find it never hurts to go back over the basics. Having the fundamentals explained to you in a different way than you initially learned them can help you make new connections and a deeper understanding. It can also get you excited about a subject all over again. On those counts, the course was a total success for me. Especially when it comes to synthesizers–I’m using them with a new confidence and zeal. Thanks, Professor Everett!
Another thing I’m reminded about college-level courses is that they do, in fact, require work. If I was taking this course with little background (as I will with most other courses) I’m sure it would have not seemed at all simple or easy to learn all the concepts. I will have have to set aside some quality time if I expect to get the most out of the Game Theory course I’m eyeing up.
Just a few weeks before I jumped down the rabbit hole that became Delirium Dog, I released an album under the name Lunatic Dog called “70W.” I quickly became too busy with Delirium Dog to promote what was my first fully solo album. It took me nearly a year to record, mix, and master, so by the time it was out I was already ready to move on. (I suspect many artists feel this way about their records.) I willingly dove into Delirium Dog, initially as a small side project from Lunatic Dog, but DD’s music quickly became more popular and overshadowed its predecessor, and here we are.
If you only know my work from the driving industrial edge of Delirium Dog, then you may be surprised. Those who know me personally–and how I listen to just about everything–probably won’t be.
I recently listened to the album for the first time in a long while and realized that I still liked it. I think it still sounds pretty fresh, even if the eclectic mix of songs hang together only loosely. I was still discovering electronic sounds at the time, and still had one foot solidly in my band work. So you’ll hear jangly guitars up against noisy synths.
Thematically, it’s a road trip album inspired by a number of cross-country trips I made, mostly to Burning Man. I’ve always loved road trip movies and felt that a road trip album was a natural thing for me to take on. That sort of justifies the different sounds you hear–the journey from rock to electronica to country and back. The final track, “Cotton Mouth,” is my favorite and somehow manages to meld all those genres.
Please have a listen and let me know what you think. If you’ve never heard it, it’s a new release to you! Right now, you can buy the download for a mere $2.99.
Please make sure that no children are in viewing range or earshot of the video below.
This was a fun project for me because it was driven by the music, which means I was involved early in the process. The concept for this new ScareHouse trailer was that we’d have a creepy chorus (made up of ScareHouse regulars) sing a twisted version of a classic holiday tune followed by your favorite clown, Creepo, in a Santa suit. Creepo is a pretty frightening dude no matter what, but the Santa suit raises it to a new, inexplicable level.
I knew right away that keeping it simple (good advice that I often ignore) was clearly the best way to go. Anything getting in the way of the fact that they are singing “Deck The Halls” with different lyrics could only hurt the message. I also knew that the chorus would have to learn and perform the music in a very short period of time–like thirty minutes while they were being costumed. So I stuck with a simple piano arrangement and two-ish part harmonies with the basses and sopranos branching out to hit a couple notes in their specific ranges.
The lyrics, while few, did not come easy. Five of us bouncing emails around finally arrived at two rhymed couplets that told the story, fit the melody, and also rhymed.
It had to all be “musically correct,” which is to say that I needed to put it down in actual notation that a music reader would understand. Years of using the far-superior piano roll method of composition has made regular notation seem alien to me. Those little black dots now feel like a quaint and arcane way of doing things, but it all came back to me pretty quickly. Logic Pro made it easy to create and print out some nice readable sheet music for the chorus–one reason I still compose in Logic rather than Live.
During the video shoot, the chorus lip-synced to a scratch track sung by my wife and I. There were many takes from many camera angles, so the chorus had a chance to mouth the words over and over. Afterwards, we recorded them in two’s singing over the scratch tracks. The voices of my wife and I were mixed in with the eight chorus members and just a wee bit of editing in post was needed to clarify some of the diction.
I haven’t noticed yet anyone getting angry about this form of blasphemy, but “Deck The Halls” is a pretty secular tune to begin with. Maybe that will come once we mutate a more sacred song.
As @ScareHouseScott recently tweeted, “I wonder if this will still be funny when I’m in hell.”
Ok, this new discovery pretty heavily colors my previous analysis about Punchdrunk’s approach to the soundtrack to Sleep No More.
My earlier posts were all based on the assumption that Punchdrunk began their development process as any other play or film production would: first with story, action, visuals, and pretty much everything else and then lastly the sound. Sure, there are some smart producers who know that sound is actually the most important element (only slightly exaggerating here) and who bake it into the whole process, but those folks are rare in my experience.
Here is what Higgin said, in the Q&A portion of their talk, which was mostly about their experiment with a digitally enhanced version of the show:
The sound is a very very important level within our shows. The history of Sleep No More as a project–it actually came from sound, it came from old classic film noir soundtracks that actually was a birth for a lot of ideas originally. As a company, we’re very much led–I’m kind of an ex-DJ and Steve [Dobbie] who does our sound design is an ex-DJ and an amazing sound designer. I think we all have a huge appreciation for music as company.
Got that? Not only was the soundtrack integral to the development process from the start, it was the start. Well, that certainly clears up a few things!
At least I now feel justified for spilling so much digital ink on the matter. And I still stand by what I’ve written, but all my speculation about what Punchdrunk was thinking is summed up pretty clearly in Higgin’s remarks.
Now excuse me while I go write updates on my three other posts…
A video of the talk can be found here. The Punchdrunk segment starts at 01:03:00 and the sound comment is at 02:14:55
I’ve received some interesting responses to my first two posts about the Sounds of Sleep No More. The SNM community are a thoughtful, reasonable bunch and have inspired me to dig a little deeper. (Special thanks to Kathryn Yu, who updated her set list of SNM tunes and helped me place a couple tracks, which gave me a chance to spend some quality time with the music while writing
this.) With the prospect of writing an entry for a journal article on the subject, this gives me a chance to thrash around some ideas. Fair warning to those who get angry when reading analysis and interpretations of artwork that they have enjoyed. Rest assured that your own experience is perfect and personal and this should in no way steal or diminish that. Oh, and I’m sure there will be spoilers of varying magnitudes. Okay? Good.
Just as no two viewings of SNM are the same, allowing for an individual to place a subjective “frame” around the experience, there are other frames we can apply to the use of sound in the production.
My earlier posting was framed by my perspective as a sound designer and composer who has used both original and “found” sources to create soundtracks for haunted attractions. I observed that Sleep No More uses entirely pre-existing music and sound for it’s soundtrack. (I also described how the sources are manipulated in many ways, and the overall effect is brilliant, but nonetheless derived from existing sources.) This surprised me because the overall production impressed me as so completely unique and ground-breaking that I expected the sound to be as well.
[Update: I have since posted a response of sorts from the producers themselves in which they explain how the music itself inspired them.]
In my obsession over how the soundtrack comes from borrowed origins, I passed over other criteria that also provide useful frames for what you hear when exploring SNM.
In emphasizing SNM’s uniqueness, I missed the fact that the rest of the production also borrows a lot, so maybe a soundtrack that borrows is not so odd. @ematthewcobb of Scorched The Snake tweets: “Personally I think borrowed music is necessary. Whole show is citation and appropriation, soundtrack included.” And quoth @AllezAllez of Allez, Allie : “Do you think…maybe since it is like a dream with borrowed characters, the music must be borrowed as well?”
Then there is the play’s dream-like quality derived from a sense that you are roughly seventy years in the past, but not sure exactly which year or decade at any given moment. @ematthewcobb pointed out that the production “needs hints at familiarity, even if audience doesn’t know where they’ve heard cues before.” @AllezAllez “It does give it a sense of place, distorted memories of songs we may have heard, with a time period & noir vibe.”
Comparisons To Other Works
To give this some perspective, let’s take a look at the use of appropriation, dream-like qualities, and time slippage in other works. Unfortunately, there are no other experiential performances like SNM that I have seen that merit any comparison (other than haunted attractions you are unlikely to have seen), so I’ll have to stick with movies and games. The video game Bioshock and the works of David Lynch such as Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive enter the same territory as SNM in several ways. They were genre-busting unique experiences when they were released and convey dream states and a vague sense of time referencing past decades.
To briefly summarize the era projected in SNM’s soundtrack, the popular song selections in SNM cluster most strongly in the 40’s with some gems from later decades as well. The movie soundtracks used date from the mid-50’s to early 60’s. One recent electronic tune is a prominent exception, as is the use of the Mulholland Drive soundtrack, both for scenes that contain visions ripped from time: the witches’ prophecy and MacBeth’s altered state as he sees Banquo post-death. (See my first post on the subject for more detail.)
Bioshock: Something Old, Something New
Bioshock may be the most appropriate comparison to SNM because it is an immersive and partially non-linear experience. The Bioshock producers created a retro-futuristic steampunk aesthetic that borrows directly from the same era as SNM. In their case, the producers made a distinction between the popular music taken from the “real world” and the original score written specifically for the game. Popular songs from the 30’s-50’s are heard throughout the game world, whether directly from a visible source like a radio or playing through a PA system somewhere and reverberating through the area. Similar to SNM, the soundtrack comes in at times of heightened drama and cues key moments in the action.
In Bioshock, then, the popular songs from the past are used as diegetic sound while the original soundtrack is entirely non-diegetic. In SNM, I would say that the music is almost all non-diegetic, or at best ambiguous. Unless you imagine there is always a radio nearby, you tend to not see sound emitting from a specific object. In the graveyard you can hear crickets and some thunder in the forest, but that’s about it for in-world sound. One musical exception is during the ballroom scene when you can more easily imagine a band just “offstage” playing the music because everyone is obviously dancing together in a ballroom.
Even the two scenes in SNM that feature characters lip-syncing, the source of the music is notably absent–the performers are conspicuously alone on stage near musicianless instruments. This adds to the haunting quality of their performances. Are we hearing the music in their heads? Is the music piped in from the ghost world? No easy answer is available. In the mezzanine overlooking the ballroom, a piano and record player also remain inanimate as the music plays. If SNM were simply following the rules of a musical, in which the source of musical accompaniment need not be justified, the inanimate instruments near the performers are making that leap difficult. In most other cases, it is unclear at best whether the characters can hear the music.
One might interpret the music in SNM as emanating from the head of the dreamer who’s dream you are wandering through. (That would at least explain some of the time slippage: perhaps the dreamer lives in the 60’s era of the soundtrack recalling an earlier time. Not too far-fetched considering in deep integration of Hitchock’s Rebecca, which is wholly a flashback is a flashback.) In this case it could be argued that the music is either or both diegetic and non-diegetic. Rather than quibble over those terms, the very possibility that SNM is completely a dream differentiates SNM from Bioshock in a significant way. Bioshock‘s world may appear surreal and dream-like, but it also achieves a level of functional realism that can be logically explained in science fiction terms. SNM plays by no such rules and confounds any simple narrative interpretation.
Considering this, Bioshock‘s distinct and tidy separation between the period music and original soundtrack is true to the effect it is trying to achieve. It is a first-person-shooter, after all, and certain bedrock consistencies need to be in play for the game to work. SNM’s less tidy distinction between period music and soundtrack serves a different end–to further disorient and dislocate from a tangible reality. This leads us to the work of David Lynch who also creates works with little apparent need to define where the dream begins and ends.
I’m not certain if Punchdrunk/Emursive are referencing Bioshock at all with SNM, but they are definitely referencing David Lynch. The most direct evidence is the use of a blending of tracks from the Molholland Drive soundtrack during the creepy banquet scene when the actors literally perform out of time (in slow motion) and dreamlike visions take over the action. Most of Lynch’s films go in an out of dreamspace (or dreamspace-to-dreamspace) with complete fluidity. Like SNM, you may ask yourself if it was only part dream or completely so. No David Lynch wannabe filmmaker has evoked that distinctive Lynch-like feeling in me more than I get from being in SNM.
Lynch’s films often appear to take place in what I would describe as a “present-day 1950’s.” That is, we are at once to think that events are taking place in the present day and yet the sets and costume and music are stylized to that earlier period after WWII and before the escalation of Vietnam. (You know: those “sweet, innocent” years both fetishized and skewered by Mad Men.) Blue Velvet was titled after the 1963 Bobby Vinton tune, which makes an appearance in the soundtrack next to Roy Orbisons “In Dreams” (hello!) and other vintage pop songs. At the same time, the movie featured Lynch’s first of many collaborations with composer Angelo Baldamenti who incorporated orchestral, jazz, synth, and pop stylings of his own creation into the soundtrack.
As the story goes, Lynch played the music of Dmitri Shostakovich on the streets of the Blue Velvet movie set to summon his desired atmosphere during filming. He then pointed Baldamenti toward Shostakovich’s works as starting point for his soundtrack. Baldamenti’s take wedded so nicely with what Lynch was going for that the two men collaborated several times since. Like Shotakovich himself, Baldamenti created a hybrid sound that borrowed from a selection styles. The result is an unsettling dislocation from time and space. It’s fitting that the movie begins with a shot of a severed ear and ends with the camera pulling out of the ear of the movie’s protagonist. Just as Lynch’s inspiration, Louis Bunuel, was literally and figuratively slashing eyeballs, Lynch seeks to do the same with our auditory senses.
A prolonged comparison between Lynch’s works and SNM would be fun (at least for one of us) but let me just reach for one more example. In Mulholland Drive there is a scene in which the two female leads attend a show at “Club Silencio.” There, the announcer on stage tells us “There is no band. And yet we hear a band…It is all an illusion.” A woman comes on stage and appears to sing a cappella Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in Spanish, then faints and is carried off as the music continues. (If you’ve seen SNM, I’ll leave you to pick out all parallels between that scene an a number of SNM moments.) Lynch–a director who personally labors over the details of his soundtracks much more than most–is overtly toying with the formal aspects of the soundtrack I’ve discussed so far. Where is the sound coming from? Who is controlling it? Why is the music familiar yet foreign? Why are we hearing thunder inside a theater? I wonder: could it all be dream?
Reasons For Borrowing
If you grant Lynch and Baldamenti’s success at creating original soundtracks that weave original music and sound with pre-existing works, then it is possible that Punchdrunk could have attempted the same to achieve similar ends. There are, however, many reasons artistic and practical not to take that route.
SNM does borrow more directly from previous works than any of the above examples. It is ostensibly (and substantially) Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hitchcocks’s Rebecca is also quoted extensively. However, the characters engage in a great deal of action not detailed in the play or movie, so that alone would not justify a purely quoted soundtrack.
It is not as if Punchdrunk is a stranger to original music. The author of the Sleep No More Crossover Fan Fiction Blog pointed out that “Original music was composed for the Punchdrunk show The Duchess of Malfi and performed live by an orchestra that moved around the building.” One reviewer recalled having difficulty keeping up with the orchestra’s conductor, but when she did she was pleased: “Their music stands had little crosses on them, conveying the sense of being in a graveyard, but the music could not have been more alive: the brass was ominously vivid and, together, the players preached a dark sermon.”
Sounds wonderful, but certainly there were logistical issues with taking such an ambitious step. The first being that in order to have an orchestra play every night, you have to hire a large group of musicians. The second involves visions of aimless guests smashing into musicians holding delicate instruments. Having a house band play jazz standards in the bar (our little way station between the hotel and the outside world) on the safe confines of the stage adds a nice touch of live music without those hassles.
Then there’s the fact that SNMNYC is spread out over seven large floors. Some reviews suggested that Punchdrunk had spread themselves too thin with Malfi over three floors of the production. Not so with this newer production. In the NYC venue, Punchdrunk needed an approach that would allow them to cover a huge amount of space. Many more hours of sound is needed than exists in a typical movie soundtrack. Curating a soundtrack of that size is a daunting task and making one from scratch may have been simply impossible unless you had a year or more of development time.
And of course original does not always = “good.” In fact, there is no correlation at all. Going with tracks that you already know are individually great gives you better odds that the end result will also be worth listening to. If you believe as I do that the big-band era was a rare time when the most popular music was also the most artistically satisfying, then you would be hesitant to try to best the original tunes. And to what end? As our Crossover Fan Fict Blogger observed: “Despite [the original soundtrack], Sleep No More completely eats Duchess of Malfi’s lunch.” He did not say that the Malfi soundtrack was lacking somehow, but he does appreciate SNM’s overall effect better.
One more artistic concern that may have that come into consideration is the careful modulation of tone and creepiness SNM maintains. The show never comes close to haunted house territory by going for big scares. Or even medium scares. It’s a long, slow, lightly simmering kind of creepy. The familiar music often adds to the pleasant side of the experience rather than trying to constantly unsettle you. I said earlier that SNM invokes in me the feeling of a Lynch movie like nothing else has, but it does not terrify me the way Lynch often does. If it did, I could not remain in that world for three hours without running out in a state of total panic. Who knows extra detail it would take to tip me over the edge, but a little more of a Lynchian soundtrack might do it.
Framed By Red Curtains
Which brings me back to the personal experience–the “frame” you put around your time in SNM. Neither a movie nor a video game, no matter how immersive, compares directly to the real-world physical experience of SNM. I have made an attempt to discuss it using the terms of film analysis, but of course it is not a film. It is not happening in the safe confines of a screen sitting out in front of you. It plays by an additional set of rules that involve physical constraints, timing, angles of view, smells, the choices you make, etc.. Still, none of this frees it from the meaning-making that viewers will inevitably bring. Like any work of art, there are a finite number of meanings that can be defended and communicated to a larger group. Adding the extra layers of personal experience, memory, and variability involved single viewing, and that makes the job a good deal more difficult than a work that is fixed in time. Fortunately, SNM has enough structure built into that I believe it stands up to this level of scrutiny quite well.
Even movies can have a layer of personal experience specific to a particular viewing. The first time I saw Mulholland Drive, I was sitting alone in a large theater with red seats, red curtains, and red drapes on the walls. On man entered and sat many rows ahead of me, disappearing from sight. Another entered and sat several seats behind me. I felt like I was in a David Lynch movie! During one of the closing scenes (in which a painfully happy old couple chases the main character down a hallway) I remember thinking that if the scene was going to continue for a few seconds longer I would have to leave the theater rather than go insane. That is one movie-going experience I will never be able to duplicate.
There is no doubt that Punchdrunk could have created a soundtrack that pushed more buttons and was more unsettling and disturbing. I think most of us are glad that they did not. One of the great achievements of SNM is how its producers manage to strike the right balance between unsettling and alluring. A good deal more people are drawn in than are sent away screaming. By staying on the more familiar side of things, the soundtrack surely plays a strong role in that.
I’ve had another visit (#4 for me) to the McKittrick since my first commentary about the sound design to Sleep No More. My initial thesis was that while the soundtrack melded beautifully with the other elements of the show, it was among the least ground breaking aspects of the production. I noted that much, if not all, of the music is taken from pre-exisitng recordings, which is a common practice for plays. The reason this is surprising is because SNM is no common play production. Boundaries are stretched, envelopes are pushed, and genres are bent every which way when it comes to the action, presentation, and set design…but not so much for the soundtrack.
[Note: I have since posted a response of sorts from the producers themselves in which they explain how the music itself inspired them.]
To be clear: this is not a value judgement. I think the soundtrack is aesthetically beautiful, lovingly constructed, melds wonderfully with the visuals, and represents a great amount of hard work on behalf of Stephen Dobbie and anyone who helped with the installation. If you read my first post, you will see a good deal of praise for what they’ve done.
So did that thesis hold up as I listened through once again? Basically yes, but I heard some things that complicate my original take. Overall, I was impressed about how well the soundtrack holds up to repeat listening. More on that in a bit.
That Whole REMIXED Thing
First, a response to reports I’ve read about the April 1st REMIXED show. When I first read the invitation to the show, I was hearing in my head all kinds of ways one could mash up the existing soundtrack with elements of modern electronica. (Trip hop rendition of “Is That All There Is,” anyone?) Sounds like my little fantasy, perhaps, but it was inspired by the fact that the SNM New Year’s party DJ reportedly did something similar to that. (Lest anyone thinks I’m angling for Punchdrunk/Emersive to hire me for their next Remix–which I won’t discourage–I wonder why they didn’t just find that guy to do the remix.) Initially, I was desperately jealous of everyone who scored tickets for that event. I figured Punchdrunk and Emursive would prove me wrong by crafting a totally mind-blowing new soundtrack.
But no. For REMIXED they reached no further than pop songs from the 80’s. Some guests were impressed by their selections, others were nonplussed or disappointed. (I become mostly depressed by 80’s music, so I was no longer jealous after reading this news.) At best, seeing a dance set to Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight” would have produced in me a kind of sugar high that would have me crashing shortly after the giant drum fill kicks in. I’ve always been jealous of friends who snap into fits of pure nostalgic ecstasy every time they hear Mr. Mister or Chaka Khan or [insert favorite 80’s one-hit wonder here], but I just don’t have that in me. Surely it’s my loss.
Hey, while we’re digressing: remember 1985 when Phil Collins was pretty much the coolest guy in the wide world of music? Difficult to do now, isn’t it?
RELATED: Delirium Philharmonic
ReMixing electronica with the Philadelphia Philharmonic
In my previous article, I pictured the show’s producers being fans of certain film soundtracks and songs and, rather than working with a composer to create something new, using those very same recordings in their new original work. Call it an homage, call it appropriation, call it whatever you want, but with REMIXED that still appears to be their primary mode of soundtrack design. Of course, if they were to take the time to do something truly new and brilliant, one would hope it would be used for more than one night. It was an April Fools joke, after all, so I’m probably overstating my case.
Our Regularly Scheduled Soundtrack
Okay, back to the original soundtrack that they’ve used nightly for over a year. My respect for all aspects of the soundtrack increased during the 4th listen. Here are a few additional details I noticed:
My best guess is that few, if any, of the soundtrack elements were used verbatim. I noticed more manipulation, especially in some of the old crooner tunes, like an added “preverb” effect (a kind of reverse echo) added to the vocal range to evoke a ghostly quality. Some additional vinyl scratchiness may have been added to some tracks. Some tracks have more than one sound layered upon another. A friend who attended with me claims to have heard a piece from the Halloween movie soundtrack that was manipulated to fill more time than the length of the original track. In all these respects, each musical piece is treated like a sampling of sound to be woven into a larger ambient soundscape rather than a solitary composition.
The result of all these pieces stitched together–running in parallel in multiple spaces at the same time–is a huge 4-D woven quilt of sound. A collage. A pastiche that, taken as a whole, can be seen as a new orginal work.
Each track flows so seamlessly into the next that I suspect the whole soundtrack was carefully mixed and mastered so that all the songs play well together. (That is, each track was tweaked so the overall volume, loudness, and EQ was consistent.) Nothing distracted me, jumped out at me in a bad way, or took me away from the experience in any manner. This is a great feat in and of itself.
I cannot place where the soundtrack to the banquet scene comes from, and it sounds like an original amalgam of different sounds. I remember one moment when the track was droning down in the lower registers and a high-pitched violin slide cut through the din. A man in front of me looked around to figure out where that sound came from. It leaped out of the mix so much he thought it came from another source. I love it when that happens.
While I was keeping an occasional eye out for speaker installations, I was never distracted by their placement. However, some were clearly visible. I approve of that visual compromise because the sound is always clear and immediate. The system sounds great.
There was some bleed between sounds every now and then, but I consider that a feature not a bug. I avoided the witches’ rave this time (curious what was happening at the same time) and could hear the pulsing kick drum in other rooms and other floors. I was more likely to notice footsteps from the floor above–a natural sound that added a lot to my awareness of multiple planes of action.
I continued to notice the characters reacting to subtleties (and not-so-subtleties) in the music. It’s clear that the performers have heard the pieces enough to be able to react and anticipate each dramatic flourish and use them to their advantage. I was reminded of this phenomenon when the hostess in the bar, who surely had heard many times the music that’s piped in before the band plays, sang a line in the music just moments before the vocalist in the recording sang the same.
This soundtrack is in the performers’ blood now. They probably dream it at night and inadvertently hum it during the day. Of course they would be responding to it in their performance in all kinds of ways. It’s impossible to discern from my standpoint what may have been the originally drafted choreography and what has developed over time in response to the music. All of the action feels both structured and organic at the same time so I do not even try to figure it out and just enjoy what I’m seeing.
Taking these additional observations into account, I’m still trying to decide if it even matters that no new music was created explicitly for Sleep No More. My bias is so much in the direction of incorporating original music into any new work that I can’t completely let it go. To me, being original and groundbreaking means that the music should be made mostly from scratch. However, the soundtrack as it is truly works and is difficult to criticize on it’s own terms. I have only read praise for it and I doubt many visitors to the McKittrick will give it a second thought. I imagine most people feel and intuit exactly what the producers intended. It’s hard to fault them for that.