Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Closer Listen: Workshop Clips

 Run! It's a monster!

Marques and I have been working hard to map out Chatterbox's new Sound Effects Workshops, which has been a blast, and very rewarding. In the process, we identified and uploaded some representative clips from both OTR and Chatterbox shows that we find particularly effective. I thought I'd share a few with you today. Click each show's title to hear the clip.

Three Skeleton Key
This clip comes from a classic OTR episode of Escape, and there's really only one thing you need to know: Rats. Thousands and thousands of them. The characters in the story are trapped in a lighthouse. An unmanned ship has wrecked on their island. The ship was filled to the brim with rats, which are now swarming the island and the lighthouse. According to Leonard Maltin, the squeaking sounds were created by rubbing damp corks against glass, and looping the sound over and over until a few became a multitude.

Dead and Gone
This is from the first scene of our Southern adaptation of James Joyce's "The Dead." The main characters, Gabriel and Margaret, trudge through the snow toward their elderly aunts' holiday party. The wind sounds are recorded. The snowy footsteps were created using a classic radio technique: squeezing a box of corn starch. And the party noises (which continue throughout most of the show) are of course just our talented actors. Simple enough, but for me, the scene beautifully creates a change in temperature. We go from the cold, desolate outdoors to the warm, inviting indoors. (You can practically smell the wood burning in the fireplace.) Naturally, this simple transition has a lot of interesting thematic relevance. But it also just works as a nice entrance into the story.

The Damned Thing
Still one of my favorite Chatterbox sequences, this comes from our 2009 Halloween Show. The story is by American writer Ambrose Bierce. Two hunters stalk an animal that they soon discover is invisible. Our Halloween Shows are broadcast live, and every effect here is manual. We've got grass sounds (unspooled VHS tape), gravel (in a gravel box), that pulse-like pounding (a soft mallet against a metal box), and gunshots (the real thing, but blanks, of course). And then there's the horrible, otherworldly wailing of the creature. SFX artist and physics magician Michael Towle is the one who told us that dry ice contracts metal so quickly that the metal will release a horrific shriek. So the sound you hear is metal pipes pressed against dry ice. That plus some vocalizations from Mr. Towle himself combine to create something that simply doesn't exist in our world. Thankfully.

Super Feature
Another horror clip, this one from the classic OTR show Lights Out. The two speakers are criminals who travel town-to-town screening a monster movie. While the whole town watches the movie, the criminals sneak out and rob their empty homes. In this clip, the monster in their "picture" comes to life and slides off the screen. This episode is brilliant for what it doesn't tell you. Listen for the sound of the monster: nothing. Throughout the entire show, it's never audible, though it's clearly dangerous. It's also barely described; we know it has teeth and a tail. Leaving so much to imagination causes the listener to fill in something far, far worse than any writer could devise. In this case, less is so very much more.

I hope to make a regular feature of these types of close listens. Got any suggestions, or any clips you'd like to share yourself? Just let me know.

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