The Soundscape Part 2

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Image credit @The_Soundscape

In the last installment, I talked about designing the fundamental layers of your soundscape. These are the parts that set the mood for your victims!

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IMO, when designing a soundscape, we can consider the sound of the scare only when each room has at least two layers of background sound and one layer of foreground sound.

Scares are usually loud - or at least louder than the other sounds. It's a drop panel that bangs open as the monster reaches out. It's the actor suddenly dropping a chain into a bucket. It's a death whistle or sudden banging from behind the wall. A beast howls or growls and slams against its cage. All the other sounds set the stage, and this is the payoff. You scare them and they add their screams to the mix!

Of course, there is no reason for there to be only one "scare sound" in each room. In fact, you might create a sound simply to get the patrons to look in a particular direction. Is the where the scare is? Up to you!

Does the scare sound have to be loud? Not in my opinion. An unexpected whisper in the ear can be very effective. I REALLY want to play with audio spotlights, which let you target specific people with sound but not others - just like shining a spotlight on one person in the group. That would be really cool, and should let you whisper in anyone's ear from well out of sight! I've seen these for as little as $100 on eBay.

Check out this use of an audio spotlight in an ad campaign - from across the street!

What about music?

Personally, I prefer music that makes sense in the scene from the character's perspective. This is called diagetic music in movies and plays. It's music the characters and the audience hear. When Darth Vader strides into a room, no one hears his theme playing (except maybe Darth himself). When the helicopters attack to the tune of Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now, we hear it and so do the characters.

For me, music in a haunt makes the most sense when it's playing on the radio, TV, phonograph, etc. Maybe we hear violin music when we enter a room, with no source, until we see the ghost appear in the mirror, playing quietly. The point is, I prefer the music to be part of the story.

I'm certainly not saying it cannot be used as ambiance with no visible or in-story source. If you want to score your haunt, go for it! Music can have a powerful effect on mood. Witness the soundtrack of Psycho, The Shining, or Halloween. I won't get into the legal stuff about playing music. You'll have to look into that yourself. Or, just record your own!

Something to consider is adding a Shepard tone to a scene. Named after Roger Shepard, this is an auditory illusion, whose pitch sounds like it is constantly ascending or descending. It can be very disconcerting and is often used in movies. Whether you make this sound appear to come from a prop or from nowhere is up to you.

If you have read my earlier entries, you know that I have also advocated for playing with silence as a scare. Here I am now, suggesting all rooms should have all these noises in them. Well, yes. Silence is only unnerving when it's in contrast to the norm. Ever been oustide, with birds and bugs making noises, when all of a sudden, it goes dead quiet? There is a reason that is unnerving. The reason eats meat. Maybe you've been at home when the power goes out. Sudden silence fills the air. It's not pleasant. All this to say, I am all in favor of creating a sonic dead space if you can. It's all the more unnerving if every other room has had a rich soundscape!

So, how does one make a soundscape?

You can create soundscapes with just about any audio editing program. There are plenty of free ones. I prefer one that lets me add multiple tracks, which I can control individually. This lets me lay down a single, low volume base layer, and add additional layers which are louder. It lets me control and change the timing of each until I like it.

You can also try a site like Ambient Mixer, where you will find lots of basic soundscapes to start from.

Maybe you'll find inspiration in these NASA recordings from space!

You can record your own sounds using your cellphone or computer, of course. If you can buy or borrow a decent mic and digital recorder, you'll like the results better, I think. of course, with some searching you can find some royalty-free sound fx online as well!

If you want to learn more about soundscapes and design, here are some resources I thought were interesting. None of them are haunt specific, but I'm sure you can adapt the knowledge to your own twisted ends!

Tell me about your own experiences with soundscapes, or tell me where I am way off base!
Happy Haunting!