Sounds, Sound Effects, and Noise: Creating the Soundtrack for Dread Falls Theatre’s Lovecraftian Podcast Father Dagon

Dread Falls Theatre presents Father Dagon

After director Victoria Snaith and her drama company Dread Falls Theatre had a successful run with their immersive Lovecraft-inspired performance Father Dagon, Victoria made the decision to take the live performance to a digital media and created Father Dagon, the podcast. The actors for the live show had been given backstories for each of their characters which Victoria had written to help the players flesh out their interpretation of their roles, and it was these backstories that Victoria used to develop material for each episode of the podcast. Once the episodes were outlined, Victoria and I discussed what she needed to make it go from a good audio drama to a great podcast with a full level of professional production. Here’s a little bit about what that entails and how I went about tackling various aspects of creating sonic elements for the podcast.

Dread Falls Theatre presents Father Dagon

In essence, there are three main parts of the sound for the podcast (and any recorded performance, I suppose): the raw recordings and basic editing, the diagetic sounds (meaning the sound that can be heard by the characters within the drama), and the exogetic (also called non-diagetic) sounds (meaning, in this case, the music that underlies the dramatic performance for punctuation and emotive enhancement).

Dread Falls Theatre is primarily based in High Wycombe in the U.K. Most of the actors are local to that area, and Victoria recorded the vocal performances at her studio there and brought me the recordings in Portland, OR a month later. Then, whilst she was here, we recorded the rest of the vocal parts – her voice-overs, my bit parts, and everything else needed for the podcast. Because the recordings were made in different locations with different mics, ambient backgrounds, and on different computer set ups, there were notable ranges of quality that needed addressing. I spent considerable time cleaning up the raw tracks (thank Tsathoggua for modern adaptive noise reduction processing!) until I was able to start editing together the form the podcast would eventually take. Typical stuff – removing excess space or studio banter from tracks to create a natural breathing/speaking “rhythm” for a realistic feel in conversation or oration. There was also little things like making room for the theme, the credits, the sound effects, et cetera. Once it was all in place, I was able to move on to the diagetic sounds.

For some of the episodes, there was a call for extra sound effects to propel the narrative. I needed easily attainable sound effects and then some others that were less simple. Things like footfalls and chairs moving across the floor were not too hard to record – I just had to make use of a friend’s house with a nice-sounding wooden floor to get what I needed. Opening a door was also fairly simple, since the front door to my studio has a nice “chock” to it that I could record clearly. Other things were harder. I don’t want to give away anything, so I’ll be vague here, but you can here some of these sound effects in the upcoming third episode. When something happens in the story that cannot be recreated directly, it was necessary to generate the effect by making noises that were somewhat close to the sound desired, then manipulating the sound to make them psychoacoustically reflect what they are meant to represent. Here’s one semi spoiler, just to give an example, so if you don’t want to read this, just skip the next paragraph…

We needed the sound of a table being knocked over. I didn’t have a table to knock over, nor was the studio recording room the correct setting for actually knocking over a table and recording it. Instead, I imagined what types of things would be on the table, and what type of table it may be, and I recorded some sounds of things that may make a similar noise to the items I imagined if they were struck. Then, I overlayed them in my editing program as logically as possible to composite the effect sound. The result you’ll be able to hear fro yourself, but I was pleased, and given that there are other things happening (exogetic music and other simultaneous sound effects), the aural illusion of a table being knocked over or at least disturbed was implied to my liking.

Here I’m recording my bread machine to create elements of sound for both the music track and the foley for a table crashing sound that I couldn’t recreate directly in the studio.

There was also spacial considerations, like someone walking into a room from down a hall, for example, that required panning and volume adjustments to bring them to “life” One other fun thing: the footfalls are all me. There’s a man walking, two ladies, and then all move at different speeds and have their own pitches and gaits. I took a long recording of me walking across the floor at my friend’s house, and edited out the heavy squeaking, and I used two different shoes, then rearranged the footfalls to sound more natural and clear, and altered things like the EQ and speed to create footfalls for various characters. I probably could have done this another, more efficient way, but it worked out great, so I’m glad I did it this way.

Last, but not least, is the music, of course. For some of the podcast episodes, as listeners of the first two stories already know, the tale is told in “installments” or “entries” so I had a nice frame work laid out from my previous editing that gave me the time flag posts that I needed to get started. I was able to use unique sounds that sonically announced the start of each segment. Then I chose a timbre that I could use for a base underneath the entire episode and map out my cadences and accents, then I added individual bits that would more precisely highlight the elements of the story, with some very specific tones or instrumentation that I felt directly reflected the happenings of the drama. Of course, I kept within my parameters of Futurist music/noise, and dark Lovecraftian spooky sounds, building a very gradual cadence that culminates on the “punch line” of the story’s final sentence (courtesy of Victoria’s excellent writing). Sort of standard fair, in a way, for creating a soundtrack, but it’s a bit tricky to make a good noisy dark underlying soundscape that doesn’t drown out the action or distract with sharp interjections of unexpected tones. I had to be extra careful when mixing both the sounds themselves, and the music overall in relation to the voice acting, before and during the mastering process.

All this being said, and with me pointing out that it’s been a sizeable chunk of work to make sure the show is complete and professionally engineered, I’ve had a fantastic time working on it with Victoria and all the folks from Dread Falls Theatre! Obviously, Lovecraft-influenced work is what I’m all about, so having the opportunity to compose and perform music for this podcast has been exciting to say the least! I would also say that it has been a learning experience, even for someone with a lot of background in this sort of production already, to take ideas about sound, map them out in a sonic storyboard sort of format, and then realise them in the studio with direct and manipulated sound to get an end result with which I am pleased (and more importantly, with which Victoria and audiences have been pleased!) I’d love to hear what you think of the podcast (on any level) and I’d also like to say that I hope you agree with me that Father Dagon will deserve another season once this one has aired in its entirety. Many thanks to Victoria and Dread Falls Theatre for including me in this amazing production!

If you haven’t heard it yet, well, then, get to clicking and check it out! If you have heard it, well, no reason not to get your Deep One on again! 🙂 It’s available in several places, so have at it and again, please rate, comment, let me know what you think, and all that good stuff, but mostly enjoy!

Father Dagon on iTunes
Father Dagon on LibSyn
Father Dagon on Stitcher
Father Dagon on SoundCloud
Father Dagon on YouTube
Father Dagon on Google Play (North America only)
Father Dagon on DFT’s Website
Father Dagon Direct RSS Feed

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