The Music From “The Suffering” (Midway)
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The Music from the Suffering
I’ve been getting a fair number of inquiries about the music from The Suffering (Midway) and I thought I’d do a blog post about the process.
After composing the music for “Drakan: The Ancient’s Gates” I was approached by Surreal Software to compose music for their new project tentatively titled “Unspeakable”. Boyd Post, the lead sound designer at Surreal Software, had a concept of “instruments” that would be made from objects that existed in the surrounding virtual environments. In any given level or boss battle, the music would be composed using only objects found in that environment or associated with a specific character. For example, in the prison level rhythms and textures using struck metal bars, slamming a dumpster against a wall, violent metal scrapes, the bowing of metal rods. In the asylum level, the whispers and cries of the insane were combined with the faint, sinister droning of the Victrola coming from Dr. Killjoy’s office. In the cave, the musical textures were made entirely from the scraping, breaking, and striking of rocks. The battle with Hermes, who appears as green gas in the shape of a man, is scored using violent rhythms created from compressed air. For Horace, an inmate who died horribly in the electric chair and travels over power lines, the battle music is laced with rhythms created out of arcing electricity.
The recording sessions for “The Suffering” took place on January 6th and 7th at Robert Lange studios in Seattle. Supplemental sessions were done with Geoff Ott at the Ottopsy Room with actress/vocalist Diane Matson.
Artists and Instruments
Needless to say, finding the type of non-traditional instruments and artists that the concept required was going to be a challenge. Both Boyd and I immediately thought of artist/instrument-builder living in Seattle by the name of Ela Lamblin who I had seen at Bumpershoot (the local Seattle arts festival) climbing and hammering on a 15-foot metallic “instrument” he had designed and welded together. On my first trip to his studio I knew we had lucked out. One entire 25-foot wall was covered with a resonating box over which were Ela had strung wires – almost like a massive guitar. The main difference was that instead of the wires being struck with a pick and vibrating up and down, the wires were played with resin-covered gloves that set the strings vibrating length-wise and created an eerie metallic drone. Some of the instruments of Ela’s that we used on the session included:
The Stamenphone – a sort of cross between a waterphone and a tambura that can be bowed to create droning tonal melodies or struck for a percussive metallic resonating sound .
Orbacles – hollow metal pods large enough to fit a person inside. These could be struck to create percussive impacts, bowed with superballs to create moaning ambiences and played like congas to create rhythms.
Metal Rods – these were about 8-10 feet long and were played by rubbing rosin-coated gloves lengthwise along the rods. These created otherworldly drones that were later put into a sampler, pitched up and down and layered to created ambiences. The rods were also struck to create violent shrieks and metallic percussive sounds.
Mounted Bicycle Wheel
This instrument is exactly what it sounds like – the instruments was “played” by cranking the wheel and scraping different objects across the spokes.
In addition to Ela, a percussion player by the name of Matthew Burgess brought in his massive collection of “found” percussion. These objects included hubcaps, railroad spikes, a massive bodhran, hammers, glass jars, bowed bells and many others.
The recording sessions at Robert Lange Studios were rife with bizarre and strange events that can only be described as genuinely scary. The control room and the tracking rooms are all located underground. We made use of two of the tracking rooms including Lange’s custom-designed-and-built echo chamber. The walls of the echo chamber are stone and it has a sort of chimney ceiling that extends upward until it disappears into an inky blackness. The other tracking room that we used had stone and marble walls that could be covered or uncovered depending on what type of sound you were looking for. Robert Lange claims that one of the pieces of marble contains the image of Christ wearing the crown of thorns and holding a candle, still bleeding and suffering from the crucifixion:
Behind and to the right of the main tracking room there was, at the time, a massive, empty, unfinished cement underground bunker that was going to be converted into a another (giant) tracking room. It was dark, cold and cavernous.
The sessions started at maybe noon and extended late into the evenings, but as we were underground, 3pm felt like midnight. The first incident occurred only about 3 hours into the first session. We were capturing Ela’s droning metallic rod instrument and the engineer started complaining about background noise. I couldn’t hear anything so we played back the recording. All of us immediately heard very faint whispering barely audible in the droning of the rods. We had all heard radio interference before but this was completely different. It sounded like it was coming from in the room. This whispering remains embedded and audible in the recording of the rods and can be heard in the ambient music for the Asylum level behind the added whispers.
The second event occurred during a break. The engineer and I had gone to check out the empty, cavernous hole that Lange was planning on turning into a massive new tracking room. As we opened the door, it was suddenly sucked in as if someone was pulling from the other side. The door swung open and we saw (and felt) a figure move away from the door, across the empty space and into the darkness on the other side of the room. We closed the door quickly and agreed not to open it again.
The third incident happened on the second day of the session and was witnessed by the engineer, myself and the percussionist. We were sitting in the control room listening to a performance and we all saw something to the right. We all turned and saw a figure in the glass of the studio door and as we watched it disappear a small cup holding pens and pencils on the other side of the room fell onto the floor and spilled it’s contents.
I make no claim as to an explanation for any of the events except that they happened. Apparently they are a more or less normal occurrence at Lange’s studio. More information on the paranormal happenings at Lange’s studio can be found here:
The Composing Process
The source was captured with 5-6 mics including a stereo overhead pair and a large diaphragm condenser in Lange’s echo chamber. Sample instruments and rhythmic loops were created out of the raw materials. The sequencing and mixing was done in Logic. The monitors were Yamaha NS-10M’s. As all the instruments were more or less atonal, rhythm was the main structural device used during the composing process. In retrospect some of the ambient pieces fall within the “Dark Ambient” genre of electronic music although neither Boyd or I were aware of other artists creating this kind of music. Some of the combat pieces could be described as truly “industrial” due to the heaviness of the tracks as well as the machine/metal based instruments.
Hear the results here: