composer, performer and sound designer

The Effect

The National Theatre (Cottesloe)

The Effect

Billlie Piper and Jonjo O’Neill in ‘The Effect’ (photo Ellie Kurtz)

Composition for the first performance of The Effect – a love story set on a clinical drugs trial, possibly under the influence of mood altering drugs. Written by Lucy Prebble, this play explores sanity, neuroscience and the limits of medicine. A co-production between the National Theatre and Headlong, directed by Rupert Goold.


I created a terse, electroacoustic theatre sscore, reflecting the love affair and the arid, clinical environment in which it was set. The music was composed almost entirely from sounding objects found in a clinic – pill bottles, MRI scanners, metal vessels, tubular chairs and so on. This created something musical that also blended seamlessly with the action. In many instances, you couldn’t tell where naturalistic sound design ended (background clinic noises and other sound design was created by Chris Shutt) and my music began.

My source material for The Effect included sonifications of EEG data provided by Dr Leun Otten  and recordings from the inside of an MRI scanner. The MRI sounds were captured at University College London, on a fascinating trip to the lab of Professor Sophie Scott and colleagues.


The Effect was staged in the Cottesloe (now The Dorfman) where I was able to compose music to make the most of the subwoofers. In the show, a great deal of the music is laced with infrasound – extreme bass sound that’s on the cusp of perception. I’ve been researching infrasound since 2003 and am fascinated by its reputed, unnerving psychological effects. 

I laced many of the audible tracks in the show with a deep, pure infrasonic note. This closely followed the amplitude envelope of the audible music so it would never be foregounded but added a subtle sense of dread to the room. I worked closely with sound designer Chris Shutt on the deployment of this effect over the Cottesloe sound system.

Sarah Angliss - Max patch