Some pain is cocooned by Sarah Angliss’ music – electronic dongs of the kind that madden while they are supposed to soothe”
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.
One of the most involved sound cues for in this play was the love
scene, set at night in an abandoned building. In the playlist on the left I’ve presented it as one piece but actually it’s a series of 13 cues, each just a few seconds long. These can be dovetailed, flexibly, as the scene plays, enabling the music to perfectly follow the choreography (from Aletta Collins), gesture by gesture.
This love scene incorporates a piano, playing in the distance. I used
simple piano figures because I was trying to write something sweet and lyrical. Its treatment is inspired by a walk in the Sussex woods a few years ago. Just outside Lewes, I stumbled on an abandoned hospital, ramshackle but still standing. In the middle of the hospital grounds, was the social hall, built in the 1950s, now overgrown with weeds. Paint was peeling from the walls but you could still see old health posters and the twisted remains of tubular metal chairs. There, in the middle of it all, stood an old upright piano, its lid down, dusted in plaster from the ceiling which was about to collapse. If I’d been able to get inside the room, I’m sure it would have played.