Amen to Zombie: Sept 25th, 2009

PC Treasures, Inc has a quality website.

PC Treasures, Inc has a quality website.

In a world where experimental electronic music exponentially splinters into a multitude of rogue genres that slowly shuffle the globe from demilitarized dance floors to sleeper cell bedroom studios and back, a team of disparate scientists tracks this solanum-like pandemic while desperately trying to interpret cryptic field recordings of Samhain’s past, not one day at a time, but from Amen to Zombie

ZOMBIE

So right out of the gate this one is a 30 minute mix.  Which to me says “Get ready for the journey.”  An easy way to spilt up these audio compact discs, as they are often called, is dividing them into two camps.  Camp one isolates each individual sound, plays them out in order, and then invites you to record Witch’s Laughter and Thunder and Rain together to synthesize your own continuous spooky mix.  Camp two does that for you and tries to make it interesting.  One is like a break record, the other like a mixed disc.

Here’s some data:

Scary Sounds:

Frighten Your Friends and Maybe Even Yourself with these Horrific Halloween Sound Effects (copy from front cover)

(a list of what are assumed to be tracks)

Demonic Laughter / Creaking Door / Bats / Cats / Howling Wolves / Rattling Chains / Evil Laughter

“Devilish demons creap through the dead of night, slowly opening the doer to a horror-filled evening filled with black cats and fluttering bats.  Have you been transported to a dimension of scary sounds or are you just listening to a frighfull authentic CD packed with the ghoulish sounds of Halloween? Either way it’s great for scaring party guests or terrifying a porch full of tremulous Trick-or-Treaters!” (description on the back of the jewel case)

2009 PC Treasures. INC.

2765 Metamora Rd.

Oxford, MI 48371

Don’t worry about me following up on some of these studios that are producing these scary sounds discs.  The fact that they’ve decided to put their address on the back of the product means a that they are just begging to be contacted by a candy sac’s worth of weirdos.  And will no doubt be prepared.  So look forward to that in post-Halloween posts, when I actually have time to travel around, visit, and interview some of the fine ladies and gentlemen that are involved.  Now on with press play:

Thunder crash to start out with, kind of cliché.  But, ethereal wind blowing, piano stabs, laughing, screaming, werewolves or rabid dogs, and every thing is just going nuts by the second crack of thunder.  And then there’s an awesome appearance by the synth blast from Volton or Robotech.  I love that sound, it’s like a lo-pitched synth cord with a french horn voice from ’81.  Nice little piano lines skittering around on the floor.  The first Creaking Doors section has a lot of nice metallic sound. Corrugated iron, scraped metal bowls full of water, some sheet metal, maybe a clock spring, nails on piano strings, with this awesome heartbeat slowly morphing back and forth to bubbling cauldron, underneath it all.

So now we’ve succumb to the evils of the night.  We’ve gone through the gates of the cemetery and what do we hear as we come upon the lonely grave diggers?  That organ music that you know you know.  I don’t mean to sound like I’m still in high school, but this CD three minutes in is freaking awesome.  Then for, kind of, no reason, the Westminster-Abbey chimes?  I usually think of some urban afternoon in Tokyo and the ever present, everyone’s buying things and having coffee at noon in Japan scene in just about all anime when I hear those chimes, but fair play I guess.  One of the grave diggers leaves and starts dragging a coffin from stereo right to stereo left as the chimes have been pitched down three octaves and the creatures of the night come out once again.  I think this is a nice way to pause slightly before going back into the sound designer’s bag of tricks.  The pace is still fast and disorienting, but there is a real dynamic and measured pacing to the sound narrative.  By the time Howing Wolves comes around, there’s a different wind, less sinister more of a back drop then full of miscellaneous demons. Another crack of thunder around 5 minutes, and it’s time for some sine wave action.  That rising tone, that evokes 1950’s sci-fi movies.  This is one of the things that I love about a good scary sounds disc.  If it includes, and even appropriately places ‘sounds from outer space’ in the mix, it makes it all the more scary and other world-ly and disorienting.

This time the opening of a door announces our next transition of setting, and a chorus of de-tuned and phased incubui (plural of incubus).  And we transition into Evil Laughter.  Which was to be the name of the Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis’s 5 disc live box set that would have been released if either had lived long enough, the title taking a cue from “Miles Smiles” and “Live Evil.”  Elsewhere… there is the continuation of the entire spectrum of evil voices wailing and laughing.  Where you might ask?  That’s exactly the point of  the sine waves you heard earlier.  Are you in space?  You were just in a grave yard.  Perhaps you’re in the grounds keeper’s house.  Or in a crypt?  Maybe just shrunk down to size of an atom that happens to be on the back of a zombie’s neck?  You’ll never know.

You go through several doors, opening and shutting, hall-of-mirrors style, and you end up in a deathly slow Leslie tone cabinet.  Then high pitched harpsichord cords spike and shrill at you, while a Farfisa wails in the background, cello figures swipe at your feet, and a timpani gongs like some cruel and funny sound effect.  Screams dart in and out.  A descending/ascending piano leads you out of whatever alternate reality you were just in, while effected laughter and time-warp screams remind you of that compromised space.

The piano trudges on, only to devolve at the end of the keyboard into a John Carpenter vs. Bernard Herrmann vs. David Lynch orchestration of sound and instrumentation.  Rapidly cycling through the synths and bells and strange noises before going on to a proper synth-pop song.  Yes, 18 minutes in there is, unexpectedly but I don’t want to use completely, a synth piece that sounds a bit like the inspired panic of Gremlins before the shit goes down in the department store.  All decision time, this nice little ’80’s number builds to… a reprise of Creaking Doors. Kind of a let down, but the first of the whole CD I might add.  With about 8 minutes to go, there’s still some surprises.

A staccato cello section, preceded by screaming and Predator snarling, gives way to the wind again, and more Howling Wolves. With four minutes left the same piano skittering on the ground, Robotech/Voltron french horn cords, and ethereal wind comes back in for a reprise.  Usually this is a tried and true technique to account for the fact that if you are playing this on your front porch on Halloween, you’re going to have the repeat/loop button meshed and intergraded so that when it comes time for you to give away the last Reese’s, the neighborhood has hear the tape 10 times and knows exactly when the jump-in-continuity will occur.  And so those who make these sound publications take that into their minds and come up with the idea that what is on the beginning of the recording, should be at the end, so that when this tape is looped it will sound like the sound effects and mayhem have just seamlessly  continued.

Then something amazing happens.  Every sound effect stops.  Just squealing sine waves and feed back appear.  This time both narratively and sonic-ly they have no reference to the rest of the spooky sounds you just heard.  The wind and rain close out the 30 minutes.  Evoking a hell that is neither below or around or above us.  Pause for dramatic effect.

It occurs to me that the elements listed on the back of the CD are like themes, leitmotifs, breaks, refrains, breakdowns, riffs, chunks of sound, that occur throughout the cd, but have the distinct luxuory of describing the sound in a very direct way.  Creaking doors are actual sounds of doors creaking, whereas most Flaming Lips‘ song titles do essentially the same job but in a slightly more circuitous fashion.  So, I think unconsciously, I’ve been really excited about Halloween music because it in some ways resembles a DJ mix, or a symphony, or some multifaceted piece of music.  But more likely vice versa, since I’ve been listening to scary sound effect tapes longer than I’ve been listening to any kind of music intentionally.

Goodnight out there, whatever you are.