Cluster worlds are one of the great mysteries of space travel – planet-sized objects that have fused together from junk and flotsam left behind by space travellers. The archaeologist who solves the mystery will become rich and famous overnight. Bernice and her son Peter are stranded on Absence, a cluster object that has been settled by a cartel operating beyond human space. Lamarque Aslanides is leading a mission to explore the interior of Absence. For Bernice it will mean a long and painful period of separation from her son. When Peter’s life is placed in danger, Bernice is powerless to help.
Sound design, performances, writing… Everything moulds together formlessly to create something less a play and more a piece of art.
Behind the Scenes
I don’t really remember much about the production of this story. I had to listen to it again to remember exactly what I did to achieve the sound required. It wasn’t because I rushed through this story, far from it. Things went unusually slowly and I ended up missing the deadline for the finished product to be sent off to the CD manufacturers. I have since learned my lesson and this will never happen again! The director wanted edits sent to him by scene rather than a whole edit, which made things worse! However, the result of ‘taking my time’ gave results that were better than I had hoped. The only futuristic story I’ve had before Absence was Masters of War and even that was more of a classic Doctor Who feel with modern realism rather than enhanced sounds of a surreal future in space. With Absence I had to imagine I was in a futuristic world when coming up with sounds to fill the voids of space within the production. It wasn’t easy…
Absence was a real challenge. In the script it is stone dead silent throughout most of Peter’s expedition scenes and during Benny’s scenes the atmosphere of Absence is described as a loud fusion of an industrial sound. I had to come up with good sound design that wasn’t overbearing in half of the play and in the other half I had to make sure that it didn’t sound like Peter was recorded in a studio.
Industrial chaos is difficult to pull off in audio format. On film it’s not so hard because if you can barely hear the characters speaking you can usually make out what they’re saying by either lip reading or subtitles. The soundtrack is also mixed in 5.1 so there are more speakers to use, which means you can distribute more sounds and get less distortion. You can’t do any of this for audio drama. The vocals must always dominate with sound effects underneath and music mixed appropriately with the sound design. If this mix is wrong and the listener has trouble hearing what is happening then the storytelling is compromised.
There are these police robots that patrol this world of junk. I created the usual robotic movement sounds but in the script they talk. No dialogue is written so I had to come up with a way to make them talk but without actually talking! I recorded my own voice babbling some random phrases that I thought they might be saying and put them through a series of distortion filters. I wanted them to sound scary and intimidating. Hopefully I achieved that.
The music composed for Absence was loosely based on the Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I have a bit of a soft spot for this film and it is the music that is responsible. I love the mysterious alien sound Goldsmith created for the film and his use of electronic samples and the fantastic sound of the Blaster Beam really makes the score unique. I wanted the same style of sounds for Absence but with limited time I couldn’t build my own Blaster Beam, something I have always wanted to try. I gave the music a solo female vocal to tell the listener of the somewhat lonely feeling Peter has in his suit and the strange things going on under the surface. It allowed the story to flow forward better with so little sound design in Peter’s scenes. I used an atmospheric electronic drone sound when Benny is doing the whole diary thing. Proceedings were darker in tone because of this simple musical idea. I wanted to darken the tone because of how helpless Benny feels when she can hear Peter in deep peril fighting robots and the betrayal of the man she put her trust in to look after her son.