The Connotations of Sound (Part 2)

During the process of creating these pieces, in particular, the ‘Life is Theatre’ piece, it was very interesting seeing how the different timbres of each sound allowed for an emotional flow and progression, while the individual sounds themselves gave off distinctive connotations and painted a different narrative in each person’s head, as each person focused on different sounds to paint a story.

When I showed my first rough edit of the piece to a small group of my peers and Kyla, I asked them whether or not they felt it achieved the kind of emotional tones and qualities I wanted it to and then, for some reason they told me what they each thought the story was. When I was searching for my sounds I only thought about the unique sounds in my day to day life that had a unique emotional timbre which I could use to progress the to the climax of the piece. I didn’t think about the connotations of each sound, as the piece was meant to be purely experimental and emotional, whereas, because each sound used had a specific connotative and semiotic meaning to each individual, all they were searching for WAS the meaning and the story behind each sound. Some people felt it was An ordeal with a knife, made worse by an ambulance stuck in traffic.

When I went before the crit panel earlier today, both of the panel members had interesting things to say about my piece and both thought it was successful on the emotional front, and that the story behind it was a ‘public transport nightmare’, but Miyuki also pointed out some interesting ways to improve my piece, through pacing, rhythm and smoother flow from sound to sound. All of which I fully agree with and can hear in my piece now. I really want to work more with pacing and rhythm, working sounds in time with other sounds as well as emotions and feeling able to manipulate more as opposed to seeing how the cards drop, then just leaving them there. I also love the idea that through connotation and convention of classical storylines (cliche if you will), people are constantly anticipating and expecting repetition within the stories they see and hear, expecting familiarity and a cohesive story filled with meaning to develop, so they search for it until they find it. The constant search for meaning. In sound this is the development of semiotic cues, creating a world which we recognise and understand, which can oh so easily be destroyed with but one stray sound.

Assignment Three: ’24 Hour Folio Part 2.’ The Sounds of Theatre: The Mermaid

This is my second and final part of assignment three as well as my 24 hour folio; my studio based piece, for which I decided to create a short (very short) radio play, with a little help from my playwright friend, Yuki Iwama.

 A short fictional radio drama about the way we each lose a piece of ourselves to the other in marriage, and how that affects the children we inevitably create.

Written and Performed by: Yuki Iwama

Direction and Sound Design by: Alaine Thompson

Featuring sound effects from the following:
. Mike Koenig, ‘Crisp Ocean Waves’, available at
. Zarabadeu, ‘Heart Beat’, available at
. Jamius, ‘SnakeAttackVerbPuls’, available at
. alienxxx, ‘creaking_floor_upstairs’, available at
(All under CC BY 3.0.)

For this piece I chose to collaborate with an emerging writer in order to produce a sound work of her piece. While this sounded like a good idea in the beginning stages of this assignment, and actually did turn out to be a really great piece that I’m really proud of, I found myself wishing I’d had more time to spend with the piece, to digest it and really get to know the ideas in depth so I could explore it more on an in depth level rather than a literal, surface level through the sound design. In hindsight I would’ve worked out the material earlier in order to produce sounds on a more emotional than literal level.

While reading through the piece and speaking to the writer about the kinds of emotions she felt and what she was trying to get across, I got the sense that the piece was a very anxious and intense piece. This anxiety layered throughout not only the writing but the pacing and rhythm of the performance, cued me to layer in a sound I found through the viewing of a recent modern play, ‘Death and the Maiden’ for which the sound design seemed to only be this hollow, echoing, white noise that came in and key harrowing and alienating points. I used this same sound to draw focus and build this feeling of anxiety and alienation inherently present throughout the piece. This sound, while being naturally discordant, also created a nice eb and flow to the piece.

This alienation was also inspired by the theatre technique known as the ‘theatre of cruelty’ which employs a heavy assault on the senses in order to alienate the audience and bring across the point the play is trying to make. I feel both the constant flow of white noise as well as the foley recorded and sourced create an uncomfortable atmosphere, really assaulting the ear drums.

Also, for the match lighting and wave foley sounds in particular, they were first used literally as a kind of atmos and then used in a more metaphorical way to create a mood out of context, as opposed to a space linked to the memory in the words. This was interesting as the same sound created an entirely new and almost haunting effect. This wasn’t really inspired by a particular radio feature, more a large combination of every radio feature we’ve listened to in class as well as the ones that I’ve listened to in my own time, as it is an effective technique to shift the mood in the piece whilst also allowing the listener to remember what exactly you are shifting from, creating a discordant and alienating break through slight variation.

I feel that both of these pieces for project three have really explored the way in which sounds have important connotative values and shape our understanding more than we realise, and while I do feel that I explored this idea well in this brief, I really want to explore it more and see how I can create a narrative in a more connotative way, leaving it up to interpretation and using cues to create a space.

Assignment Three: ’24 Hour Folio Part 2.’ The Sounds of Theatre: Life is Theatre

For our third assignment we had to create two additional pieces for our ’24 Hour’ folio, this time focusing on field and studio sound production. The following is my take on an experimental field piece; ” Life is Theatre”.

A three act short experimental sound piece featuring the serendipitous moments of beauty, pain, conflict and sorrow found in our everyday lives.

Featuring Vivaldi’s ‘Spring Allegro’ as performed by John Harrison with the Wichita State University Chamber Players, available from the free music archive.
Under CC BY SA.

For this piece I really wanted to get across the way in which a theatre piece emotionally evolves over a period of time, essentially each definitive and distinct act of the play. Due to the nature of the piece, using a wide variety of sounds to produce a steady emotional progression, there had to be a great deal of control over the sounds I recorded and used, their timbre in particular, in order to create the desired effect. To do this I mapped out the progression I wanted the piece to take and brainstormed sounds I thought had the right kind of timbre for that section.


The section I had the most trouble finding sounds for was the climactic section, as this required the largest variation in both amount and timbre. However, I feel that I managed to gather enough variations in timbre through my sounds, as the progression in this sequence is like a parabola and eases the listener in.

As the piece is about “the theatre of life” I decided to layer classical music at all of the major sections, as classical music gives an air of theatre, as it is often associated with the theatrical, extravagant and high culture nature of theatre. I used Vivaldi’s ‘Spring Allegro’ to represent the ‘happy bubble’ section at the beginning, birds still heard over the top to emphasise that the sound of birds chirping and other such small moments in life are what inspire such theatrical and musical pieces. Beethoven’s ‘Corolian Overture’ is layered in towards the end of the climactic sequence, to emphasise the hectic and theatrical nature of the climax, timing sounds to the notes towards the end. And a tuning fork is used after the hollow, reverbed, echoing field sound (the point of sadness after the climax) to give the idea of remembrance and moving on, as the piece then returns to the exposition sounds of the footsteps, the birds and the public transport, only this time, instead of a train, it is a tram, and instead of concrete they are walking on gravel. The piece ends the same way it began, with the orchestra tuning up, ready to go again.

I was inspired in part by the way the Kitchen Sisters create their pieces, such as ‘Tupperware’, and the way director Robert Altman created his films, both layering sound upon sound so they are fighting each other to be heard, forcing the audience to pick what they hear instead of delivering valuable information. This instead creates a mood and a presence, using voice and sound for their musical and lyrical qualities.

I was also inspired by ‘Desert Mischief’ by Kerry Fletcher, the smooth transitions and lyrical nature of the field sounds used helped me to envision my own piece and the way that I could possibly match, mix and pair varying sounds together to both create a narrative as well as a flowing emotional composition.