You may be aware that I recently scored a theatrical adaptation of Dracula, penned by the one and only Phil Ford (The Sarah Jane Adventures, Wizards vs Aliens) and directed by Chris Finney (Wizards vs Aliens’ very own Caractacus Crowe!).
By necessity, I worked entirely from script – I didn’t even see the play until closing night! Normally, I’d go in during rehearsals and sculpt the music around what was being done on stage, timing scene changes and the like. That wasn’t possible this time, so I just had to use past experience and Phil’s script to guide me. Even though it was a little “seat of the pants”, it was a lot of fun to do. And luckily, it all worked well.
Phil’s adaptation stuck very closely to Bram Stoker’s novel so it was nice and dark. Chris and I tried out a few different ideas, but settled on a modern-sounding, synth-based score despite the play’s being set in the Victorian era. Here’s a little excerpt:
I used a lot of dark drones backed up with a bowed piano (one played by running a bow across the strings, rather than by hitting them in the usual way) and some ebow electric guitar (which I recorded with my own fair hands, despite not having practiced the guitar in… some time…). What’s an ebow? Pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an electric bow. It uses a feedback circuit (among other things) to create string vibrations when placed near the guitar’s pickups, so that instead of a “plucked” sound, you get an eerie, bowed sound.
There were a few times that I used sul ponticello strings to eerie effect. That’s a technique where the players play close to the bridge of the instrument to create a glassy, unstable sound; in fact, dependent on how hard and how close to the bridge the player plays, sometimes the notes actually jump entire octaves. I also used a grand piano and an upright piano, which I put through a number of delays to create a disorienting effect, and a harmonium, which I mangled a bit with various plugins so that it was both familiar and alien-sounding. (I’ll talk more about plugins, including using delays, later on).
Chris also wanted to explore the idea of a heartbeat – appropriate enough for a vampire story! – so I used a kick drum and two synths to create a musical approximation of a heartbeat that I could play in or out of time with the music, dependent on what effect we wanted to create. I also got the chance to write some Victorian parlour music – a nice little waltz for string quartet for the scene set in Lucy’s engagement party. Not something you get to do every day!
Overall the music, lighting, sound design, direction, and acting created a great show, and one I was really proud to have been a part of. And the music will live on – I’m currently reworking it slightly, and it will be released in time for Halloween as a library album – one of many I’ll tell you about in a future post!