THE SOUND OF DAGON
written by Keith Carmack
I would argue that sound makes up half of a film. There’s what you see and what you hear, both are equally important. How many children have picked up a stick and suddenly found themselves in a lightsaber duel? The visual of that cool, glowing laser doesn’t quite complete the experience. It’s the sound, the buzzing swish and the crack as two lightsabers clash give the iconic weapons such personality.
Before I wrote a single note of music for Ben’s DAGON video, I knew a few characteristics it had to have. It had to sound like a horror comic, so I would be using a minor key, possibly a diminished scale, and it needs to be minimal. Artists of all kind know that minimal does not mean easy. In fact, it is often extremely difficult to achieve something that’s minimal but still works.
The first sound I queued up was a single piano note, slathered in reverb, at the same frequency of a radar ping. DAGON is the recount of a man who witnessed something from deep beneath the ocean, the very sight of it torturing the man for the rest of his life. I chose the radar ping to signify that such a creature was coming. The ping is heard eight times throughout the piece. Eight is one of the perfect numbers. The first perfect number is three, if you need more than three, go eight. I can’t tell you why this is, but it works in many things from design to comedy. Sideshow Bob steps on those rakes eight times. It’s funny the first time, but not again until the eighth. Point proven, moving on. A drone wells up throughout the opening section to create a sense of tension while the pings ring out at varying lengths. The other element that can be heard is the recorded sound of being underwater. To accomplish this, I wrapped a condom over a microphone and dunked it in a bucket. I first thought of this for a school project years ago and walked into my classroom thinking I was a sound design prodigy. Any ego I had begun to form was quickly squashed as I realized not only had this been done many times before but others in the same class had similar projects. Nonetheless, it's a nice effect that I sprinkled into the video.
Ben finally reaches the reveal of the project he's about to undertake, and we slam into the title card with a pulsing sub-bass hit that decrescendos into a new drone, spiced up with a flange effect. We finally hear the main theme of the video played by piano. On the repeat, a bell sound is added, and this is where things get interesting. The chord changes in the piano are such that the bell is able to chromatically descend, step-by-step, until it reaches the same note as the radar ping. To me, the ping was the central point and that theme needed to include it somehow. I knew I could figure out how to write changes that would allow for the chromatic line to work. The problem is, they also needed to be good. I went through several iterations of the piano theme before something both excited me and allowed for the chromatic line. Once it came together I knew, if nothing else, I would be proud of the piece.
To finish off the video, while Ben delves into more personal details, the theme is repeated. This time the drone is at a lower note, which changes the mood and signifies a new topic. To continue building on the theme, I add a string section with large, emotional sweeps of crescendo and decrescendo. We hear the ping again at the end of the theme’s phrase when Ben thanks everyone who helps him with his book. The picture fades out but things aren’t as they seem as one more glimpse of a shark fin glides across the screen and the radar pings one final time.
Like many musicians who have studied jazz and/or classical music, the landscape of music production today can be very frustrating for me. I think people sometimes forget that there isn’t a “make music” button like the quality of licensed music seems to suggest. Everything you hear in the DAGON video, from the effects to the music and the way they interact with each other, was created. It took time. It took passion. It took failure and luck. My hope is that it kept you entertained enough to hear Ben out while he described a project that he has wanted to create for years.