Sound-as-Horror: an audioscript I am writing using the concept, the scariest sound I have ever heard, and reference to "The Pattern" and "A Neighbour's Landmark" (and others) as example

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Summary: It is time for me to get around to writing this audioplay that has been in my head. About a strange sound in the woods, and the horrible consequences that result for those trying to solve it...

BLOT: (30 Jul 2012 - 01:05:38 PM)

Sound-as-Horror: an audioscript I am writing using the concept, the scariest sound I have ever heard, and reference to "The Pattern" and "A Neighbour's Landmark" (and others) as example

I am fascinated by ghost stories, horror stories, and other all-around weird tales that use sound as a central-to-plot device. To a degree, a short story (or vignette/scene of a longer piece) is a perfect medium for sound-as-horror because words on a page can be shaped into whatever sound the reader finds the scariest, and longer works might burn out their welcome through repetitious meanderings about what a sound is and what it could mean. Sounds-as-horror generally builds upon incongruity and over time it ceases to be "the sound that is weird" and becomes "the sound that is there". In House of Leaves, a prosaic footnote about echoes lays the groundwork for the significance of an echo that occurs later. Leaves also has a scene in which an S.O.S. pattern of knocks occurs, unexpectedly, as a call to action. The fact that they did not fit the geometry of the house is nearly forgotten by all but the reader in hectic moments that follow.

There are a number of ways stories can use sound—whistles in the dark, screams, slithering sounds in the walls, strange tunes being hummed, ghostly knocks, mad fluting, eerie cello music, the resonant frequency of the universe, otherworldly shouts, etc, etc—but a few stand out as primarily about the way that sound itself can add up to horror. "The Call in the Dawn", by William Hope Hodgson, has no horror element that I remember outside of a strange cry—"The son of man!"—coming from the middle of a seaweed choked sea. With James's "A Neighbour's Landmark", you have a sharp noise related to a riddle about something that walks in Betton's Wood. And hearing this noise darkens the mood and haunts the soul. I've written about "Landmark" before and discuss some of the before-and-after hearing the sound moments. In Campbell's "The Pattern", sporadic but unsourced ghostly screams echoing out over a generally pastoral countryside link the past to the future, and it all ends in gore.

If you fail to find a sermon out of sea-weed unsettling, nor a whistle in the woods, nor a scream over a country-side; it is possibly because you have made the mistake of merely reading the sound in its natural place to yourself—a scary story—rather than the place-in-story. Try and recall how tiny scratches or knocks on neighbors doors in the dead of night, little sounds that mean nothing, signifying merely a late night visitor or at worse some small animal outside, can fill you with a moment of confusion, with your heartbeat the loudest thrum in the tempo of the ambient.

Possibly the scariest moment in my life involved incongruous sound. I was walking across the back portion of my family land, and then in a place where there was an old cabin but it had been locked and abandoned for years, I started hearing a knock. A loud one. After a few *KNOCK*s, it became a pounding, like a passionate kicking against a door. Except it wasn't coming from the cabin, it was coming from a small outhouse behind the cabin, also padlocked from the outside, and the only way something could be alive inside of it is to have been locked in for over half a decade. Now suddenly it wanted out so bad it was shaking the whole outhouse with its pounding. This is where ghost stories were born, because had I ran that day I would be telling people about it as a ghostly tale, a strange pounding I heard one day but could never, scientifically, explain. Instead, I went closer and eventually found that it was simply a dog, no doubt tracking some small game or bird, grabbing hold of the underside of the door and yanking hard, causing a lever-action across the old flimsy hinges which slammed the whole top of the door against the frame with great force. The dog was hidden from view by some tall grass, initially, and the sound which was only just like a knock, became not the sound of a door slammed against frame but the sound of a door being knocked up so hard i twas being slammed. And while the physical knocking was scary, it was the sound that shattered the otherwise boring walk.

I have a short story I worked on a couple of years back that starts out, "Alabama has its own ruins, though many do not know it that do not live here: old bridges and dead homes and clearings in the woods where the grass does not grow and gravestones." In it, there is a house out by a small river where tragedy keeps striking, and a patch of woods with an old flatrock slab, and once a day on that slab a complete silence falls. Never could end the damn thing...but I know I wanted it to end with that feeling of an otherwise boring, nearly abandoned place, being erupted with weirdness, as happened to me on that walk near that old collapsed cabin.

Except, and in violation my own "short stories are the best place for sound as horror" statement, I think I now want to make it an audioplay. Truth be told, I started out just wanting to write a short play about "A Neighbor's Landmark" and then my older story blended in. What I am thinking is the audio equivalent of found footage, a group of four friends [currently all male, but this may change, as may the number] who track out to a spot rumored to generate strange, harsh sounds every day at sunset [yes, sounds, now, instead of weird silence]. A few hikers and campers have talked about it over the years, since those who travel that way find the spot generally favorable looking: a flat piece of outcropping that would make a fine place for sleeping bags or have a campfire. None stay long and over the years it has developed a number of fairly narrowspread rumors [locals have heard tale of it, but not everyone even knows where it is and there are disputes about when the sound occurs and what it sounds like and such]. Finding the spot, the guys notice some weird mojo—possibly up to malformed animals but definitely some weird natural patterns developing—but the guys are cocky and plan to stay there for several days and record it and write up a report on it and try and find out the cause of the sound. They start to have some weird dreams, become sort of addicted to the sound, and bad stuff generally follows. I still don't have a precise ending, or it might be better to say that I have an idea for an ending but not quite a path to get right to where I need it to be, but I am really close.

Had I written it last year, when the first leap between my original story and "Landmark" popped up, it might have been a bit weak. It would have literally been some guys in the woods talking about weird sounds until they presumably kill one another. In this past year, I've read some more Laird Barron, Adam Nevill's The Ritual, and Ramsey Campbell's The Darkest Part of the Woods. I've also had an idea, which I will use here, for what is basically the audio-track of a video-recording. It is shaky-cam without visuals. Part of this is necessity. I do not want to make a movie, but any group of 20-somethings investigating weirdness is going to be whipping out cameras and cellphones now, not audio recording devices. I also like the way that I can manipulate what is seen or not seen by what they talk about. And since this is all about the way sounds shape our experience, I think focusing on what is said instead of what is seen can be vital.

Well, I gues I better get cracking with it. I need to finish a basic treatment and background, get an outline finished, and starting scripting the anchor scenes. I'll definitely keep you all informed as it goes on.



Written by Doug Bolden

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