On the Sound and Music of “Cassiopeia”

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Sound Designer & Composer, Jack Arky

(at the beginning of the rehearsal process for Boston Court’s production of Cassiopeia, Sound Designer & Composer, Jack Arky, sent the following message to the cast and design team. We thought it would be interesting to share with our audience…so here it is)

A few months back, we spoke briefly with David [Playwright David Wiener] about composing music to underscore the VOICE character in Cassiopeia on stage. Originally, the concept was to provide some type of drone to accompany the voice so that the singer would have some background to draw on. But after conversation with David it was clear that he was comfortable with a more formal approach, as long as the intention honored the play’s direction and was specific.

There were several ways to go, but Emilie [Director Emilie Beck] felt strongly about the gospel aspects hinted at in the play. So a gospel direction became the first cornerstone in thinking about the “rules” for the music in the play. David had also mentioned the concept of memory and what type of effect might conjure this. This suggested to me the use of sounds reversed; played backward to indicate recollection.

In thinking about QUIET and his physics background (and the classical title of the play) I kept returning to a concept of the music of the spheres, an idea of Pythagoras that the planets “hummed” at a certain interval. Likewise, his theories were focussed on octaves, perfect fourths and fifths, which play nicely into the structure of blues and gospel. I was interested also in writing in a modal form, which has inherent ethereal properties. The Dorian mode became another cornerstone, as it is very similar to the minor blues scale and works well with the gospel aspects.

Finally, I was struck by Pythagoras’ interest in an ancient instrument he used to sound these perfect intervals. The instrument was called a monochord. I play a stringed instrument called an autoharp or zither and got a hold of an unusual picking device called an e-bow which sets a string to vibrating in a pure tone. Using the Dorian modal notes,  these resonating strings are the final cornerstone that make up the musical language for Cassiopeia.

PeSean will be mic’d for the performance and we plan to apply affects to her voice, making it travel and echo in the theatre and (hopefully) suggesting the flow of water.

Apart from the musical aspects, there are some traditional sound design elements that will be present: numerous internal sounds of a jet in flight; sounds of the jet in turbulence and in distress; light rain; and the sound of a large door closing (echoing the set piece on stage). No doubt we will hear not only that door closing with an echoey thud, but also that sound layered  in reverse, in keeping with the memory theme.

This all sounds a lot more heady when I write it down then I wish for it to be in practice. Hopefully it’s completely transparent and serves the play.



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