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The Sounds of 1984

Sound design and music selection is always an integral part of our productions, and “1984” was no exception. It did present some unique challenges. Several characters in the play only appeared as either a sound or a video cue–what should the quality of that sound be? What kind of music would exemplify this world? What other sounds would enhance it?

Scott Kump, our sound designer for the show, worked closely with videographer Brent Kuster, to achieve just the right quality for all the sounds. You’ll hear a difference between the announcer’s voice on-camera, versus his disembodied voice in the Ministry of Love. This is different again from the flatter sound in the arrest sequence (where we are presuming the equipment being used is cheaper).  Goldstein’s voice is given a deliberately vintage, distorted quality.

Scott also composed the minimalist music for the scene changes.  I wish there was an ideal time to play the entire composition, as I found it to be very effective.  Scott also wrote a haunting minor-key version of the children’s song “Oranges and Lemons”–this little song  is an important part of the storyline. We also recorded a piano version of it, and recorded some children’s voices singing it. (Rachael Kuster, daughter of our actress playing Julia, is one of the voices.)

The Prole song, “It was only a hopeless fancy…” , proved to be another challenge. The script calls for the Landlady to sing it, and the lyrics are also referenced in the book, but our research revealed that the words were Orwell’s and the melody did not exist. Orwell’s book talks about Party machinery which mechanically writes shallow popular music for the Proles, and we assume that this is supposed to be one of them. I wrote a very simple melody for the lyrics to be sung acapella by Lynda Busbee, who plays the landlady.  Scott also arranged the Prole song as a romantic instrumental for the end of Act One.

The script calls for a harsh trumpet fanfare to announce the beginning and ending of all Party messages.  Ours employs “tri-tones” in its harmonics…so if it sets your teeth on edge, it is supposed to!  We opted, however, to limit its use to the beginning of important messages.

Finally, we added an ominous helicopter sound effect during the arrest sequence. In an earlier scene, the Newscaster mentions that the Thought Police have a helicopter which can “be there immediately.”  We hadn’t thought about the play-on-words involved with the children’s rhyme “Here comes a chopper…”  until then!  But it made sense to include the sound of the helicopter as we heard that line quoted on the telescreen.  I’d love to know if anyone in the audience got the pun!


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