Versa Media

A Cacophonous Symphony of Cicadas!! by Sean Sumwalt

A show that revolves around cicadas… Would you say this is a rather interesting premise for a moody sci-fi drama? Cicadas? Spying on humans? Communicating with aliens bent on the study and torture of Homo sapiens?  Featuring Lew Temple of The Walking Dead and Unstoppable fame, his leading role in RAPTURE as Brian LaRue will surely have your skin crawling before the end credits!

When I was told about this episodic series and the setting for it, I was immediately enthralled with the idea.

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At the onset, the gents over at Versa Media went out and made their own field recordings of cicadas. They somehow secured a bunch of them and recorded about 3 hours of content of the bugs crawling all over the microphone and buzzing/flapping their wings. Their intent, initially, was to use those recordings for the sound design. (or background) There would be differing degrees of cicada sounds in every shot. Forwarding the narrative that this infestation was really an invasion!! I wanted to take it one step further and incorporate these sounds into the score as well. I took those recordings and lengthened, trimmed and mutilated a large number of sound bytes that I thought could be musical, either as shifting pads or percussive punctuations. Here are some of the things I ended up starting with.

The wing flaps seemed the best choice for effects. And after some careful manipulation, I got this…

I put all these ideas (and many more not covered here) together in a compilation, a short Thanksgiving teaser for the team!

It would be another year before we had actual footage that I put these machinations to the test in a trailer for the series. (Though, at one point, it was called THE THREE, now it is called RAPTURE )

Now, the thing about scoring trailers is that they are almost always edited to hook you whether or not the content of the film is ever being portrayed in the same tone. When it came to actually scoring the series, the content was much more subdued and moody. NONE of the themes worked! Sure, a few of the cicada sounds could work for some of the more action oriented scenes, but the sweeping violins were too melodramatic to be effective. It needed more of an ambient approach to really capture the right detached feel. Synth to the rescue!!!

Now, this was the second cue that I wrote for the series but I really think it captures the off kilter nature and PTSD laced past of LaRue’s character. Being a war veteran, we wanted to give Brian somewhat of a noble/heroic sound with brass. Of course, I had to put my spin on it with the distorted and fragmented brass lines that give us a peek into his disjunctive mind. His staccato synth theme steals the foreground lined with muted string textures. Clanging electric guitars jangle behind the theme to add a bit of a rusty quality to round out this cue.

When it came to action though, I sought another outlet to use those cicada sounds. LaRue’s abduction was the perfect scene to bring them back!

The 3-notes descending by half-step motive represents the aliens descending to abduct LaRue. When the distorted synth is introduced in combination with the strings I add another half-step. The aliens have officially arrived. The scene was set up to be such a cacophony of sound that the following resolution (near silence) would be the audience’s only relief. All of the themes and subtext I had been building into every scene comes together here in this massive onslaught of sound!

Hope you are enjoying these snippets of my creative process!

Thanks for reading!