dark comedy

A Pop-tastic Soda-track! by Sean Sumwalt

With my collaboration with Mike James on the short film Smiley’s complete and qualifying for a number of film festivals, I thought I would do a little write up about the journey of making this rad score. I owe everything to Mike James and Paul Symons for bringing me on this kooky ride. They let me go wild with some really fun musical ideas.

So, the short itself is about a haunted pop machine that is out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere Midwest. A group of college students take a pot-laden trip to the machine and wish for their chosen flavor. After they each press the button marked “potpourri,” Mitch, played by Wilson Mack, is tormented by the outcome. It’s a crazy story with a wacky premise and there are a lot of tongue-in-cheek moments poking fun and unsettling us at the same time.

After watching the film with temporary music, I was filled with ideas. Let the sound of cans, no…EXPLODING cans permeate the score. I needed samples. Cut to —> kill room…


Someone watched a bit too much, Dexter! Eh? Yes, I used a hammer to smash cans, and no I didn’t have enough plastic up to keep from getting drenched, even though I was wearing a poncho.

Fun sound designer tip: How do you record things that could possibly get the microphone wet? Well, I’ll tell you – put a dry condom over it! Yep. ANYWAYS

I smashed cans with a hammer and a block of wood for about two hours. (variety!) Took that shrapnel and placed it in a trash bag. Proceeded to slam said trash bag at varying velocities on the ground and on the plastic trashcan. The fizzing after the hits was one of the best bits of audio that I recorded that night. I gathered up all the audio and made The One Stop Soda Pop Shop within an audio triggering software and went on to write the score - All the while drizzling in pieces of my soda pop slaughtering adventures.

On the more acoustic side of things, I used a number of effects on the strings. Playing with the idea of the ‘bubbles,’ I put a number of delays on close mic’d pizzicato strings which resulted in some really cool and interesting rhythmic patterns. I added my Moog Sub37 synth to give a little drive and some more aggression to crescendos of the string quartet, especially in Cream Soda. (I think of the Moog as the bass in a string quintet, but one that you can control the width of in the mix!) The ‘fizz’ came through in textures from the Moog as well. By riding the opening and closing of the envelope filter on some of the pads played by the Moog, I could get that same ‘fizzy’ texture.

Those are just a few of my techniques used in this short! See if you can pick out more spots where I used the sounds (and ideas!) of soda pop!