Friday, 19 August 2011

The Day the Dinosaurs Came Back

Last year I found myself working on a project in a Great Yarmouth primary school, building up to a play written in collaboration with the children. My tasks included setting their lyrics to music playable on xylophones by 9 - 11 year olds. And then rehearsing the band with the singers. As anyone who has worked on school performances will know, the children usually give every indication of being completely unprepared, especially in the final rehearsal. Somehow it all comes right on the day, in front of their parents, and everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief.

The playwright in charge of that project is currently working on a play to be performed by children in a public park tomorrow and asked me to come up with some sound effects. Tomorrow is also the first performance of a revival of Thumbelina at Norwich Puppet Theatre and I have been spending the week coming up with a brand new soundtrack. This prior commitment means I could only provide ideas and materials for The Day the Dinosaurs Came Back. So I went along to the park last Sunday afternoon to run through my ideas with the director and her assistant.

As the name suggests, this show has dinosaurs in it. As there will be no electricity available I went for an all acoustic aesthetic and took advice from a friend who is a junk percussion specialist. I also visited Colman's (of mustard fame) factory, the piano shop and the man who runs my local bicycle shop. Everything we use needs to be portable because the action moves between various locations in the woods. For the three music makers I provided:

3 plastic barrels of 46 gallon (220 litre) capacity
2 didgeridoos
1 bass piano string stretched over a baton
1 nylon ground sheet

The barrels make great resonators. Also, if two different designs of barrel are dropped alternately in a slow walking rhythm it sounds just like a dinosaur walking through the forest. I had been given some old inner tubes from the bike shop with which I had intended to make beaters but dropping the barrels gives a better sound and is less fiddly on the move.

Blowing the didge into the barrels, remembering to touch the end against the wall of the barrel, makes a great groaning sound.

Scraping a piano string with a piece of metal, a spoon or a key for instance, has a long pedigree, most famously as the origin of the sound of Dr Who's TARDIS on take-off and landing. With the added reverberation of the barrel it's easy to picture Britain's favourite timelord materialising a few yards away. But it can also sound just like a dinosaur calling from beyond the trees.

Finally the groundsheet, tied to a tree at one end and flapped vigorously, makes a pterodactyl-in-flight sound that would even fool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I sincerely hope this play is performed elsewhere on a day I can make.

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