Join A.P. Clarke, composer-creator for audio drama The Lost Cat Podcast, in an improvised piano score to a mystery monologue. An immersive listening experience. Headphones recommended.
The piece of music we’re listening to in the background is called Dark Streets. It’s one of the soundtrack pieces I wrote for The Lost Cat podcast. Today, we’ll break it down and get into why and how it was made. You will listening to How I Make Music, where audio drama composers get to tell their own stories. Every Wednesday, we break apart a song, soundtrack or composition and take a trip and how it was made. My name is A.P. Clark. I’m a musician and writer from London, England. And this is How I Make Music. Welcome back to How I Make Music episode 87, Dark Streets. by me A.P. Clark. Thanks for listening in. The Lost Cat podcast is a storytelling audio drama that details my continuing adventures and trying to find my cat, which is lost. It features monsters, ghosts, old ones, some cats, several ends of the world, and lots and lots of wine.
I’ve been a musician since I was a teenager, you know, started in rock bands. But then I discovered all of the 60s singer-songwriters. And that was just much more narrative driven. Ballad form and story and character and stuff. When podcasts exploded about five, six years ago, it was like Ah, I can do music and I can do storytelling and I can do spoken word stuff. I can do all of it in one thing. So that’s what got me into doing the Lost Cat podcast. So one of my influences at the time was I was listening to a lot of Sigur Ros, which is that post rock minimalist atmospheric style of music. Take a listen. It’s a beautiful sort of cyclical piano. Piano figures. It affected my practice as I plonked away at the piano. I was getting into all of the the like the minimalists, classical composers like Reich and Glass. And that obviously fits perfectly with the idea of scoring which goes underneath and doesn’t take focus off of the talking. So another influence that I was listening to a lot was the Magnetic Fields, all of the works of Stephin Merritt. A very specific song that I liked was his side project called The 6ths. I think the album was called Hyacinths And Thistles. And the impossibility of pronouncing that does give you an idea of his sense of humor. It’s called The Dead Only Quickly Decay. Take a listen to it. Obviously has that slightly Gothic but slightly funny but slightly dark but slightly warm and human. It doesn’t undermine the morbidness with funniness All of the Magnetic Fields is fairly wonderful for this stuff.
05:06 WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE
So as I was starting to make this podcast, Welcome to Night Vale was hugely popular is one of the first big independent podcasts, audio dramas to really break through. And so I was listening to it, and I was massively inspired by it. The fact that there is a song in the middle of all my episodes is just entirely because Night Vale did it. I was looking for a format, they had a format that was really good. And I really responded to so I just went with it. Because even Welcome to Night Vale, which is a famously sort of subversive queer podcast, still kept the Lovecraftian tone of fear of the other. So my unique input was to take the Lovecraftian tone, subvert the fear of the other and make it into a going towards the other, use what you got around you and make stuff. That’s what I did. I needed a format. So I borrowed stuff from Night Vale.
06:41 GOING DIY
I was freelance at the time, which is to say I was massively underemployed part of it was just to like, give myself a project. You can’t neurose about like, “is the idea ready yet? Is it good enough yet?” You just have to dive in and go with what you’ve got. I needed some music, it needed to be sort of dark and scary. So I just played something that sounded dark and scary moved on. The piece of music is improvised, it took 10 minutes. And I find that a very useful way of actually creating stuff. As an example, me and my friends made a feature length movie last year, called Apocalypse of the Blood Freak, which you can actually watch on YouTube, if you dare. We made it in five months. Cost 200 pounds. And it was all about just doing that DIY, put the show on with what you’ve got. And amazing things are possible when you do that.
The inspiration from the making the music was just I’ve got a hole in my aural landscape and I need to fill it with some dark blue scary music. Essentially, in the left hand, you’ve got a fairly you know, it’s a drone, basically, it’s that’s the bed of it, that’s the atmospheric bed that the right hand will sort of just sort of meld with the left hand. So it’s just sort of shaping the atmosphere. If you press hard, it’ll sort of come through really strongly. So mostly when I was improvising, I was I was I was worried about pressing the buttons too hard. It kind of didn’t matter how the music changed as long as it changed, that would shape the scene. You know, when the dialogue had an emotional shift. You as long as you had some sort of change in the music. It would it would light up at the moment and it would really really work. I’m not quite sure which organ I use, but you know, like the Wurlitzer is or the the Rhodes or something that often have a speaker that actually span around in the cabinet so that you’d have this whoo sound. And at that point, I could just put stabs in there. Created the atmosphere really, really well.
10:04 NEW INSTRUMENTS
So I am a guitarist. But one of the ways to spark creativity is often to just move to an instrument that you’re not comfortable with. And for example, the piano or the the MIDI keyboard synthesizer that I was using, pretty much, I could just play it one finger at a time. That’s about as good as I could do. So just improvising in that very, very simply, without trying to get complicated at all, really created a bunch of different atmospheres that I couldn’t create as a guitarist. So this is the theme tunes of The Lost Cat podcast, just written on piano, which I felt set the tone for the entire podcast. The interesting things here is the balance between repetition and variation. Because if you make it too repetitive, it’s boring. But if you vary it up too much it you lose the atmosphere. I would recommend not giving into trying to be wacky if you’re doing a funny thing, like don’t use slide whistles or anything, you can just have a piano playing a slightly dark piece, the comedy will still come through I promise.
12:00 FREEING YOURSELF
I think it’s very useful advice for those who are worried about what they don’t have the resources or the talent to create something to not get ground down and paralyzed with. I’m not quite ready for this yet. I haven’t quite figured it out, I can do better. Nope. I’ve got one weekend to write this story. So the ideas that are going through my head, that’s what the story is going to be about this week. And it frees you immensely.
And that’s about it for this week’s episode. We’ll listen to the full track in just a moment. But before we do that, thank you for listening to How I Make Music. Catch new episodes every Wednesday on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else you listen to podcasts. We’ve been listening to music featured in the audio drama called The Lost Cat podcast. To hear the full story or to check out my other compositions, please follow the links in the show notes. And check out what’s on offer at patreon.com/howimakemusic or visit howimakemusic.com for more on the aims of this show. How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, contact John Bartmann via the show notes. And now, here is Dark Streets, a moody, menacing organ drone in its entirety. My name is A.P. Clark, and thank you for listening to How I Make Music. Catch you next Wednesday.
* Don McLean – American Pie
* Sigur Ros – Með Suð Í Eyrum
* Steve Reich – Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards (San Francisco Symphony Orchestra)
* The 6ths – The Dead Only Quickly Decay
ABOUT THIS SHOW
How I Make Music is a dramatically edited sound experience where behind-the-scenes musicians get to tell their own stories. Every Wednesday, we challenge audio drama composers to break apart a song, soundtrack or composition and get into why and how it was made.
How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, visit johnbartmann.com