I just like composed until six in the morning. And then I sent them a bunch of things and I was like, do you want to be like Stranger Things? Here’s eighties horror. Do you want this kind of horror? I really did not do anything groundbreaking.– Caleb Ritchie, composer for Thirteen audio drama
Join classically trained pianist and composer Caleb Ritchie in a lighthearted trip into anthology audio drama Thirteen. Island witches, ocean marimbas and Rachmaninov all formed the basis for the composition ‘Barrier Islands’, a piece for which Ritchie chose instruments based on the sound of water. An immersive listening experience. Headphones recommended.
All right, let’s do it. The piece of music we’re listening to in the background is called the Barrier Islands. It’s the end tag from an episode of Thirteen called The Barrier Islands. Today, we’ll break it down and get into why and how it was made. You’re listening to How I Make Music, where audio drama composers get to tell their own stories. In this show, we break apart the music of a fictional podcast and take a trip into how it was made. My name is Caleb Ritchie. I’m a composer from Kentucky, and this is How I Make Music. Welcome back to How I Make Music, Barrier Islands by me, Caleb Ritchie. Thanks for listening in.
Thirteen is a slow burn anthology horror series that meshes the creepy and fantastical with, like, human experiences of grief. Every episode is a standalone story. They all feature dialogue and a full score and it blends audio drama with narrative fiction. Really rich inner world for the main characters. This episode features a protagonist coming home to the Barrier Islands to attend his brother’s funeral. He starting to feel a call to walk into the ocean. We have to have some element of fear.
There’s a lot of music in this show. It’s scored pretty much front to back for every episode and every episode being different, it’s almost always new thematic material. The big bad theme was inspired heavily by Rachmaninoff. It’s a minor etude, the Opus 39. Number two, take a listen. I took classical lessons my whole life. And I majored in applied piano and then music technology. Uh, and I was mostly focused on producing and composing music in the studio. I did like a lot of house tracks and stuff like that. How embarrassing! The goal was I always wanted to go into composing for video games. Even though everybody told me you’ll never get a job. As a pianist, you’ll have to do music technology. It was quite the opposite for me. I kept getting all these gigs as an accompanist, and then I never got scoring gigs until several years later.
This is a very weird callback, but Dan Gibson was this Canadian audio recorder and engineer who recorded a lot of nature sounds. And it was always called new age, but I don’t think it was actually a part of anybody’s spiritual practice per se. It was just, I don’t think there was a good label. That sounds like something from guardians of Atlanta’s, which was a very corny title for one of the dolphin albums. It was very weird. It was, it kind of like also integrated the idea that there was like non-pitched music and, like, nature sounds and atmosphere and like foley can be part of a really musical experience. I always think back fondly on those CDs. I still listen to a few of them to date myself with CDs.
The super Nintendo was a piece of hardware that actually upped the game for music. I think like the opening to The Secret of Mana there’s this piano track, repeating notes in the background. One of the hallmarks of the super Nintendo was this tape delay, because you could have this channel that was not taking up any additional space. I ended up using it all the time everywhere. I’ve got like tracks on an album that hasn’t come out yet. Almost all of it has delay somewhere. It’s peculiar, but it definitely came from the super Nintendo. Cause I played it a lot when I was younger.
Thirteen is produced by the production company, Imaginary Comma. They’re also based in Lexington, Kentucky. Before I heard about this opportunity, I didn’t listen to a lot of audio drama. I had hitched a ride to a gig. I was accompanying a student with her mom and they were the ones that actually let me know about Imaginary Comma and Thirteen, a new audio drama. They’re looking for a composer and like sent it to me and was like, Hey, you should do this. I kind of went on a flash tour at work, like with my headphones in listening to like the first podcast they had put together called Olive Hill and No Sleep and Scare You To Sleep and some other horror podcasts. I just like composed until six in the morning. And then I sent them a bunch of things and I was like, do you want to be like Stranger Things? Here’s eighties horror. Do you want this kind of horror? I really did not do anything groundbreaking.
09:18 MUSIC BREAKDOWN
So I curated and chose these instruments for this episode, so that it would be very evocative of this kind of coastal ocean. Very excited to do an ocean or island theme soundtrack for this series. So granulated whale song ended up in the soundtrack, three different ways. To me, this sounds almost just like a kind of like fuzzy marimba. It doesn’t necessarily sound like a whale sound, but just knowing that that’s the source material that it came from felt good for me, even if it does sound like a marimba, I’m like, but it’s an ocean marimba.
The penny whistle is the best $20 that I ever spent. Like I’ve loved the sound ever since I saw Titanic at a young age, almost a counterpart to the kind of solo soprano part that was happening. It was…repeated minor second, very bendy, very drenched and reverb, coming from the distance, almost like the ocean calling you and very hypnotic. And the pan flute was just this very breathy alternative to the pennywhistle. It was oftentimes doubling it just an octave lower and it has this just incredibly breathy, airy quality to it. Something about that breath, almost even kind of bled into sound effects like the the wind of the ocean. Kind of bled into the airiness that was in the pan flute.
Piano. I needed a bass part and none of the other patches were working. So I was like, I’ll just use piano. That’s the fun part about being a pianist is you can just be like, I’ll just go back to this instrument and you can just plug it in really quickly. The siren is probably the most literal instrument that I used. It’s a solo soprano. To me. It was very much the call of the ocean. The seductiveness of, you know, being brainwashed and hypnotized into walking in there. The solo soprano is used a lot in themes that have to do with the island witches, and a lot to do with the idea of being placed under a spell where you’re not behaving for your best interests.
There are some moments in the episode where I have the harp and the penny whistle or the harp and the pan flute. And using those kinds of plucks that are very gentle, but firm. The choir was a really good pad-like accompaniment for the soprano. I was a tenor in college. I haven’t really sung since then. I’ve accompanied a lot more. It pays better. Take a listen to the celete. It’s very dreamlike. Under this part of, again, a hypnotic experience, it’s somebody who’s starting to lose themselves. And in this instance, maybe consider walking into the ocean, never to return. Fuzziness between reality and the imagination. So upon Googling, it does appear to be called celeste, which means I’ve embarrassed myself in a lot of different contexts over the past few years. It, today I learn, you know!
Knowing how to play complicated technical things on the piano and understanding my touch has been almost like it has opened up as many worlds for me in these virtual instruments as programming it all from scratch would. Like there’s an element of performance knowledge that I feel like eclipses whatever technological knowledge I might have.
That’s about it for this episode. We’ll listen to the full piece in just a moment, but before we do that, thank you for listening to How I Make Music, catch new episodes on HowIMakeMusic.com or wherever. We’ve been listening to music featured in the audio drama called Thirteen. To hear the full story or to check out my other work, follow the links in the show notes. We video recorded this episode, check it out and support the musicians of audio drama by becoming a patron at Patreon.com/HowIMakeMusic. Top-tier patrons get a mention right here in the credits of every episode, How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. And now here’s Barrier Islands, the end tag to the episode of Thirteen Barrier Islands in its entirety. My name is Caleb Ritchie, and thanks for listening to How I Make Music. Catch you next time.
Music: Etude Tableaux Op39 No2 in A Minor – Sergei Rachmaninoff (Lugansky)
Music: Secret of Mana Opening Theme by Hiroki Kikuta
Music: Your Welcome Voice by Dan Gibson
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How I Make Music is where audio drama composers get to tell their own stories. In a dramatically edited sound experience, we challenge composers to break apart a song, soundtrack or composition and get into why and how it was made.
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