Notice: Function wp_enqueue_script was called incorrectly. Scripts and styles should not be registered or enqueued until the wp_enqueue_scripts, admin_enqueue_scripts, or login_enqueue_scripts hooks. This notice was triggered by the nfd_wpnavbar_setting handle. Please see Debugging in WordPress for more information. (This message was added in version 3.3.0.) in /home/u934273621/domains/ on line 6078
109 Stone Island – Marcus Bagala – A Storm Is Just A Storm – How I Make Music

109 Stone Island – Marcus Bagala – A Storm Is Just A Storm

Join Emmy Award-winning composer Marcus Bagala in a trip to the bottom of the ocean for magical realism audio drama Stone Island. Set in present-day Maine, Harry is followed by a journalist who aims to uncover the truth of his harrowing encounter with dark beings from a terrifying storm. In this episode, hear how peaceful ocean field recordings set Marcus off on a journey to write, produce and score a two-part story set in his childhood homeland. An immersive listening experience. Headphones recommended. 

The piece of music we’re listening to in the background is called A Storm Is Just A Storm. It’s a dark, folk-influenced soundtrack from the audio drama Stone Island today. We’ll break it down and get to why and how it was made. You are 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 Marcus Bagala. I’m a storyteller from New York city, and this is How I Make Music.

Welcome back to How I Make Music. Thanks for listening. So, Stone Island is set in the state of Maine, which is where I grew up. And it’s about a…you know, like, I don’t want to like give away too much, but sort of in the tradition of Stephen King. Good fodder for interesting podcast work is the magical realism world where it’s our world, but there’s something a little bit different about it.


I was in Italy sitting on this dock in a town called Pasano that’s along the Amalfi coast. And I had my phone out. The soundscape was so peaceful and interesting. Most people would take a picture or something, you know, but I really wanted to remember and have a recording of the sound of that space. And I just sat on the rocks and recorded for like hours. And that was one of my core starting experiences. I was just starting to put the world together as I got all of these hyper specific waves crashing onto rocks. And it’s just something that kept going, like from that point on. It’s gotten more high-tech over the years.

I’d just been gathering these sounds and then I was really looking for a place to use them. And then once Stone Island was a thing that was happening…because I made it with Gimlet, like they own it. When I was writing, I was like, man, I’d really love it if somebody made a movie of this or something, you know? So I keep bugging our licensing department. , you know, I’m like, Hey, don’t forget about me!


Stone Island is a podcast that I wrote and directed and sound designed and wrote the music for that came about through a fellowship project that Gimlet Media started in 2020. I am based out of New York. Primarily I’m a composer. Last year, when the opportunity to make Stone Island came up, I also decided that I was a writer and a director, which  was an interesting choice! There are certain things that I’ve always wanted to do as a composer in a podcast. And I’ve kind of been waiting for someone to make that show and then like, hopefully get hired to work on that show. I finally just kind of got tired of waiting for that.


Townes van Zandt was something.. it was another one that I was listening to while I was writing the story. And I think specifically the song that really kind of got me on the door with him was a song called ‘Lungs’. It was the credit music for one of the episodes of True Detective season one. That really evoked to me like the lead character in Stone Island, Harry. So I was just sort of trying to lean into that. And that’s where all the guitar influence came.

The score for The lighthouse by Mark Korvin is…I watched the film, The Lighthouse, which is absolutely amazing. It just layers this weird sense of dread. Through so much of the film, nothing is actually going on, but there’s just this oppressive dread. So much of that is the score. Iit’s in black and white. It’s a very strange film. It’s so cool. Yeah. I highly recommend it. I highly recommend it.

I would listen to a lot of Gustavo Santaolalla and The Last Of Us soundtrack when I was thinking about what the music for Stone Island should sound like. It’s very beautiful and emotive in a way that a lot of horror scores are not. Musical timbre is a great storytelling tool. As much as like the notes you pick, the sounds you pick are such a big piece of it. And that’s one of the bits of it that I love the most. 

I wanted to use music by this band called Schooner Fare, a group from Maine where I grew up. An old sea shanty tune. At the beginning of the song, it’s like their voices are almost like stretched out in, in this like way that I actually found really creepy. There is a tradition of Northeast maritime music and Schooner Fare is legendary if you grew up in Southern Maine, you know them. 


Played around with Dorian mode – if we’re getting really music theory-ey. And Dorian sort of says fiddle tune to me. The violin kind of represented the people who were, were in the story who got subsumed by the monster. I reached out to my friend, Claire Wellen who was this like, absolutely amazing violinist. She plays in a band called Youth In A Roman field, which I highly recommend checking out. They call her music ‘ghost folk’. As I was putting this score together, I was like, I have to get Claire to play on this!


In December of 2020, I got word that Make Noise, which is a synthesizer company specifically in the Eurorack world, was coming out with a new synthesizer. They had collaborated with Alessandro Cortini, who is this amazing synth composer. They had designed the synthesizer. They were able to put things through it and it would come out sounding like it had been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for, you know, 15 years. Like, I was gonna get it one way or another, but I was like, I have to have this synthesizer! And I really hope it comes in time for me to use it on Stone Island, because I was like, that degraded sound is like exactly what I was looking for to create the sound of the monster. We’re getting closer. We’re like, in the middle of recording actors, I’m like, okay I’m hoping it shows up soon!  And it did right as I started writing the score, the box came in the mail and I was like, okay we’re good. The score is gonna be great.

The way the instrument works is there’s this sort of sound source. And then it’s run into this like kind of shitty karaoke chip or something as you turn down the echo. So make the echoes like sort of further apart, the signal gets degraded. They expanded how far you can turn it down. So it just gets nastier and nastier and nastier.

And you can, you can hear that, like the way I’m using it is it’s turned down pretty low. And then I’m kind of like doing these sort of fall off gestures. Like the inverse of the Jaws thing, you know. Definitely my synth wizard moment for sure. And I used the crap out of it!


The acoustic guitar has come to represent sort of like Harry’s journey here. Take a listen. It’s very much about Harry and like where he’s going and what’s happening. The other musician, other than myself, who’s featured on the score is a woodwinds player by the name of Josh Plotner, who is remarkably talented.

When I reach out to Josh, I don’t know what instruments he’s gonna play yet. Like, I’ll text him and I’ll be like, I’m working on this thing. Um, like what instruments should you play? You know, cause he plays like 25 instruments, you know?! 

And I was like what is a woodwind that maybe like sort of close to a human voice? That I could sort of put in the score and he sent me some stuff back him playing a couple different instruments, and the one that really stood out to me was bass recorder. He, he did all these like cool extended techniques where he was sort of like blowing into it and like activating all these like overtones and stuff. And it just sounds like this, like weird, not quite voice, but not not voice kind of thing. Sounds like breathing almost.

I recorded myself playing, like when you take a wine glass and you wet your finger and you…Yeah. So I sampled myself doing that. Here’s how that sounds. Sort of like a nod to the lighthouse aspect of it, you know? Cause like lighthouses use these like big glass lenses, but like as sort of just a fun little Easter egg, like that’s what that was. It’s just like a nice ambient pad.

So I recorded a bunch of guitar and then I ran it into my computer and then ran it back out and really like processed it into this sharp kind of pulsing texture. And then the guitar sort of represented our lead character there. Like there’s a little bit of that, like programmatic approach to it. 


My family was on the sort of like poorer end of the spectrum. And, you know, like the beach was basically free, so we would go to the beach a lot. So I just spent a lot of time in those spaces. And I think it just kind of like, got into me a little bit.

I worked for my dad for a little bit when I was in high school and during the summers and I would – cause he restores old windows and doors. That’s like his business and there’s an island called Eagle Island that had the home of a gentleman by the name of Admiral Perry, who was sort of like an early Arctic Explorer. And he had a house on this island. And my dad was restoring the doors there and that’s like a small island. You have to take a ferry out to get it. So it’s like, I was pulling on these little memories and experiences with other islands and sort of like synthesizing them into this.I didn’t, I didn’t wanna murder the inhabitants of a, of a real island, you know?!


In my experience, as a composer, you’re so frequently asked to change things so it’s always like this battle of do I want to commit to using hardware, which is gonna be harder to go back and change if somebody asks for a change? And it’s like, yeah, like I do, because like, it sounds so much better. One of the cool things about Stone Island is because I was also producing the show, nobody was like, yeah, you have to change that. I was like, this is it, then it was it. And I never had to go back and change it. So I feel like I had a little more like leeway to be ballsy about what I was gonna put in there and, and whatnot. Cuz I wasn’t worried about someone having to ultimately approve.

I think that’s one of the things that I love about the job, right. Is that collaborative back and forth. It’s almost sometimes relieving to have a little bit of that like decision making taken off of your plate. Like you just make the stuff and then somebody else says yes or no. That’s part of why I do this in general. But at the same time, sometimes it’s cool just to not have to worry about it.


I really like how this piece ends. In the story, the lead, Harry, gets sort of taken into the light, almost. The piece, just sort of dissipates in this, I don’t know, almost like a fog, as opposed to ending .There’s not like a button or anything, it just kind of stops, which I think is really nice.

That’s about it for this episode, we’ll listen to the full piece in just a moment, but before we do, thank you for listening to How I Make Music, catch new episodes on How I Make or wherever you listen to your podcasts. We’ve been listening to the music featured in the audio drama called Stone Island. 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 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 A Storm Is Just A Storm, a dark folk-influenced piece, in its entirety. My name is Marcus Bagala, and thanks for listening to How I Make Music. Catch you next time.


Stone Island audio series

Marcus Bagala home

Youth In A Roman Field band

Josh Plotner musician


Music: Schooner Fare – Will Ye No Come Back Again

Music: Townes van Zandt – Lungs

Music: Gustavo Santaolalla – The Last of Us soundtrack

Music: Mark Korvin – The Lighthouse soundtrack


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.

* Support How I Make Music
* Subscribe to How I Make Music
* Visit How I Make Music

How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann