Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

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HT: Sound designer’s colorful brain creates Cardinal’s walkabout experience

Herald-Times | Connie Shakalis

March 28, 2021


So you want to record a radio play? Just turn on your smartphone’s recording app and round up a script and some actors.


Not so fast.


I had no idea of the technology that goes into creating these plays, in which one’s imagination soars off the high-dive, guided, no, pushed off, by talented staff members.


Cardinal Stage’s upcoming walkabout radio play series, “Sherlock in Btown,” will be an accumulation of efforts by actors, director Kate Galvin, writers and maybe most importantly, the tech crew. It’s two Sherlock Holmes mysteries set in Bloomington and offers not only self-guided options, but also guided events and interactive activities.


Last fall I had trouble following Cardinal’s walkabouts; the voices, mostly women’s, sounded alike to me, and the action went off in opposing directions, spinning my head and leaving behind my comprehension.


But these new radio plays look as though they will bring fresh ideas and remarkable technology, to keep the audience guessing — in a good way.


Radio plays rely completely on what the audience hears. No props, costumes, sight gags, facial expressions, choreography, gyrating pelvises to bring the audience to the scene. It seems like a daunting project, and Robert Hornbostel, sound designer/editor, will again prove his expertise in having us abandon our TVs and laptops to spend two hours with Cardinal (one hour per episode).


After hearing from Hornbostel I’ll never watch a movie the same way again. All those sounds of feet stepping, bottles opening, flesh ripping are products of technology so advanced, particularly in the past five years, that almost any mood or action is just a sound designer’s story-board away.


Hornbostel is responsible for the auditory experience of each scene in each of these mystery plays. First, he meets virtually with director Galvin to understand her vision for the story. Next comes work with Corey Hollinger, recording engineer, to set up space and equipment to record actors. Hollinger and Galvin later comb through the recordings, flagging sections they want to keep.


“From here I create a storyboard of these recordings,” Hornbostel said in an email, “lining up all the sections and creating a road map for the story.”


Then come the musicians and Hornbostel’s own library of virtual instruments to create “intro/outro” music, dramatic stingers — quick stabs of music — and other music to give theatrical polish.


“All of this is done remotely, where I am constantly sending drafts to Kate for notes and ideas so that we make sure we are meeting the needs of Kate’s artistic vision.”


For more audio-specific technology, he relies on Kontakt virtual instruments and a variety of third-party creators making synthetic representations of instruments.


“The London Symphony Orchestra recently released a virtual instrument that compiles several recordings of their musicians recreating every dynamic expression they could think of, from the tiniest (pizzicato) plucks of violins, to giant bass drum hits, to long emotive clarinet tones.”


Virtual instruments allow for strange sonic experiences and can meet some more specific needs than just recreating an orchestra. For Cardinal’s walkabout play last fall “Women in The Woods” he frequently used three instruments that were entirely synthetically created. They provided cinematic, powerful and otherwise unachievable sounds.


For the spring walkabouts he is enjoying his new favorite tool, an instrument built to simulate foley footsteps, allowing for very dynamic and specific footsteps.


Not only is Hornbostel a self-proclaimed tech nerd, he has a condition called synesthesia, in which his brain links sounds and visual colors, resulting in his seeing colors as people speak.


“This ended up being very useful in working in a visual based medium like theatrical design, allowing me to connect what I heard in my head with the colors presented by a director, costume, lighting, or scenic designer.”


Steve Scott is one of my favorite actors in town. I will never, repeat, never, forget his chilling portrayal of Ralph the serial killer in “Frozen” (not the Disney one) or his zany rendition of epicene theater queen Mr. Peach.


“This is my fifth crack at voice acting, and I love it,” Scott said in an email. “It extends my range, as I can play a variety of characters that I simply couldn’t pull off on stage given my age and appearance. I can play with dozens of voices and accents, which is something I’ve practiced since childhood. I want to do more.”


I happily await Scott’s accents in “Predisposed to Violins,” by Liam Castellan, as I thought last fall’s plays were lacking in them. I can almost assure you: Scott, in this supporting role, will impress.


“I got to work with Kate as a director. She’s wonderful, and every note she gave was spot on. She also insured that the production was safe, and her pandemic protocols were sound.”


Another one of my Bloomington favorites is the excellent actor Scott Van Wye, who will play Holmes. In this cold war thriller, Watson (Leraldo Anzaldua) urges Holmes to take an overdue vacation, never suspecting that Bloomington will be the place. Of course, a dangerous pursuit, Hoosier style, unfolds.


The series’ second play is Bruce Walsh’s single-episode play “John Watson, PhD,” which is set to begin the week of April 19. Inspired by a heist caper, this drama puts a new spin on Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters.


Bring your headphones, smartphone, car (it’s not all just walking from scene to scene this year) and sunscreen. If you would prefer to take a guided radio walk, make sure you call ahead, as spots are limited.

Find tickets and learn more about our Walkabout Radio Plays here.