Bluebird, an Audio Drama with Music

The latest Minimum Labyrinth project is Bluebird, a ten-part audio drama with music by me. After about a year of exploring the ideas and then polishing and testing the script we're running a Kickstarter campaign so we can hire a studio and, you know, pay the actors and engineer a fair price for their labour. It went live today and ends on 8 April 2021 -- the project won't happen without backers, so if you're inclined to help make it happen please do. Some music nerd stuff follows below the fold.

Bluebird explores a legacy of cold-war-era psychological experiments associated with MKUltra. Although set approximately in the present, and framed as a rather peculiar murder mystery, it explores themes about the sometimes dangerous optimism and ambition of the mid twentieth century.

Musically speaking, this of course suggests mid-century modernism, and especially the kind of modernist composition that was tried in the 1950s and early '60s: music that was, in some sense, being composed not for listeners in the present (who largely couldn't understand it) but rather for the occupants of some future utopia that never seems to have arrived. That's convenient, since it's kind of my musical home anyway.

But there's a problem with this kind of thing as soundtrack music, which is that it was co-opted early on for "scary" scenes and horror movies. That means this kind of thing sends the wrong message, even though it's conceptually right:

So I'm looking for influences that carry that spirit without all the baggage. I'm drawn to early electronic and tape music, which sought to overcome the limitations of creaky old acoustic instruments, making them completely obsolete:

These pieces all had names like "Study" because their composers saw themselves as researchers probing the outer reaches of the known. In 1950 a US Navy research expedition discovered the Mid-Pacific Mountain Range on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean; in the same year the Oort Cloud was postulated. Stockhausen and his peers, I think, took themselves to be doing something similar with sound.

This is, of course, still too jarring for an audio drama. The music will need to be much more restrained and minimal than that if it's going to work with voices unsupported by images. So I'm looking at more recent influences too: ambient electronica, lowercase, spectralism. But there's going to be quite a bit more to it than that; there's a musician among the characters, for example, who we hear playing on several occasions.

There'll be updates on the Kickstarter page, including technical production details and musical specifics that may interest some of you. And for higher-tier backers there'll be a soundtrack album that takes the music up a notch and allows me to explore more possibilities than I can in the audio drama context.

Running a Kickstarter campaign is a new thing for us. Aside from backing the project, spreading the word is hugely helpful; even just a post on Facebook or an email to a friend who might be interested can make a big difference. I promise not to go on and on about it here...