Hell’s Bells Audio SFX Story

This is an assignment from the DS106 Audio Assignments bank – “Sound Effects Story” challenge.

Per the assignment bank, the challenge is to:

Tell a story using nothing but sound effects. There can be no verbal communication, only sound effects. Use at least five different sounds that you find online. The story can be no longer than 90 seconds.

I’ll start out by saying, I never create to a time frame. I’ll use it as a guide. But if the goal is to tell a story, I need to ensure I actually tell the story and not worry about going over a time limit. There’s a maximum cutoff however – you can’t take 10 minutes to tell a 90 second story. However, for “Hell’s Bells“, two minutes allowed me to properly tell the story and stay within the time constraint ballpark.

You can listen to the audio on Soundcloud:

But why not just listen to it here?

“Hell’s Bells”

An Audio SFX Drama By Greg Phillips

People are often amazed at my visual work. I do a large amount of painting, design, building – all stuff that you can see with your eyes. But I’ve always thought that audio is where my innate talent actually lies. I have zero formal training. I just seem to know how to piece together specific sounds into something that pleases the ear. Not to toot my own horn, but I am damn good story teller, and a damn good audio engineer.

For “Hell’s Bells”, I wanted to give the story a Science Fiction feel. Granted, I don’t want to come out of the gate saying “SCIENCE FICTION”. Instead, I just want it to gradually grow on you; rather, I want to immerse you in an atmosphere that just doesn’t fit in with today perfectly. It might seem familiar, but I want your mind to question it.

Through the entirety of the story, there’s a backing track that I use to create an atmosphere. It’s a standalone compilation that I created a while back for a video game. The track itself is titled “Space Port Atmosphere”.

The top track provides the “atmosphere” for the story

Within it, you’ll hear vehicles buzzing around. Some sounds “feel” as if they’re airborne. There’s the rustle of machinery, and the every day hum of what a busy city, hub, or port would emanate. It does an excellent job of providing a framework, so you can paint your mental picture of where the story takes place.

As far as the story goes, I purposefully leave out certain details because I want you to fill those in. Other details are readily apparent. I wanted the story to be about a woman. The breathing; the gasps; the final scream – it’s readily apparent that it’s a woman who’s our main protagonist. But what is she running from? Why is she running in the first place? I know why, but hopefully I’ve given you enough substance to create your own rendition of the story in your mind.

One of the key elements in story telling, even if it’s something other than audio, is timing. When do you pause? Which elements work together or against each other. In “Hell’s Bells”, you’ll notice that certain sounds sort of “go together”. By combining little pieces of sound together, then repeating that pattern over again, you’re able to preempt your audience’s understanding of what’s happening.

Notice how there is a buildup in the radio chatter prior to the bell. When the bell sounds, there is a slight pause as our protagonist reacts to the sound. When she does react, there’s a build in her breathing and a simultaneous movement of her feet. Each of the sounds works together to give the impression that she’s reacting to the environment. It should give the impression that she hears something approaching (some tracking technology); then when it sees her, it sounds, and she runs from it.

Repetition is a keen way to get going, but it can get tiring really quick. Once your listener catches on, it’s time to throw them a change-up. Back when I was a young buck, I was a damn good pitcher. You set a batter up with a few heaters, then throw him something off speed. Often, they’re complete surprised.

At this point in the story, our protagonist is found. The alarm is raised, and she’s scared out of her mind. I want you to feel that same emotion. So when everything seems like it’s calm and she’s in the clear, I hit the wailing alarm.

Woman reacts immediately to the siren.

As soon as the woman hears the siren, she reacts. We hear her gasp as her breathing intensifies. The chase is on now, and she’s panicking.

There’s a transition that occurs in the atmosphere noise. In order to signal that she’s gone into something (a room, building, or corridor) and shut the door behind her, both the siren and background noises are dimmed when the you hear the door shut. Here, timing is key – as soon as the door shuts, the sounds need to fade a bit. Within Audacity, that’s not tricky to do per se, but it isn’t something that’s straightforward. Notice how the wave forms differ as soon as the door closes:

Low Pass Filter

To mellow out the waveforms and reduce the level of volume, I applied a low pass filter to the the portions I wanted to “deaden”, with the frequency set to 2000 and the rolloff set to 48 decibels. That probably sounds Greek to you, but the point is to set a frequency limit so that everything beneath that remains the same and everything above that attenuates (loses its intensity). You’ll need to play around with it in Audacity to get the sound you’re looking for – it’s not plug and play, as it all depends on the initial waveform.

Personally, messing around with software like Audacity is easy. Sampling sounds is easy. Mucking up some audio to get it sound a certain way is simple. But the real skill, the real talent lies in telling the story. Was it Mozart or Beethoven who said something about there only being twelve notes – you just need to put them in the right places. I can never remember. The moral of that quote is that it’s up to you to position everything to create a story that sells. Notice there really isn’t a beginning to the story; instead, we begin in media res. Nor is there really an ending. The track ends, but what happens at the end is really left up to you to imagine. Does she scream and die? Does she scream and go ape shit on whatever it is that’s making that infernal “A tone“? Does the fact that I’m not telling you what it is that’s after her (or really even solidifying that something is after her) give you enough room to make your own assumptions? I hope so, and I hope you find the story both fun and thought provoking.

A great response to this article would be for you to elaborate on how you perceived the story. What caused this? What’s chasing her? How does it end? Who is this woman? Hopefully, there’s enough framework for you to be able to craft your own tale.

One Reply to “Hell’s Bells Audio SFX Story”

  1. I loved how you eased us into your story of sound effects instead of just jumping right in. I felt as if I were on a journey and I was definitely surprised at times. Great job on your science fiction effects!

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