So what makes a good, convincing audio drama? Is it the story? The sounds? The subtle layering of music timed perfectly against the unspoken tone? Or is the story itself? It’s all of the above, and then some. The object of a story is to communicate an idea (and that’s Art). Art is nothing more than communication, no matter what medium the artist uses to speak through.
If you’re like me, first impressions are paramount. I like to have my attention grabbed right off the bat. I mean let’s face it – how often do you look at the second page of your Google search? Probably never. We like things now, and quickly… and yesterday. So if television show, song, or audio drama doesn’t capture our interest – or at least give us a feel of what to expect – our minds wander, reduced to the attention span of a goldfish.
Moon Graffiti, does an excellent job of summarizing what it’s all about in the first few moments; actually in the first microsecond. It’s actually quite impressive how this is accomplished; it’s not something I think most people would pick up on – Quindar tones. What are these little tones that have invaded our subconscious like salivating dogs?
Way back when phone lines were still hooked up to a cord in the wall, having an actual, dedicated line to yourself was expensive. Even with the enormous budget NASA had at the time, acquiring a dedicated up-link and down-link wasn’t cost-effective. Instead of using two lines, they made use of just one, and used specific tones to determine which transmitter (the one to the astronauts, or the one to the ground) should be on or off. Quindar tones went the way of the dinosaur, no longer necessary with advances in optics and networking. However, that tone is forever cemented against its application – jumping into space.
If you want to tell a story about a fictional moon-crashing, you set the audience up with something that’s sure to paint an instant mental picture. If you want to capture the overall mood – in this case, two doomed astronauts who just crashed on a rock – you salt the story with horror’ish music and tones. There’s an actual science to what makes certain sounds scary. It’s beyond the scope of this article, but I’ll summarize as best I can.
It’s mostly a mixture of nonlinear sounds, dissonant chords, and minor chords. That probably means little to you, unless you’re a music major, However, those same sounds are found in things like screaming and crying. Our bodies are naturally programmed to react a certain way when experiencing that type of sound. I’m sure you’ve picked up on the notion that scary horror movies use pretty similar soundtracks. That’s the reason why. They’re just ugly tones that don’t go together.
Moon Graffiti does the same thing. Since the audience isn’t able to actually see what’s about to happen, those special sounds trigger a biological response in us. That response is then validated when we actually hear the actors narrating the scene. When the scene becomes suspenseful, not only do we hear the sounds that tells us “this is scary”, but we also notice a shift in the way Buzz and Neil speak. Buzz is clearly rattled, his responses to Neil coming in short, clipped bursts. It’s almost as if he’s offloading the fear in his mind as quickly as he can.
What I found most interesting was the way the author chose to tell the story. It’s not the sound effects. It’s not the high pass filter or the distortion in the transmission. Instead, in this rendition, Neil Armstrong isn’t the first on the moon – instead it’s Buzz Aldrin. By the time this occurs, we’re already aware of how rattled buzz is. I’m curious if the author chose to send him out first just because Neil actually went first in real life, or if they were using the fear in Buzz to convey the overall mood.
Moon Graffiti is an excellent “listen”. It’s historical (which I love); science Fiction (which I can’t get enough of); and most importantly, just a damn good story. Now, if we could actually get to the moon one day, I’d be impressed.