The Green Lampshade

I’ve just had the pleasure of collaborating again with Sci-Fi playwright Susan Gray as part of a series called Written and Composed. This is our second collaboration, the first being Object Meet Subject in 2013.

Susan performing Oblique

Susan performing Oblique

Sci-Fi is one of my favourite genres to work in. There are so many factors to take into account and sound is key in creating a new or dystopian world. There is also a very fine line that you need to walk; too subtle and based in the real world makes the text seem unbelievable and out of place, too distanced from real world soundscapes and the audience has no point of reference with which to compare the world they’re watching.

This most recent collaboration was in two parts. The first of these was set on a space station and the second on Earth in a facility. The main aim was to create a soundscape for the station that could appear in parts in the scenes on Earth without seeming too intrusive.

I have no experience of being in space (I know that this will come as a shock to nearly everyone but there you go). So this involved a lot of research followed by trial and error using interesting sounds that I could record around my room.

In the research stage I got to revisit one of my favourite national treasures, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, who were responsible for so many Sci-Fi tropes and are best known for their pioneering work on Doctor Who. So many of these great sounds were made from everyday objects. One of the most well-known examples of this was Delia Derbyshire’s green lampshade which had a wonderful bell-like sound. I’m always in awe of all the effects that the Radiophonic Workshop invented, created using reel-to-reel tape machines.

I think I may have found my very own green lampshade equivalent while working on this project. A standard wavy Ikea mirror that seems to be in nearly every rented house. As it’s mounted on the door it gives a great clattering sounds which is also pitched. Reversing and transposing the recordings that I made gave amazing noises that I used as a machine on the space station. It also travels well when panned.


My green lampshade

I do, however, lack the skills and equipment to do this using tape. My sounds were created using The Sound Loom.

Other highlights of this project including close recordings of all the amazing sounds that my ageing PC makes when starting up, recreating the swoosh of Star Trek doors (paper out of an envelope by the way) and having to take a variety of shoes into the bathroom to record footsteps for the second soundscape.

Susan Gray’s work can be found at

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Posted in Writing

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