Psyché Tropes Episode 23
11pm, 24 June 2024 on Resonance 104.4 FM

Presented by Steven McInerney, Psyché Tropes Episode 23 on Resonance 104.4 FM investigates the drone as a cinematic device, a powerful and often understated element that has shaped the auditory landscape of films throughout history.

The drone is a sustained tone that underpins a piece of music or soundscape. Its continuous nature can induce a trance-like state, affecting the audience's emotional and physiological responses, creating feelings of suspense, anxiety, and dread, but also allowing moments to feel suspended in time. Its origins can be traced back to ancient musical traditions, where it was used in various forms, such as the didgeridoo in Indigenous Australian music. These ancient sounds laid the groundwork that gradually crept into the Australian cinematic dialectic. For example, the preface of the 1971 film 'Walkabout,' directed by Nicolas Roeg, features a clever juxtaposition of Indigenous drone with the sonic chaos of modernity, where the ancient past and future collide as two city-bred siblings are stranded in the Australian Outback and learn to survive with the aid of an Aboriginal boy on his "walkabout," a ritual separation from his tribe.

The drone’s ability to create a sense of tension, atmosphere, and immersion has made it a powerful tool for filmmakers. Similarly, Australian director Peter Weir's landmark feature, Picnic at Hanging Rock from 1975, features a foreboding atmosphere during the title sequence, as if a hypnagogic storm is brewing on the horizon, not long before launching into the film's iconic main theme tune.

In the early days of cinema, sound was a revolutionary addition. The 1920s and 1930s, known as the 'Pre-Code era,' meaning 'pre-censorship,' saw the introduction of soundtracks, where composers began experimenting with different synchronized sounds for motion pictures. One of the earliest uses of the drone can be seen in the 1931 film 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' directed by Rouben Mamoulian, where composer Johann Sebastian Bach used this technique to build suspense and evoke a sense of technological dread.

The appreciation for drones was present in the interview with Marlon Brando appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1955. It was only seven years earlier that Pierre Schaeffer composed the first piece of "musique concrète" out of sounds produced by a train's steam engine.

The continuous sullen tone can entrain the audience to be on edge, preparing them for the unexpected. This technique quickly became a staple in the horror genre. "A Warning to the Curious" is a 50-minute film which serves as the second episode of the British supernatural anthology series: A Ghost Story for Christmas. Written, produced, and directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, the soundtrack consists of several dense and atmospheric classical compositions including those from Edgard Varèse and György Ligeti, mixed with diegetic drones of the natural environment.

Filmed on the coast of North Norfolk at Holkham Beach and Holkham Wood, Happisburgh, Wells-next-the-Sea, and at the Sheringham and Weybourne stations of the North Norfolk Railway, Clark recalls filming in North Norfolk in late February of 1972, with consistently fine cold weather "with a slight winter haze which gave exactly the right depth and sense of mystery to the limitless vistas of the shoreline there."

One of Japan's most fascinating films is the 1964 New Wave avant-garde psychological thriller 'Woman in the Dunes,' directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara with a score composed by Toru Takemitsu, who used a small chamber group featuring sustained textures of stringed instruments for a sense of isolation and escapism, evoking the ancient heartbeat of a cruel desert. The film follows the last events in the life of an amateur entomologist. He is offered hospitality in a village, then led to settle in the house of a lonely widow at the bottom of a sand dune. He soon realizes that the villagers have trapped him there, and expect him to work for them. He becomes the widow's new lover, replacing her recently deceased husband in this Kafkaesque, two-and-a-half-hour study in forced domestic captivity. The film received widespread critical acclaim; it was nominated for two Academy Awards and went on to win the Special Jury Prize at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival. It is widely considered Teshigahara's seminal cinematic masterpiece.

Based on the horrifying true events of August 1973, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows five teenagers who pick up a sinister hitchhiker and plunge into a never-ending nightmare when they end up in an old house with a family of cannibals with power tools. The soundtrack's raw and unpolished quality adds to the film's disturbing realism. The drones made by Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell play an integral part in the storytelling, amplifying the sense of isolation and madness that pervades this classic independent proto-slasher directed by Tobe Hooper.

Playing out tonight's episode is the soundtrack to David Lynch's 1977 debut feature film, Eraserhead. Its sound design has been considered one of its defining elements, featuring several constant industrial sounds, providing low-level background noise in every scene. This fosters a "threatening" and "unnerving" atmosphere, blurring the line between dreamscape and reality.