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Experimental Audio Drama Pilot

A few months ago, I had the chance to create my first audio drama, Jita 4-4, and hugely enjoyed the experience! While I loved working out how to squeeze a narrative about an established universe into a short story, I wanted to try and be more ambitions with this next project, pushing myself as a storyteller to create a longer narrative with a more definitive ethical theme. At the same time, I wanted to address a specific challenge – despite playing the trumpet and being a vocalist for a long time, my own voice and playing haven’t been used in any of my existing portfolio works, and I wanted to finally change that (while trying to creatively manipulate both to see what would happen!).

To try and tackle both of these points at once, I settled on the Blade Runner universe as a setting, as its existing musical signature and cyberpunk, dystopian environment provided the freedom to create otherworldly soundscapes, both with acoustic and electronic sources. I spent a few weeks re-watching the films, as well as researching within additional lore sources to find a period in time I could freely write my own story within. Using the official TTRPG’s descriptions to work out semantics, I began a draft script.

 

My main audio drama inspirations in terms of format and pacing were TwoUP’s Limetown and Halo’s HUNT the TRUTH, both serialised shows which jump between guiding narrated voiceover and ‘live-action’ dialogue scenes (either recorded on location similar to a film, or realised though post-production).

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Development and Prototyping:

In terms of script and length, I’d initially planned for this to be a long-form short story, but as ideas grew and the time to make them in grew shorter, I moved instead to create an experimental ‘pilot’ episode for what may end up being a larger series, focusing on the performed and designed elements, as this was where I was least experienced.

 

Having worked with shifting perspective in Jita 4-4 and wanting to try the same principle with narration here, I opted to try starting with ‘live-action’ audio which would meld into a purely commentary track – while I’d hoped to be able to record all foley elements for the entire story in some form of real environment, that became difficult due to time constraints, as well as the challenge of trying to clean acted segments into clean narration that wouldn’t distract from the rest of the story with its ambiences.

When creating the Blade Runner soundtrack, as well as other projects like The City, Vangelis created some of his lead synths to mimic real life trumpets (see Dawn as an example), so it felt logical to use mine as an acoustic variation on his established musical language.

Brass instruments also contain a lot of metallic, resonant areas from their different tube sections and valve mechanisms, and I wanted to see if I could extract any vibrations that may arise from playing (if they were capturable!) – from this, I had the idea of attaching contact microphones at points I thought would be the most resonant. On top of this, I put a practice mute attached to an amplifier in the end, theoretically helping to ‘bottle’ internal vibrations while capturing raw, though slightly synthetic, acoustic output.

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Rehearsal and Drafts/Demos:

I was initially worried about the contact microphones not working effectively, as I wasn’t sure how much a trumpet vibrates while being played, even with a mute in the end acting as a theoretical cork of sorts, and while it did pick up the main pitch and tone (albeit in a reduced, ‘underwater-sounding’ way), I didn’t get the results I expected of distorted, grainy tones. However, it did end up becoming a very effective means of generating percussion, with valve presses emitting a tone similar to a bass drum, and slide clicks and movement sounding similar to taiko drums. This example shows one of my test percussion recordings through a large VST reverb, demonstrating the ‘final’ sound I intended to have:

Alternate playing techniques, such as playing far below the instrument’s range with looser air flow and playing into the pipes without a mouthpiece, were picked up well, with the tubing acting as a small reverb chamber, and bass notes producing vibrations the contact mics were able to more successfully pick up:

Below is a collection of videos of recordings made for the interior of the broken spinner Alex flies in, using a mix of shaking metal, plastic and breathing through a gas mask  – I chose to use a portable recorder to record the foley as I wanted to make the ‘distance’ between the microphone in Alex’s KIA and the surrounding vehicle feel as real as possible.

I also recorded ‘hit’ sounds to use as additional percussion, using a VHS case in a large sink and a broken CRT TV, particularly for the reverb-heavy drums used in the intro of most Blade Runner media.

By the point of testing, I’d also finalised my premise and story beats for the script -  this final version, moving back and forth from narration to ‘live’, would allow me to tackle interior and exterior live scenes, segueing between with narration – below is a BR-style introductory text designed as a premise for the whole drama:

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Final Documentation:

Below is a copy of the final script for this short pilot, including a small portion of cut content that may form part of the end of the story. A few plot holes still need to be ironed out, but as a concept demonstration, I’m still happy to use this as a starting point.

The final recording sessions were a mix of long takes for the voice acting and trumpet, including the recording of held notes to be turned into pads/bass sustains, improvised melodies, and percussion takes moving/hitting the valves and tubing. (This included recording dialogue for the spinner in my car to get the best natural room reverb for the scene.) All music used in the final product is purely a mix of looped tones and live performances from these recordings (uncut performances below):

This is a separate export of the spinner’s interior ambience, created entirely from the manipulation of my recorded metal, fan/machine noise and gas mask breathing.

And finally, this is the experimental version of the entire pilot put together – only recorded elements and basic ambiences are used here, and are only modified with basic processing (pitch, looping, EQ and reverb). At some point soon, I’ll fully produce and add to this with additional instruments, foley and processing before releasing it, but everything I’ve recorded forms by far the biggest basis of the final piece.

I hope you enjoy!!

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