I loved writing the underscore for this play as it was my chance to write cinematically. The tone of the whole of Club Bazaar was silly and melodramatic, and I got to overexaggerate this silly humour in my underscoring.
Themes and motifs
This play was all about Lord Baboonita and his son Babowan. 2 apes who had been cruelly separated. Babowan escaped his capture and returned home to his father, unscathed yet angry, with fire in his eyes and a story to tell on his mighty return.
The cast opened The Legend of Baboonita with the song ‘Ripley Family Circus Time!’ We then had a melodramatic plea from Sergeant Slipper to set the animals free which I accompanied with a slow, sad underscoring that mirrored the harmony heard in the first number, with a different melody.
We then transition to Baboonita’s Lair where Tigerman and Sergeant Slips are talking to the Lord who has gone into hiding after the exile of his son. I wrote 2 themes that were heard when Baboonita and Babowan were mentioned throughout this play, and these were appropriately called the ‘Baboonita Theme’ and the ‘Babowan Theme.’
Although these themes were never sung, I found it useful to write them to the names of the baboons. The themes crept up during the play, most noticeably when in Baboonita’s Lair. Whenever ‘Baboonita’ or ‘Babowan’ were named or present, I played their respective themes in the underscoring, using the dialogue as a trigger for what I should be playing.
In Baboonita’s Lair I used the musicians to create a soundscape; the violinist was playing high harmonics very quietly, representing the cold of the cave, and the drummer was running his hands lightly and frequently on the salted snare, like drips of rain seeping through to make the cave damp and gloomy. In between playing chords and the baboon’s themes, I banged my hands on the lowest strings whilst always keeping the sustain pedal down, representing the echo that was heard in the cave. When Lord Baboonita shouted to make his presence known I used the flat edge of a key to run up the lowest strings, showing the effect the boom of his voice had on the cave they were in.
How many times can YOU hear the themes?
Another time the themes were present included the first entrance of Lord Baboonita. The first time the audience sees Lord Baboonita is a mighty moment, as he has only ever been spoken about or heard up until this moment. As he walks majestically down the aisle, his theme is played like a fanfare until he reaches the front of the stage, where the ‘Babowan Theme’ is heard falling softly, predicting the subject of their conversation.
Finally, when we see the little Babowan for the first time, he is singing softly the word “father” in a new ‘Major Babowan Theme.’ The chords are soft, and the band and Tom Williams (the actor playing Babowan) carry on humming the ‘Major Babowan Theme’ to underscore the final scene.
The ‘Major Babowan Theme’ sung to the word “father”
I used a range of extended techniques in this play, and through experimenting with different objects used on a range of different strings I collected my sounds. I used some techniques to create a tense atmosphere, and other techniques I used to imitate already existing sounds, like that of an aeroplane and a gun shot.
To create an eerie and mysterious atmosphere when Sergeant Slipper is showing the wonders of the Fire-eating fish, I used an old violin bow to bow the lowest piano strings. From doing this, the overtones rang out in a mysterious way.
In the songs, every time the line “How the monkey does a backflip” came around, I used the flat edge of a key to run down the highest strings. Tom flipped a monkey around slowly, and together (the sound of the keys on the piano strings and the monkey doing a backflip) the sound worked as an accompaniment to the action, just like foley in a cartoon.
My personal favourite technique to use was muting the piano strings with my right hand and playing a bassline with my left. This imitated the sound of a plucked double bass as my right hand muted the attack and altered the tone. It was the perfect transition to accompany a change in mood. I used it on multiple occasions; the first was as Slips started to tell the story of how he found Babowan. The bassline was an appropriate change to set the scene in the Jungle he had travelled to.
I transitioned to a different bassline to accompany a fight between Mr Ripley and Slips. Originally I scored a heavy and aggressive chord progression to accompany the fight, but it sounded very muddy on the piano we were using. It also drowned out Tom’s speech. After the first rehearsal I realised the underscore was too busy and distracting, so I wrote the short and punchy bassline used in the video below.
To imitate the sound of a plane taking off and flying, I wrote for violinist Olivia Shotton to come to the piano with a piece of A4 paper, place it in between the hammers and the strings at the highest register and to play the keys that were lined up with the paper. The sound of the hammer hitting the paper sounded like a propeller, and added to the DIY plane that was created with random objects onstage.
To create the sound of a gun shot when this play comes to the bitter end, I instructed salted snare drummer Will Shaw to lift up the beads of the snare drum and release them when a shot was being fired. The salt already on the snare made it sound like blood was being splattered after the gun had been fired, creating a second sound to the primary intention.
Photos by Cordelia O’Driscoll
I’ll be editing the whole of ‘The Legend of Baboonita’ together shortly, so you can see all of these extended techniques, songs and themes in their running order!
Featured image by Cordelia O’Driscoll