Sounds to Make You Scream
According to sound designer Bengt Alexsander, the process of putting together the frightening soundscapes of ScareHouse is pretty intuitive. “At this point, I think they just trust me with it,” says Alexsander of working with the ScareHouse crew. “[Scarehouse creative director] Scott Simmons and I have a lot of the same references for movies, so there’s kind of a cultural shorthand between us: ‘Oh, you know this scene from Mulholland Drive?’ ‘Oh, totally!’ I’ve weirdly locked in with him over the years and we just speak the same language for that stuff. We’re all on the same page, so I can usually hit it on the first try.”
Alexsander is also a member of the doom post-punk, art-rock band Action Camp, which is actually the reason the Bostonian moved to Pittsburgh in the first place, since bandmate Maura Jacob is from the Steel City.
“We started the band in college in Boston, and it’s really expensive to live there, and so we moved to Pittsburgh, and I’ve been here for 11 years. It’s grown on me. I’m still very much a New Englander.”To a Pittsburgher, that might be the most chilling sound of all.
Creating an Ahhh!-ditory Experience
In order to create a spooky soundscape, Alexsander likes to fuse sound effects with physical movement in some form, to create unforgettable ScareHouse experiences.
“You start listening to more soundscapes in films and think about what’s the scary sound of a forest? There are a lot of tropes for this stuff, so you can feed on those and then get creative with placement of speakers. I could have the sounds of trees rustling that pans from the speaker behind you to in front of you, to create some auditory motion in the room. ”
He also takes inspiration from horror filmmakers like John Carpenter and Ari Aster, as well as one famous Canadian director who inspired the strange middle act of ScareHouse known as Oblivion.
“It was like this big David Cronenberg thing. I got to make a really harsh electronic soundtrack, [with the idea] that the song builds from room to room. So it gives you the impression that the song is building as you’re walking through it.”
Alexsander claims he puts a lot of Easter eggs into his soundscapes, and sometimes super fans will notice.
“Once in a while one of the actors will figure it out. I pulled a very specific Zombie sound in a video game called Left 4 Dead and the person in that room had played that game so much that they knew that sound effect.”
He also sometimes surprises himself when it comes to what he comes up with.
“What’s spooky elevator music? You take goth bands [like the Bauhaus] and make it elevator music, and it just sounds like David Lynch.”
It’s More Than Just Playing with Sounds
While Alexsander admits that his ScareHouse gig is pretty cool, he also says that it can be a lot of work.
“There’s hard labor, too, [like] putting up the speakers and building that whole system and stuff. It’s not all composing and fun.”
And sometimes, he has to create audio concepts very early in the process of when ScareHouse starts putting together their season.
“Normally around April or May, they start having a concept of what they’re going to do for the year and they start planning out the rooms. They have a blueprint for everything and I usually get a list of the rooms with the names of them. There’s also a funny thing where the room names are so arbitrary. There will be the apothecary and then. . . the blood room. A lot of times I’m left to a general description.”
But one thing that is no challenge is working with the ScareHouse crew.
“It’s a gig I really enjoy. I’m always impressed and proud of the build crew. We’re all one big entity that wants to scare people.”
Listen to Alexsander’s work on Spotify here.