Part III: The Tales of a Wilted Rose, & A Beastly, Unicorn Prince

When listening to Season 1, Episode 8 of the podcast called Spooked, I was able to listen to 2 stories within one 30-minute segment. Prior to the first story, the podcast host introduced the episode with piano music in the background to set an eerie tone for the listeners, even before the scary story started. He introduced the concept of people who caused us sorrow in our waking lives returning to us after their death to continue their destructive purpose. There was also a voice echoing technique used here to make the audience think about how this statement would be connected to the upcoming story. To me, the editor of this story wanted this sentiment to ‘echo’ in the mind of the listener as the events in the story unfolded. As soon as the narrator said that “Spooked starts NOW,” high-pitched string music played in the background. I believe using this type of music layered underneath their voice was meant to temporarily shock and entice the listeners; they were now ready to focus on the story. The first technique that I noticed as the story was being told was the sequence of events, or anecdote. This was a concept that Ira Glass mentioned as being crucial when creating an interesting and successful narrative and actual product. If there is no logical sequence of actions, then the listener will not be able to follow along and will inherently not be interested in the conclusion. These anecdotes almost always need to start with a question. In this case, the question that drew me in was, ‘Did your mother ever make you kiss someone goodbye even when you didn’t want to?’ This question was ‘bait’ presented by the storyteller for the listener to predict what would occur this story and connect their thoughts to their own lives. In my opinion, when a story connects with a person’s individual experiences, provoke emotions, and encourages interaction with the narrative, the product is effective.

The podcast then launches into a sequence of events. Christina describes how her and her siblings sometimes release their pent-up frustrations on a poor goat who is tied up in a field near their school. When she explains this, the sounds of a goat bleating play in the background. I believe that including sound is effective in allowing me to picture the school children terrorizing a wounded goat, so he starts to bleat. She then explains how the goat eventually freed itself from the restraints one day and began fervently chasing the children to impose its revenge. At this point, the eerie and low-pitched music intensifies in volume; the sound of feet hitting the ground are heard as the children run to the closest house they can find, being their aunt Rose’s home. I think that this technique of changing the background music’s volume is effective because I can sense an impending danger and adrenaline rush within the children as they are being pursued by the goat. The next event in the sequence occurs when Christina and her siblings go into their aunt’s house. However, the narrative ‘breaks’ at this point, a technique explained in ‘Dissecting Joanne Rosser, Papermaker,’ for Christina to explain that their Great Aunt Rose does not like children, nor does she like being bothered; the children have always feared her. Therefore, her suddenly warm and welcoming attitude evokes reasonable suspicion in the kids. This is reflected when the music increases in suspense; the children then enter her strange home.

At this point, it seems as if there is a break in the story, as the children had already consumed tea from Rose, and they were now scampering home, still scared from their encounters with both Rose and the goat. The music during this narration is lighter and more uplifting, reflecting how they are escaping successfully from a dangerous situation. Christina then breaks the narrative again to ponder on the impacts of loneliness for extended periods of time, and how it affects Rose. There is no music playing during this break in narration to emphasize the silence that her aunt feels daily, as she is not included nor favored by her hometown; she is often ostracized. This technique is effective in my opinion because it highlights the emptiness within Rose’s life. This void may have caused her to become bitter and unhinged in the afterlife.

There is then a new section of the story; Rose has now passed away, so time has passed in the narrative. Therefore, breaking from the tale for a moment feels natural. After Rose’s passing, the next sequential event occurs when John hears tapping under his bed. This is represented via sound effects when a hollow knocking sound suddenly starts. From that point forward, the listener is immersed in the moment with John and Christina. To reinforce the importance and intensity of the tapping, the narrator repeats the sound because it would happen the next night as well. The story then shifts to a week in the future, during which time the narrator said the knocking and constant, daunting fear of being haunted in the night had ceased due to never-ending intervals of praying. However, the tapping sounds from the week prior have now changed to a sharp banging within the walls; this is played in the podcast audio to reinforce the intended feeling of confusion and fear in the listener, which I personally find effective. This sound then intensifies even further into that of a hammer slamming into a wall.

At this point, Christina’s family decides to call a priest. Then, there is chanting and organ music in the background. When describing that fingernails are scratching under the mattress, there is a screeching sound behind the words in the audio to fully highlight the sound second-hand to the audience. There is then an intense heartbeat before and during the next sequence in the anecdote. Additionally, I noted that, as the severity of the nefarious incidents increases, like Christina’s brothers being tossed from a mattress, the music becomes louder. When the family decides to finally enlist the services of an exorcist, this term is met with the sound of a loud, droning hum in the background. We then hear an erratic bursting onslaught of chimes intermingled within the narrator’s voice when discussing her feeling of fogginess and ‘monochrome’ as the exorcist approached her home. However, the temperament of the music then begins to change. The sounds become more airy, tranquil, and hopeful with a predictable repetition. I believe the technique of keeping the music stable and predictable is implying that, now that the exorcists are involved, the situation will be handled, and everyone would be safe. There is then more broken narration when Christina comments on the value of exorcists and what type of people are fit to carry out that work. As she returns to the final event in the anecdote, there are sounds of children singing in a choir softly playing behind the exorcists praying for Rose to leave the McKenna home. This strategy finally works, and the sequence of events ends with a conclusion that the audience can follow, in line with Ira Glass’ advice: Rose has been banned from the house due to the tireless efforts of the exorcists. 

The second story in this podcast focused on a possessed, merciless doll that was gifted to a young girl on her birthday which fell on December 26th. The story was told from the perspective of a young girl named Maria. The sequence of events, or anecdote, for this story began with faint Christmas music layered beneath the female narrator’s voice. She explained how she had been extremely excited to open a present from her aunt, almost to the point of impatience. The sound effect of crinkling and tearing of paper played behind Maria talking about her anxious anticipation about this present being another beautiful doll from her aunt, as this was the norm for her past birthdays. As soon as she opened the package, she saw a seemingly disturbing doll based on how the music darkens, intensifies, and gets louder while Maria describes the unsettling object. This feeling of discomfort was confirmed when she depicted the doll as a “beastly, unicorn prince”. Her family immediately told her to put the doll away, as they felt the same sensation as her upon seeing it. The eerie and frightening music continued in the background, thus altering the listeners that this doll signified an evil presence in Maria’s life. Suddenly, the sound of glass cracking into many pieces and hitting the floor rings in the ears of the listener, as the music has lessened. The mirror is directly next to the shelf on which the doll resides. This is again effective in reinforcing the negative feeling that Maria’s description and accompanying music implies when the freakish doll is first unwrapped in her home.

In the next ‘paragraph,’ or segment of the story, Maria suddenly and abruptly wakes up in the middle of the night. The listeners then hear a sharp, wretched, and intense violin sound, indicating that she is shocked to the point of stirring out of her sleep. This sound effect stops when she said that her room was especially cold, which in of itself was unexpected, like how she was woken up in the first place. After Maria goes into the living room to avoid the cold, she hears short tapping sounds, similar to small footsteps, that she tells herself are bugs outside in attempt to comfort herself. However, hearing these ‘pitter patter,’ or thumping sounds, under her voice is intended to send chills down the spine of the listener and to further suspend our disbelief that a doll has truly come to life; this was effective to me due to an impending sense of dread I felt when hearing these short and soft stomping sounds. After her mom comes into the living room to comfort her at which they both hear the assumed doll footsteps, the listener hears a phone line ringing, thus providing slight foreshadowing that we will hear from Maria’s aunt about the purpose of giving her the scary doll. Upon further consideration, Maria decides to destroy the unnatural creature. We can then hear heavy and short thumping and knocking sounds as she tries to demolish the doll, but it does not break. This is effective to me in terms of showing how the doll is indestructible and will continue to haunt Maria for as long as it exists. These loud noises indicate that a break should occur, but because it does not, these sounds further the doll’s ethereal persona in the story.

After supposedly accepting this fact, the same intense violin sound is heard as she wakes up in the middle of the night again. She then says to herself repeatedly that the sounds of the doll are “just [her] imagination”. An echoing effect is added to this thought she has to emphasize how many times she repeats the phrase in an attempt to convince herself that it is true, even though it is not. We then hear a jarring and loud knocking and jiggling sound that is meant to emulate a door shaking as someone tries to get into her room. This sound is effective in demonstrating the increasing terror that Maria feels while being cornered in her room; she is forced to face this creature alone with no ability to escape. However, after her wits return to her and the door-shaking stops, we hear faint crackling sounds in the living room as she describes smelling smoke; Maria’s father is burning her evil doll, which is where the story concludes. Once again, this ending was in alignment with Glass’ principle of keeping the events in a sequence so that the audience will be captivated and intrigued with how the body of work will end.

Overall, I found the sound effects, layering of voices and music, and music itself to be effective in this podcast episode. Given the title of the show, ‘Spooked,’ and the use of deductive reasoning, I was admittedly expecting the stories in the episode to be at least slightly scary. However, the expert use of the music in terms of the instruments, volume, intensity, tempo, was incredibly influential as I was listening. I did not expect to be entirely chilled to my bones. If the story was told with no intonation, music, or supplemental sound effects that enriched the perspective of the narrator, I think that I would have been interested in the plot line, but not invested to the point where I had to get up and turn the overhead light on in my bedroom! I honestly would not have considered how important the descriptive sounds such as tapping, scratching, bleating, and hitting are in a story if I had not been intentionally instructed to listen for them; even if I had ignored the words being spoken, I almost could have pictured the entire sequence of events. However, the way that the narrator spoke and their word choice of course added to the excitement and anticipation of the story as well. My imagination was able to run wild by interpreting the sounds in my head while being guided back to the anecdote by the skilled narrator. Therefore, I would highly recommend the podcast Spooked, and will continue to listen to it on my own time as well. Thank you for the recommendation, Dr. Polack!

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