Treefall

by Henry Murray directed by Ben Randle
designed for Walker Theater, New Conservatory Theater Center, San Francisco, CA opened: January 21, 2011

Design Concept

Treefall is a look into the lives of three boys living together in isolation from the rest of the world in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The trees are dying and falling down, the spring near them is drying up, the birds and dogs and all other animals are dead or gone, and direct exposure to the sun is lethal. The play examines these boys at the critical moment of entering adulthood when there are no adults to serve as role models, when they come across a girl around their age who has been backpacking across the country alone.

The strength in the script is also a danger for the designers: since the script is only concerned with the interactions between these adolescents, their environment can easily fade into the background. It was my goal to have the sound design constantly reinforce the desolate environment these kids lived in and contrast it strongly with music that was simultaneously whimsical, tribal and dangerous.

To accomplish this, I underscored every scene with ambience using several different kinds of wind and environmental sounds that were completely devoid of animal life. We decided that since the script made no mention of insects we could assume they were still alive, so I used crickets at points to help indicate time of day. The music I composed consisted initially of only rhythmic percussion tracks created from samples of pots and pans and other kitchen items. Some interludes between scenes were a bit involved, so I composed and arranged melodies to lay on top of the percussion, borrowing heavily from children's music. My goal for the music was to leave it in a state of child-like simplicity so that it would be realistic it was music the characters could have heard when they were young before the apocalypse, or could have come up with by themselves.

Music

Treefall Music by Josh Senick

Research

To figure out how to approach the music for the show, I had to answer two questions: What music could the boys know? What of musical culture remains in the post-apocalyptic world? Here's what I came up with:

Treefall Music Brainstorm (PDF - 48k)