Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Monster Show

I've spent a good chunk of the past two summers getting into the mood for Halloween by reading The Monster Show, and it may become a yearly ritual. Subtitling itself "a cultural history of horror", this wonderful book by David J. Skal traces the history of modern horror (the European and American varieties, anyway), uncovering the historical and aesthetic roots of the monstrous in pop culture.

Since Skal also wrote Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, it's no surprise that this volume is a bit Dracula-centric. But given that monster's centrality in the world of Euro-American horror, that's certainly not inappropriate. And his accounts of the convoluted paths Stoker's "Dracula" and Shelley's "Frankenstein" took from page to stage to screen are nothing short of fascinating.

I never knew that a Spanish-language version of the original Bela Lugosi "Dracula" was shot on the night shift using the same sets (with different actors), or a thousand other fascinating anecdotes from the world of horror literature and (mostly) film, until I picked up this book. (Thanks to Vinnie Rattolle's blog for turning me on to it.)

Skal does a great job of placing the classic Universal monster films in the context of their wartime origins: despite the slashing of censors, these films offered perhaps the only socially acceptable forum for the depiction of the trauma, bloodletting, dismemberment, and other real-world horrors that often remained literally unspeakable among those touched by war.

(Caption: "Come on in. I'll treat you right. I used to know your daddy." Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon by Clarence D. Batchelor, used as an illustration in "The Monster Show")

The book explores the tales of personae like director Tod Browning and Maila Nurmi, aka horror TV horror host Vampira. It also ventures in-depth looks at the horror comics of EC and other imprints, radio mystery programs like "Lights Out", and a treasure trove of obscure films. And it draws some insightful parallels between horror culture and societal experience. Skal considers the facial contortions of Lon Chaney, "The Man of a Thousand Faces", as an analog to the subtly coerced appeal of altering one's own appearance. Bodily contortions are, not surprisingly, a recurring theme in "The Monster Show".

What's curious is how many categories of contortion Skal references that are, in fact, voluntary. A lengthy passage details the making of Michael Jackson's landmark "Thriller" video, in which the actor physically transforms into an undead creature. In reality, of course, Jackson was undergoing a parallel surgical transformation offscreen.

Unfortunately, the book gets a bit less insightful the closer we creep toward the present. Comparing Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" to American society's response to the AIDS crisis is right on, but I'm not sure I follow that said crisis was also responsible for "images and metaphors of bloodstream tampering-- in product tampering scares, in the obsession with cholesterol levels, in the backlash against chemical food additives, and even in the blood-purification fantasies of the skinheads and Neo-Nazis." These all strike me as independently valid concerns, HIV or no.

But overall, I highly recommend this journey the shadowy world of horror. If that sort of thing floats your boat, you'll love it.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Clean Cut" Festival Updates

The little Roomba that could has taken on a life of its own, vacuuming up festivals internationally. Here's its entire screening history, including where it'll screen in the near future as of 9/29/15.

Short, d. Andrew Hunt
Sound Design + Original Musical Score by Mike Hallenbeck

World Premiere:
Z-Fest 2015, Minneapolis
Awards won: Audience Award, Best of Fest, Best Comedy, Screenplay, Lighting, Prop, and Best Hero. Nominations also received for Best Direction, Editing, Sound Design, Musical Score, Visual Effects, Production Design, and Ending Credits.

Corto Creatico UDCI
August 27th- 29th, 2015
Tijuana, Baja California

South Dakota Film Festival
September 30 - October 4, 2015
Aberdeen, South Dakota
Festival listing

Post Mortem International Horror & Bizarre Short Film Fest
October 1st- 4th, 2015
Aguascalientes, Mexico

West Virginia FILMmakers Festival
October 2nd- 4th, 2015
Award won: Best Short Film

Twin Cities Film Fest
October 21- 31, 2015, Minneapolis MN

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More film sound by Mike Hallenbeck

More film music by Mike Hallenbeck

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Music From Ohio

As an Ohio native, I was tickled by this recent post that asks an important question: WHY HAS THE MUSIC FROM OHIO ALWAYS BEEN SO GOOD?

To be sure, the list is striking: Devo, Pere Ubu, Guided By Voices, The Breeders, and on and on. A lot of the people listed I had no idea had anything to do with the place... Bootsy Collins? David Allan Coe? Screamin' Jay Hawkins? Dean Martin? And Ohio-affiliated artists who (as far as I can tell) go unmentioned in the linked entry include Chrissie Hynde, Joe Walsh, The Cramps, Trent Reznor, fIREHOSE, Tracy Chapman, and Marilyn Manson.

But why, indeed, has the music been so good? It's a question worth asking, given the inordinate number of acts with links to the state. Even more than U.S. Presidents and serial killers, music appears to be a prime Ohio export. Why is this?

After careful consideration, I've arrived at the conclusion that I haven't the faintest idea. What do YOU think?

In any case, I eagerly await the promised "Part 2" of The Rust Belt Hammer's entry, which sadly has yet to materialize.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Movies Did Jimmy Carter Watch At The White House?

Matt Novak over at Paleofuture recently posted this list, entitled Every Single Movie That Jimmy Carter Watched at the White House.

It also links to journal entries of what else Carter did on the day of each viewing, as well as to lists of what Regan and Nixon watched. So you might as well just go read that post, since it's a lot more useful than anything I have to say here.

Anyway... Appropriately enough, Carter kicked things off with "All the President’s Men", keeping the paranoia going with subsequent viewings of "The China Syndrome" and "Three Days of the Condor". Also in the governmental realm were "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939) and "The Candidate" (1972).

Disappointgly, the political theme doesn't go very deep. And not surprisingly, Carter's tastes appear to have kept fairly moderate.

As far as I can tell the only movie he screened twice was "Rocky", each viewing about four months apart. He only watched "Rocky II" once though. Fair enough.

In many cases his tastes dovetailed with mine quite handily: "Alien", the original "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" (he apparently watched Episode IV with Anwar Sadat), "Mildred Pierce", "Barry Lyndon", "Klute", "The Shining", "Airplane", and-- yes, I'll say it-- "Meatballs".

Some titles ("Herbie Rides Again", "The Black Hole") I can only assume he watched with Amy. That assumption dovetails with a few of the following as well; in any case, it amuses me greatly to think of any head of state kicking back and viewing these titles:

"The Cat From Outer Space" (1978) — November 8, 1978
"Magic" (1978) — February 25, 1979
"Blue Lagoon" (1980) — May 23, 1980
"Fame" (1980) — September 5, 1980
"My Bodyguard" (1980) — October 17, 1980
"Every Which Way But Loose" (1978) — February 24, 1979

The strongest impression I get here is the old "I still haven't seen this yet? What's wrong with me?" vibe. When I see titles like "Bad Day at Black Rock", "The Searchers" and "The Misfits", I'm reminded that our leaders are here to inspire us to ever greater heights of achievement. And I thank them for it.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Radiotopia Part II of 2: The Truth

Here's the second callout of my favorite shows featured by PRX's Radiotopia, a federation of podcasts that describes itself as "a collective of the best story-driven shows on the planet". These shows distinguish themselves by a high level of sound design quality. VO capture, sfx/ music editing, and overall mix tend toward the exceptional. Moreover, the deployment of sound toward the maintenance of narrative integrity appears to be a high priority.

Even by today's high standards, The Truth distinguishes itself with what I don't hesitate to call audio mastery. I'm captivated by the quality of vocal capture, which as far as I can tell happens in spaces that match the acoustics of the story's setting. If we're witnessing a scene on an echoey staircase, it's actually recorded on an echoey staircase-- and quite clearly, with wonderfully understated actors who sound like they're improvising most of the time, or maybe they're just really good at delivering scripted dialog. Whatever the case, the emotion is present and genuine, effortlessly delivered.

My favorite Truth episode is definitely Silvia's Blood, which employs an alchemical approach to sound as well as a clever deployment of musical elements. Check it out:

The raw documentary technique of Do You Have A Minute For Equality? makes its descent into pure horror that much more precipitous:


Mike Hallenbeck home page

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

John Kannenberg

I thought I'd take a moment to celebrate the work of my friend John Kannenberg, a prolific sound artist who's been receiving some well-deserved notices lately.

For a more comprehensive overview of Kannenberg's work than I could ever provide, head on over to In the meantime I'll reiterate from his bio that he "creates quietly reflective work in image, sound, writing, and performance that blurs the boundaries between intention and accident. His works investigate the sonic geography of museums and archives, the psychology of collection, the processes of making and observing art, and the human experience of time."

Kannenberg's Stasisfield net label has paid it forward to showcase the work of many other sound artists across the globe, and his own recent release Cordolium packs an elemental, authoritative wallop. I've had the pleasure of collaborating with John on several projects, including his museum performance Collections: UMMA and my Sound Spandrel: Science Museum not long after. His curatorial urge has recently found expression in the nascent Museum of Portable Sound. And his interest in museum sonics continues to grow, as evidenced by works like his sound map of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo:

Kannenberg explains his museum documentation further in a recent lecture at the National Gallery in London on September 4th, 2015, also exploring the notion of phonomnesis (the concept of remembered sound):

If you've read this far, you're probably also aware of a recent much-shared meme that John created. Therein he takes source audio of Carl Sagan saying the word "billion", and stretches it out to one hour:

Find out more about John Kannenberg's work at his blog, appropriately titled Phonomnesis. Enjoy!

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

TCFF Preview: "The Caper"

The Flix Chatter blog has posted a preview to the 2015 Twin Cities Film Festival, including a mention of "The Caper"-- a comedy short directed by Matthew Anderson and featuring an original score by yours truly.

Read the entire post here. I'm particularly happy to see a Star Wars photo posted in the same article as a piece I worked on...

More film music by Mike Hallenbeck

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Friday, September 11, 2015

Save The Date For Live Film Soundscape: Trevor Adams, Cellular Cinema @ BLB, 10/18/15

Heads up on an event that I'm really excited to take part in-- live sonic accompaniment to experimental films by my friend Trevor Adams.

Sunday, October 18 at 7:00 pm
Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater
Doors open at 6:00 pm
Tickets: $6 - $12 sliding scale
Buy tickets-- make sure to reserve a seat in advance in case the show sells out
Event listing on Bryant-Lake Bowl's web site

Promo copy: "For its seventh incarnation, Cellular Cinema welcomes prolific local filmmaker Trevor Adams, who will project his work on 16mm with the live accompaniment of sound artist Mike Hallenbeck.

"Trevor works in the folk art/ first-person tradition, repurposing found and salvaged footage, which he alters and distresses with chemicals, markers, pens and pinks.

"Mike is a sound designer and composer whose work spans film, animation, games, branding and the performing arts. See his work at"

We're still working out the details-- but I can say for sure that this will be a unique opportunity to see Trevor's work projected from an actual film reel in all its analog glory, without any digital transfer nonsense, and that my sound work will be a unique mix not to be repeated or even documented in any way. Some pieces will be presented with their original scores intact and unaltered, some I'll augment with my own interventions, and some will have entirely new scores/ soundtracks. Trevor may or may not provide live on-mic commentary.

At least that's the plan for now-- who knows what'll happen on the night. Make a reservation, come on down and find out!

More film sound by Mike Hallenbeck

More film music by Mike Hallenbeck

More sound/ music for animation by Mike Hallenbeck

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Radiotopia Part I of 2: 99% Invisible

I've recently fallen under the spell of PRX's Radiotopia, a federation of podcasts that describes itself as "a collective of the best story-driven shows on the planet". These shows distinguish themselves by a high level of sound design quality. VO capture, sfx/ music editing, and overall mix tend toward the exceptional. Moreover, the deployment of sound toward the maintenance of narrative integrity appears to be a high priority.

One of my favorites among these would be 99% Invisible, "a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world."

The episode Show of Force tells the story of The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, a "ghost army" of the American military deployed in World War II. A "deception unit" consisting chiefly of fine artists, designers and builders and dedicated exclusively to crafting the illusion that there was (for example) an entire division of soldiers across the river when in fact there was none, the 23rd put on a meticulously crafted show that apparently worked quite well. Inflatable tanks, jeeps, and artillery were involved. I kid you not.

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On Location delves into the history of the Bradbury Building, a structure that's served as a shooting location for "Chinatown", "Blade Runner", "The Artist", and countless other films.

And it goes on like that. Enjoy!

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals

This awe-inspiring book and CD set brings to life a phenomenon far too obscure for anyone's good, but doubtless of interest to anyone who creates artisinal content: the industrial musical.

I'll let the promo copy for the book's web site tell the story:

"Once upon a time, when American industry ruled the earth, business and Broadway had a baby. This mutant offspring, glimpsed only at conventions and sales meetings, was the industrial musical. Think Broadway show, except the audience is managers and salesmen, and the songs are about how great it is to be working at the company.

"Through the rare souvenir record albums presented in EVERYTHING’S COMING UP PROFITS, an alternate show-biz universe emerges: a universe in which musical theater can be about selling silicone products, or typewriters, or insurance, or bathtubs. Some of these improbable shows were hilariously lame. Some were pretty good. And some were flat-out fantastic."

I've been very excited to see this publication appear; I've collected MP3s of this stuff for years, foisting it on hapless friends as I went along. If this kind of thing floats your boat, the book is well worth purchasing. The art is well rendered and wide-ranging, the text thorough, insightful and hilarious.

Here's a look at some of the productions covered by this publication. Appropriately enough, you'll often find the video content preceded by an ad.

American Standards' "The Bathrooms Are Coming" (1969) stands as both one of the weirdest and best-known industrial musical artifacts. I'll let this entry on WFMU's blog offer not only the full bizarre tale but a complete MP3 collection of the tracks-- there was apparently a full stage show at one time, but the LP tracks are all that remain in terms of documentation. At any rate, here's the jewel in the crown of this collection, wherein we're told that "my bathroom is a very private place... to dream, and cream..."

General Electric's "Got To Investigate Silicones" (1973) is another milestone-- an epic song cycle extolling the virtue of these powerful polymers that people apparently didn't know much about at the time. Once again, WFMU comes through with complete tracks and more info. But in this case, as we'll see, fully developed film content was shot and cut; this effort stands as one of the most ambitious in the world of the industrial musical.

This Chevrolet sales convention musical (1954) embodies the rare example of an industrial musical captured on film. Thrill to the same song and dance routine presented to the assembled sales representatives of the era:

These productions provide an odd mirror to the Eastern bloc propaganda produced around the same time-- except in this case the results had far higher production values, were concealed from the masses rather than proffered to them, and for the most part were even duller than their Communist counterparts.

Which reminds me of a notion I read once, though I can't remember whose thought it was... in any case, whoever it was said that the difference between American and Soviet propaganda was that we Americans tend to believe ours. Which I think is at least part of what makes these artifacts so awkward to witness: on some level they embody a mythology drilled into us so deeply, yet so subtly, that it's embarrassing to see it stated so plainly.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Film Festival Updates, Autumn 2015

Films featuring my sound design and original music are screening at upcoming festivals across the nation! The pieces range from animation to comedy to horror to documentary. Here's an update...

September 10th, 2015
Featured: "Through A Purgatorial Twenty Eleven"
(Short, Super 8 / Animation, d. Trevor Adams)
Original Musical Score by Mike Hallenbeck

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October 21- 31, 2015, Minneapolis MN
Upcoming screenings for pieces featuring my work in the festival:

Out In The Cold
Documentary Feature, d. J.D. O'Brien
Sound Design + Mix by Mike Hallenbeck

The Caper
Short, d. Matthew Anderson
Original Musical Score by Mike Hallenbeck

Web Series: Theater People
Pilot, Season Three, d. Matthew Anderson
Oiginal Musical Score by Mike Hallenbeck

Clean Cut
Short, d. Andrew Hunt
Sound Design + Original Musical Score by Mike Hallenbeck

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And speaking of "Clean Cut", here's a blog entry dedicated exclusively to Clean Cut festival updates, as there have turned out to have been so many:

Clean Cut Festival Updates

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More film sound by Mike Hallenbeck

More film music by Mike Hallenbeck

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Randy Thom Podcast

I've developed an enthusiasm for the Soundworks Collection podcast of late, and the recent addition Writing for Sound with Randy Thom is a new favorite.

Known for a voluminous resume that includes "War of the Worlds" (2004, a neglected quality film IMO), "Mimic", animated features like "Coraline", "The Incredibles", and "How To Train Your Dragon" (I and II), and of course the sound design classic "Cast Away", Thom had the good fortune to land "Apocalypse Now" as his first feature film project and currently serves as Skywalker Sound's Director of Sound Design. Needless to say, he has some things to say that are worth listening to.

So feel free to listen here:

I really enjoyed hearing how Thom likes to offer ways he can help with the soundscape of a film even at the writing stage; he observes that everyone on a film project is often marching in the same direction simultaneously, but they're often not communicating as they do so. This interview demonstrates how a more collaborative approach, instigated early in the process, can lead to a more comprehensive synthesis as the project develops. Inspiring stuff.

Mike Hallenbeck home page