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How Bad Memories Work in a Radio Play by Julian Simpson

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Overall, I enjoyed the piece but I felt there were a handful of moments that were unreasonably silly and took away from being fully immersed in the story world. The production quality, as would be expected of a BBC Radio 4 piece, was of high quality with each scene having multiple layers of complexity, combining both primary and secondary sounds to create a rich story world. The Mise en Scene syntagmatic choices made it easy to visualize what each place looked like and how the characters moved around spatially and within relation to one another through primary dialogic cues and secondary sounds of physical movement and acoustic perspectives. Even though I did not know all the characters names, I never felt lost and could easily create a unique image in my mind for each character. The piece executed this through use voice actors with a wide and diverse range and giving the characters personalities that were distinct, if not a bit archetypal.

In this analysis, structured by scenes and persented in chronological order as one would play the final piece, primary and secondary sounds will be examined in an effort to find trends, intriiseases and whether or not the script choices made this fictional dramatic piece more or less powerful.

The Haunted House

Bad Memories begins with secondary diegetic sounds of crunchy footsteps upon leaves and gravel, denoting travel until we get to the creaky doors and the footstep sounds transition into the hard floors of a structure. This will quickly become a staple of the piece and is used abundantly throughout. Once the two male characters begin to speak there is a lot of reverb on their voices, in some instances it becomes a full echo, which gives the audience the sense that the indoor space is very large, with little to nothing on the walls to absorb the reverb. This coupled with the other secondary sounds of wind blowing denote that we are outside. Almost instantly, the sound combination is meant to connote a symbolic sense of spookiness, fear, and danger. It does this by playing upon the traditional haunted house and horror movie tropes that those living in the Western world have agreed upon through convention as scary.

At 0:59 our assumptions on the danger of the structure are supported with primary sounds from one of the two male characters denoting that a fire that occurred previously that caused some suspected structural damage and that it is unsafe to venture further. From their first exchange of words, it is clear that they are trespassing, which makes me assume they are doing so under the cover of darkness. Although we still do not have any names, based on their familiar exchange of primary sounds, the two males know each other, and it is clear that one is far more timid and frightened of the house while the other is more reckless and daring. The timid male clearly uses primary language at 1:19 to denote a warning to the more reckless male to “not go in there”. This use of primary sound, supported by the overall creepiness of the secondary sounds, comes with the symbolic connotation of impending danger and foreboding.

Visually, I draw upon my own experiences with what this might look like. Even though the two male characters are British, my mind conjures up woodlands and abandoned houses that I have seen in American horror films. Since we’re told that there was a previous fire, my mind also paints the wood of the home in black ash and a slight smell of charred campfire logs clinging to the fresher scent of a deciduous forest. The timeline of the first scene’s story feels present and happening as we are experiencing it. Scene 1 drops the listener into the middle of the action without any idea of who the characters are, where they geographically are, or what their motivations may be. Although we have to guess the backstory throughout this scene, the primary dialogue does do a great job of giving us enough verbal queues to know where the characters are spatially moving within the scene and in relation to one another. For example, at 1:08 the more adventurous male heads off away upstairs, where we get a distant perspective of his voice while we stay close to the timid male.

Finally, at 1:21, we are given one of the male’s names, Tom, after loud secondary sounds of crashing and wooden board breaking. Even though we have not had any investment or buy in for the characters safety or survival, the stress in the male characters voices along with the SFX builds tension and suspense. Perhaps only our curiosity of what happens next is exciting about having a potential deathly action happen so soon in the storyline or it could have been that throughout this scene a close perspective was used which help to create intimacy between the characters and the listener. Diegetic sounds of heavy breathing and creaking, structurally unstable wood follow the trajectory of escalating fear and danger for our characters until the climax of Tom falling through the floor and letting the listener know through primary sounds that he found a grouping of human bones. Before we hear Tom denote that there are human remains there, we hear a sparkling whimsical sound and then a faint female voice singing. This secondary sound is meant to indexically connote the presence of a spirit. Even though the two males do not respond to the sound, I believe we are meant to perceive this sound as happening within the story world, although in a production aspect it was added non-digetically.

We can also connote his terror through the tone of his voice and the urgency in which he demands help out of the bone pit. This scene closes with non-diegetic secondary sounds of gusting winds, banshees and unattached screams to signifying the transition, with a final fade to silence. The use of these sounds together happens in mulitple places in the piece and will be collectively referred to as “spooky secondary sounds” Overall, the paradigmatic choices of using classic haunted house sounds gives the overall scene a contrived and campy feel.

The Office, Part 1

We transition into the second scene with secondary footstep sounds on tiled. This scene, which takes place in present day, uses acoustic reverb, door knocking, low murmmered calm chatting and typing to leads us to believe the character is in a professional office of some sort. Through primary dialogue we are presented to the next set of characters: a male with an air of authority who introduces himself as a law enforcement Detective Marquez and Rachel, the owner of the office, a female who specializes in audio recordings. Once Detective Marquez is inside Rachel’s office, the acoustic perspective is recording very close to both characters lending a sense of intimacy, and there is relatively no secondary ambient sounds until the detective leaves the office to give Rachel time to analyze the recorder. This pattern of close acoustic perspective of the charcters with little to no ambient secondary sounds while in Rachel’s office will continue throughout the entire piece.

Detective Marquez gives the audience a montage point of refernce via his primary dialogue apology to Rachel for arriving right before closing time and dives into the backstory at 3:13. Through this primary dialogue exchange between characters, the audience also gets the backstory of the haunted house, the overall story timeline up until that point, and male characters from scene one. Additionally helpful was the diegetic timeline Detective Marquez sets out for Rachel which lets us place the previous set of characters, house fire, and five dead bodies on a mental linear progression.

During this dialogue exchnage, we’re also introduced into the key characters we have yet to meet that make up the collection of bodies found in Scene 1: Jonathan, Imogen, and Matthew Blake, Philip Gibson, and an unidentified woman. Detective Marquez discusses the oddieties of the case and the increasing of Rachel’s sighs and forced exhalations of breath symbolicaly connoting interest, exasperation, and disbelief.

In a short amount of time, the audience has received a lot of information through primary dialogue and at 5:54 there is a bit of comic relief from Rachel as she orders a Grand Latte from Marquez. This scene closes with the appearance of the first secondary sounds we’ve heard in a while, the door slamming and the sounds of the tape recorder being rewound.

Rachel’s Office, Part 2

Knowing that Rachel is alone with the recording, we are privy to everything she hears. The sounds of the start and stop buttons being pressed with a distinctly audible clikc are recorded with a close perspective while the beginning sounds from the tape recorder have an intital layer of static adding on non-diegetically in post-production to help differentiant for the listener that they have transitioned into the story world of the recorded past of 2004. After roughly ten seconds of static layered audio, the audio from the recorder becomes clear and acoustically closer as we become more present in the story world of the Blake family of November 4, 2004. Creating this sense of intimacy with the deceased members of that house through shifting how the audio sounds to the listener helps us buy into the story, care about the characters, and even though we know the ultimate ending, makes us curious about how it came to be. This pattern hold true throughout most of the piece when we toggle between the tapes and the close acoustical perspective of Detective Marquez and Rachel’s voices and reverb of her office and therefore will not be mentioned again in this analysis until the scene breaks with this established convention.

In under a minute of play time, we move through a few hours in story time which is denoted by Detective Marquez returning to Rachel’s office with her latte, that he verbalized he would do in Scene 2. This paradigmatic choice in the script was a wonderful way to create a fast movement of time without feeling disjointed. Rachel accepts her latte with a sigh of frustration and aggravation, presumably in response to the last few hours she has spent trying to access the corrupted audio files, which she begins to play for Marquez.

On the tapes we hear primary monologue and dialogues and a host of clear ambient sounds of crunchy walking, birds singing, and Phillip Gibson denoting iconic cues for his surroundings being remote and in the woods. Since I now know the timeline of the story world, this version of the woodland is bright, sunny, and non-foreboding as it is pre-murder. The bird singing also helps to indexically connote daytime and symbolically denote spring or freshness. The feel of this scene is much more serene than the first time we were introduced to the Blake home. However, the unease retruns very quickly through the use of primary dialogue between Gibson and Jonathan Blake, when the seed of doubt on Gibson’s good intentions is sewn and then watered by Marquez and Rachel after stopping the tape as we tranisiton out of this scene.

The Blake’s Kitchen

As the recorded past is shifted into a more present feel, the reverberations connotes we are inside and indexically verbal references such as an offer of tea and the Blake boy Michael’s request for a snack connotes that the characters are spatially in the kitchen. The voices of all three adults are nervous with only the young boy’s voice sounding mundane.

With the introduction of Imogen and Michael Blake, this is the first time that there has been more than two characters in the Mise en Scene. With four characters, things could potentially get confusing but the producers made strong paradigmatic decisions in casting actors with very distinct voices so it is easy to identify each character.

Right before we cut back to Detective Marquez at 10:54, we hear the faint and distant voice of a fifth character who is verbally referred to as Bisa, the nanny. Her acoustic perspective is very distant, connoting her low level of importance to the story. Personally, I think adding a fifth character in a close perspective would have been too overwhelming for the scene.

The Study

Secondary sound effects support the dialogue that occurred at 12:03 when Jonathan invited Gibson to speak more privately in his study where our initial perceptions of Blake’s wealth are verified through primary dialogue. On the way to his study, dialogue sets the stage for the importance of the flooring while we experience an elongated length of footsteps on stone floors. Jonathan states he saved the old flooring from the previous home and we get a foreshadowing sense that this information will be important later on in the story because of the amount of time spent on such a mundane fact.

For me, I think the clearest indication that a new scene has started is at 12:24 where there is a deep, non-diegetic boom sound followed by the glittering, whimsical chimes, heavy wind, song birds, and ghostly howls we heard earlier in the program that symbolized the presence of a supernatural being. We hear these sounds again at 16:16 and 16:58. Since neither character present at the actual recording reacts to these sounds, we can assume that they are non-diegetic in a production sense. However, our living observers, Marquez and Rachel do react to these recorded sounds meaning they also have a diegetic place in the story. This fits into the common trope used in other stories and films of the supernatural where a machine is needed to perceive the presence of ghosts since humans are not capable of doing so unassisted.

The Lavatory

We jump back into the recorded history and within ten seconds of Rachel pressing play, the deep booming secondary sound which is symbolic of doom, is heard as Gibson uses primary monologue to tell his recorder, “Something is here”. Now that Gibson has had a chance to play back his tape while hiding in the lavatory, he has heard the same disembodied mystery girl singing that Rachel and Marquez heard. The listener is meant to feel uneasy and spooked by this revelation, which is paired with a knock on the lavatory door that makes the listener jump at its unexpected loudness and close proximity.

In terms of montage, we are not sure how much time has passed or how Gibson got from Blake’s study into the lavatory since Rachel had just stated that over an hour and a half of the tape was corrupted. This scene has quite a few new secondary sounds to help support the mise en scene spatially positioning of the characters in the house: a flushing toilet, a squeaking door, footsteps, and a distant phone ringing with an equally distant Imogen calling to her husband Jonathan that a call has come through for him.

At this point, Jonathan’s voice is connoting unease with Gibson and you can feel the sense of suspicion rise as Gibson asks permission to wander unaccompanied around the home. We hear Jonathan quickly exit the scene as his quick footsteps become fainter on his way to the phone, leaving Gibson alone to explore the home.

The Child Matthew’s Room

This scene begins with the return of the deep boom and accompanying footsteps to indexical signal Gibson’s movement away from the lavatory and into the other parts of the home. We hear sounds of a video game, connoting that Gibson has entered into the young Matthew’s room. The deep symbolic boom of doom returns when Gibson asks Matthew about the mystery girl on the recordings.

As Gibson is interrogating Matthew the tone and pitch of his voice drop and become almost predatory. It is here, at 20:51, that you know that Gibson is not just a reporter and is definitely there with an ulterior motive. Personally, I felt uneasy in this scene, as he is alone with Matthew, and acting inappropirate. This is validated when Gibson’s voice returns to its professional cheerful demeanor when Jonathan runs into the room and when Rachel turns off the tape to say to Detective Marquez, “This guy is genuinely creepy”.

Before this scene concludes, the producers made an interesting paradigmatic choice in the script at 21:50 when they had Marquez inquire if Rachel had a husband. It was out of place, ovetly personal and irrelevant. This did serve to increase the awkwardness, but this was not revisted anywhere else in the piece and should have been removed.

The Common Room

When the tape is turned back on after the verbal exchange between Detective Marquez and Rachel, time has passed and the three adults are in a common area. We are cued into knowing that it is now dark outside and around dinner time through the primary dialogue of Imogen, Jonathan, and Gibson. Imogen’s voice sounds nervous as she tries to get Gibson to stay the night and Jonathan begins to think something is definitely amiss. During this scene we’re quickly toggling between the current present world and the recorded story world, which is a bit dizzying at times. Most of the same conventions are used to denote when we are in the recorded history world or the present world of Rachel’s office.

The multiple minutes of primary dialogue is recorded in a moderate acoustic perspective with very little secondary sounds as they adults argue over the true nature of Gibson’s presence there as a paranormal investigator. The lack of secondary sounds, argumentative dialogue but the presence of reverb, gives the listener a sense of tension as these three individuals particpate in a heated exchange in a small space. Gibson is recorded in a close perspective while he details the origin story of the haunting and the importance of the stone floor to the Blake’s, while the listener and the Blakes nervously hold their breath.

At 27:54, Rachel begins to argue with Detective Marquez because she has begun to believe in the fantastical nature of the story while Detective Marquez still believe there has to be a logical explanation for everything. Secondary sounds help us visualize that Rachel is working on equipment of some kind with a keyboard as she tries to filter some additional parts of the audio tape to play. The primary exchange between Rachel and Detective Marquez at this point connotes that they have been at this for a long time and are tired and frustrated.

Gibson and Imogen / Rachel’s Office

Imogen is speaking privately with Gibson as they set up a recording device that will play back the sounds in real time on speakers. We continue to get the house reverb sounds, but as Gibson turns the speakers on we also get a short feedback reverb from the speakers themselves. During the last five minutes there has been a lull in secondary sound which may be to help prepare the listener for the onslaught of frightening sounds that must be on its way in this highly predictable supernatural drama that comes at 32:27 in the form of more spooky secondary sounds.

We are abruptly transported back to Rachel’s office and this toggle happens often and quickly in this scene. Rachel’s tone, pitch and strength of her voice clearly connotes that she is upset by what she has heard on the recording and given her expertise she verifies the validity of the terrifying sounds in the recording.

We hear the play button click and return to Gibson and Imogen with a small amount of time passed. Now that tension has been built, a cacophony of sounds bombards the listener. The overall volume increases as sounds of screeching and wailing fill the scene. This sound is diegetic as Imogen and Gibson are reacting with fear and terror.

Marquez gets a call on Rachel’s phone and is scratching notes onto a notepad, connoting that the information he has just received is going to be very important and he does not want to get it wrong. When he shares this information with Rachel and the listener, everyone gets chills as he reluctantly reveals the connections between Mary the person and Mary the potential ghost. Rachel’s voice continues to rise in pitch and speed, connoting her adjitation.

Blake’s Common Room Climax

We leave the shaken Rachel in her office and jump directly into the story world of the Blakes. This time, the transition breaks with the pattern and goes directly into close, non-static sound from the recorded past, but it does use the deep boom of doom to delineate the transition. Through primary dialogue between Jonathan and Gibson, we learn that Jonathan has seen the evil ghostly girl and Gibson warns that “she is here”, so they return to the amplify speakers, and hear the ghost say “I’ve come home” in a classic spooky ghost way, one minute after she died in the real world of November 2004.

Just as in the last scene, we toggle between the present feel of the recorded past story world and the present story world of Rachel’s office, with cues of a button click letting us know we are returning to the recorded world. Rachel’s voice continues to escalate in terror and unease as the detective tries to calm her. Her escalating pitch and increase in words per minute speed connote that she is becoming increasingly anxious and demands her and the detective go to the crime scene. Of course this is denied and she plays the last recorded audio file which contains the anticipated supernatural screams of the ghost and the human screams of the family.

Spatially, the characters are spread far away from each other in the house and in proximity to the recorder. You can hear footsteps running away from the recorder as Jonathan goes to find his wife and son. Faint cries from the wife and son can also be heard in the distance. We can assume that Gibson has brought the recorder to where we are now in Matthew’s room. However, I find this a bit unrealistic because if someone was actually faced with something as terrifying as this situation, I hardly think they would stop to grab the recorder. Yet, the suspicion of disbelief has to occur to allow the story to continue.

A chaotic chorus of primary and secondary sounds ensues as the family attempt to leave the house but are trapped and we hear a slicing, juicy sound as Gibson is stabbed. The Blake family and Jonathan run down into the basement through a door that Jonathan verbally denotes, “shouldn’t be there”.

The End

Scene 10 ends with a fade to a brief silence, but we’re aware that it is still very late in the evening if we are to continue with the montage from the previous scene. We then hear a car drive up a gravel road and her shutting car door iconically denotes she has arrived alone at the Blake house and is greeted by the same imperceivable birds from before.

While exploring the home, the audience can see Rachel’s impending death before she does because of the noises Detective Marquez can hear over her phone when he calls her that she can’t. This scene and the entire piece ends on the viscerally disturbing cries for help and screams of agony as Rachel becomes the fifth body. Although we are led to believe we are listening to her murder in real time, there are no flesh wound or stabbing sounds.

Bad Memories was an enjoyable and easy listen, although the storyline was terribly predictable and at time contrived. Looking back, there was an over abundance of footsteps and classic haunted house sounds, but I felt it easy to follow the progression of characters in time and space. I could also easily visualize the different scenes and characters.

The most negative aspects of the piece for me was the formulaic use of the haunted house, killer little girl story that we have seen used in many blockbuster movies. I also had a real issue with the ending and how the final timeline came together. It seemed like too much of an easy choice to have the adventurous brave female be the only present day character to die because she did not follow the orders of a man and went somewhere alone. I think that trope is overused and boring. It was also a bit too beyond the acceptable reality of the story world that Rachel would be the fifth body, since the two male boys found the bones before Rachel entered the story. Up until that point, most of the supernatural elements of the timeline could be accepted given an acceptance of the supernatural. However, Rachel’s inclusion as the fifth body was just a bit too much.

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How Bad Memories Work in a Radio Play by Julian Simpson. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 2, 2021, from
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