Interview with Field Collapse

Field Collapse is an experimental instrument builder and composer for film, television, and podcasts. His work regularly appears in Simultaneous Times podcast, as well as television shows such as Altered Carbon, Mythbusters, and the White Rabbit Project. When not working on production music he can be found recording and touring with the experimental ambient group Less Bells. He is also the co-owner of Audiobrat Production Music, a provider of library music.

Can you explain what library music is and how you came to compose for libraries?

It’s essentially the music version of a stock photo website. Library music is music designed for TV and film but it is more affordable because it is not specifically composed for the project. Years ago, I was working at a music store selling recording equipment. I met someone who worked in the business and gave them a demo that I had put together showing whatever meager range I was capable of at the time. Years later, the man admitted he came home and threw the CD in the trash only to pull it out and eventually give it a listen a full year later! He called me when he needed a particularly “modern” sounding electronic track and of course I lied and told him I had tons of that stuff laying around. That night I think I made ten tracks for him to choose from. If you get a chance like that you take it!

What are some of the ways in which composing library music differs from composing for podcasts and film?

In the library world, you never know what the music is going to be used for, so you can’t tailor it to fit the project like you can when you are working to picture. As with all music, you are writing to hit a certain vibe or feel but you are working with broader strokes because you have no idea where it’s going to end up. For me it’s very freeing, I can imagine the narrative or TV show that I’m trying to score. The main drawback is the library music world is more conservative. If you make music that is too weird it will never get used, whereas in the podcast world I can force people to listen to the weird stuff. Podcasts are especially interesting now because they are such a relatively new art form the lexicon hasn’t been canonized. It’s still up in the air what podcasts are supposed to sound like.

When composing music for accompanying spoken word what things do you have to keep in mind?

One of the main mistakes I see a lot of young musicians make it concentrating on the “lead” instruments. Playing too many notes and grabbing too much attention. Most people get into music because they WANT attention. You have to remember that the “lead” instrument in a film or podcast is the narration, and your music is there to support that, not to compete with it. You are basically setting a stage for the action to take place in.

What tips do you have for using music to heighten emotion in a story?

Well, I’m probably not the one to ask about this because I’m always experimenting with manipulating emotions and hilariously failing most of the time. In the old days, you would use key modulations and other music theory tricks for heightening emotions, and occasionally I still do but these days I am drawn to more technical tricks, like binaural beats and imperceptibly gradual tempo shifts that speed up or slow down the heart rate of the listener. I like these “subliminal” tools modern musicians have access to. I love finding manipulation techniques that haven’t been exploited yet.

What is the main difference between making music for storytelling mediums versus making stand-alone “music” records?

I have always been confused when people would buy the incidental music soundtracks from a film. Why would you want to feel like you’re in a furious action movie when you are in the kitchen making scrambled eggs? To me, stand-alone “music” and soundtracks are functionally different. Soundtracks will have musical cues that don’t make sense when applied to your normal life. Also a lot of my soundtrack work is structurally compromised when you take the action or narration away. I use silence a lot to emphasize or highlight important information or to make an emotion hit harder. That said, I do listen to the Beat Street soundtrack all the time when I am hanging out because I love to feel like I’m a breakdancer in 1983 Manhattan.

What tips do you have for using Foley and sound-effects?

Like I said, podcasts are a relatively young art form and the roles that Foley and music play have yet to be really nailed down. Right now, I am leaning more on the old “Radio play” model of the pre-television age when it comes to Foley. In the “old days”, they would only use sound effects when they were deemed important to the story. If you didn’t do this you’d obviously just be listening to constant footsteps and shuffling feet! I tend to be very conservative with Foley. You are much more likely to hear a gun cocking than an actual gunshot because the click of a cocking pistol heightens the tension. People’s imagination will fill in the sound of doors being opened and closed but I will give them a really CREAKY SCARY door if I want people to get excited about something. I suppose it’s like picking your battles. You can’t fill up the entire sound spectrum because it will just be a mess, be very careful about what you use that space for.

You’re also an experimental instrument builder, do you have any advice for using non-conventional sound sources in composition?

The reason I started building my own instruments is because I was sick of everything sounding so uniform. ANYTHING you can throw into a mix that makes people’s ears prick up will serve you in the long run, even if the track is supposed to be ignored! It’s not about attracting attention as much as sounding fresh and new. Perhaps more importantly, traditional instruments are usually designed to sit in the frequency range humans prefer to listen to, that being the range that our voice sits in. When making music that will live with narration you want exactly the opposite of this. You want sounds that sit above or below this range. I build a lot of instruments that are higher or lower in pitch than the traditional version. A good example is a “baritone” guitar or an “alto” flute. Anything to get the musical information out of the way of the spoken information. Make way for the ducklings!

What music theory tricks do you take into consideration when composing for podcasts?

I’m not traditionally trained but I have picked up enough music theory to make a nuisance of myself. However, I’m always conscious of podcasts being a new artform. I really feel like all bets are off because the “standards” haven’t really been set. It has its roots in pre-television “radio plays” but it also has a lot of internet-age influences. So I really feel like it’s an important time to stretch the roles music and Foley play to see what hits and what doesn’t. I’m always trying to experiment with the form which occasionally results in total failure but can also succeed in ways you were never expecting.

Composing for Podcasts & Film: An interview with RedBlueBlackSilver

RedBlueBlackSilver is a film and podcast/radio composer based in the Mojave Desert. He is a regular contributor to Desert Oracle Radio and Simultaneous Times podcast. As well as composing multiple podcast episodes each month he is also the composer for the films Hunt for the Skinwalker and Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers, he also regularly scores silent films for amazing live shows. For a time he also hosted his own podcast: SciFi Music with RedBlueBlackSilver. He can be found at and at his Bandcamp 


 What brought you to composing for podcasts and films?

It started out as a sad story. In 2015, a truck crashed into the car I was driving on the freeway, and my head hit the steering wheel, which cause some persistent neurological problems. I was used to being able to play quickly and accurately prior to the accident. I moved to the desert and quit making music entirely after the crash, and although it made me deeply sad, I moved on to other interests. When after a while I wasn't making progress, I started to learn about music therapy and I began to appreciate ambient and atmospheric music more. About two years after the crash, I heard the radio and podcast version of Desert Oracle (a beloved periodical field guide to the American deserts) and admired how music blended in with Ken Layne's voice. I was so taken with the show that I dusted off my instruments and started to submit my own atmospheric music - things I could make despite the neurological issues - to the program. Shortly after, I started to make music for a filmmaker (Jeremy Kenyon Lockyer Corbell) who had been a guest on Desert Oracle Radio. A couple of months later I began to also contribute music to Simultaneous Times Podcast.


How does composing for podcasts differ from film composition?

My favorite thing about making music for podcasts is the near-immediate feedback you get from the audience. There are sometimes only a few days (but no more than a few weeks) between when the music is written and recorded and when you get reactions from listeners. It is helpful in terms of calibrating your future work based on what people enjoyed. Musically though, there isn't a single thing I do in films that I don't also do for radio/podcasts. I reject the idea that film music should be bigger and more "cinematic", and it is disappointing to me that often podcast music is so thin and almost apologizing for existing. Of course, the music can't be so prominent that the voices aren't audible but there are a lot of tricks to make cinematic music that stays out of the way in the context of a podcast. Most of the other differences between film and podcast composition have to do with the particular styles of the people in charge, which would be different in someone else's situation.


What are some tips you have for podcast composers?

In terms of finding the right show(s) to work on, what worked for me was shamelessly contacting local podcast hosts and producers. It takes a lot more work that just writing introductory form emails - you have to listen to existing episodes enough to fully understand its aesthetic and personality, or to absorb whatever you can if it's a new show. I recommend including sample tracks that are custom tailored to that show, including leaving room for the host's vocal frequency in case they try to read something over your sample track. Most importantly, pick a show that you personally enjoy.

With respect to keeping yourself on a show, the basics of human interaction apply. Be accommodating when you can, meet deadlines (or decline offers in advance when you are too busy to handle them), remain open to new ideas, and listen carefully for criticism delivered gently "between the lines". Not everyone is equally likely to be direct with negative feedback, and sometimes you have to listen carefully to the text and the subtext. This is why, especially before the pandemic, I valued (and continue to value) working with locals. Once you meet someone in person and get to know them, it becomes easier to interpret what they tell you later on, even in writing. Helping the host/producer with promoting the show, and representing the show well in general, goes a long way.


What challenges have you faced when working with composition for spoken word accompaniment?

Most of my experience in accompanying spoken word has involved improvising with unfamiliar pieces but if you can get the material in advance, it is wise to read it thoroughly and discuss the emotional tone and big "moments" with the author. The author may not have the musical vocabulary to make specific suggestions, but they should have a good handle on the emotional tone of each part of the piece, and it's your job to translate that into what you play and when. If it's a live performance, watch the reader as if they were the lead singer in a band. The experienced ones constantly give out non-verbal cues but it may even help to work out basic signals in advance. For example, if the reader backs away from the mic, the accompaniment can be more prominent until they come back to the mic.

Mostly you are following their lead. If they get quiet, you get quiet. If they slow down, you slow down. You have to see what you are doing as an extension of what they are doing for it to work. Some people can't handle being in the following role and there are plenty of musical avenues for them, but being a scoring composer may not be ideal for the particularly extroverted or musicians who like to show off their shredding ability.


Do you have any pointers for matching emotion in fiction with audio elements?

Like in any music you have to be aware of tonality, instrumentation/arrangement, time, and space. Everyone uses a different mix of the three for their own sound. Personally, I gravitate towards using tonality as my primary tool, but that is just my individual style. With tonality, it takes a little bit of learning how different types of chords are emotionally interpreted by the listener. The basic thing a lot of people know is that major chords/keys sound happier than minor, but it goes way beyond that. Using diminished chords for a scary tense feeling for example.

For instrumentation and arrangement, strings can help reinforce the sound. A lone violin/viola can be used dramatically for a sad lonely feeling, and a string quartet sound can really drive home melancholy emotions. If you can get a good brass sound, that can help bring home a triumphant moment. I often use synthesizers to create thick bass drones that form the foundation of the instrumentation, and that alone can have its own emotional effect.

Time is important for feeling outside of the happy/sad continuum. For imparting a frantic feeling, a brisk piece that gradually gets faster works well. Similarly, a slow piece can reinforce the feeling of lethargy.

Finally, space is vital for giving either a frantic, crowded feel to the piece or making it feel isolated. This can be achieved through the use of panning as well as how you fill in the low, medium, and high frequencies.


What advice do you have for working with foley and sound effects?

I prefer to use a combination of existing sound effects, atmospheres, and foley (sounds recorded specifically for the piece). I prefer recording my own sounds when possible, but existing sound effects can be gathered from libraries or websites, and can often be the only practical way to achieve the desired outcome. For example, it may not be possible to record a real car crash or a real gunshot. The trick is to find ones that sound realistic and appropriate for the story, and you sometimes have to wade through a lot of low quality sounds to find the right one.

I personally like to record my own atmospheric sounds. Wind, rain, coyotes, birds... whatever you have local and available. Even traffic and mass transit sounds come in handy. Record them when you can and keep them labeled in a folder for later use. Even a cheap handheld recorder can get great results.

Foley is the most fun. It brings back the old era of radio when sound effects were produced live. Do what you can on your own. Footsteps, doors opening, and other household noises sound great when you record them yourself.

Whatever sounds you use, managing panning is important so that the sounds are more realistic to the human ear.


How do you use panning for dramatic affect and spatial dynamics?

Panning is extremely important. In the music itself, it allows you to emphasize or deemphasize instruments based on how close they are to the center of the stereo image. Similarly with sound effects and foley, panning gives the listener a sense of direction. The human ear is really sophisticated, and even subconsciously people can get overwhelmed if everything they hear is heard equally by both ears. In real life, if you hear a sound like the heater turning on, rarely is that heater directly in front of you - usually it's off to the left or the right. Not using panning for realism can turn people off without them even consciously knowing why. Panning sound effects can also be used creatively, like a car driving by may start off in the left channel, move to the center, and then to the right. It's just another way to immerse the listener in the fictional world.


What music theory tricks do you take into consideration when composing for podcasts?

To me, the chords you learn in the very beginning of music theory instruction are the only theory elements I use daily. In my approach, it is vital to know the different basic types of tonality and their emotional characteristics: major, minor, diminished, augmented, and suspended. It may be oversimplified, but major sounds happy, minor sounds sad, diminished sounds scary/tense, augmented sounds unstable but open, and suspended chords are nicely emotionally ambiguous.

Another trick I use are pedal tones - keeping the same bass note through the chord progression often employing "slash" chords - to impart the feeling of being stuck in a bad situation. The constant unchanging bass note feels like an anchor.

The important thing is to not get overwhelmed with too much theory. A lot of it is interesting to know, but may not apply to your situation. Learn in whatever way makes sense to online tutorial, a class at a community college, or just reading on your own. The theory tools you use just become another way for you to sound different than anyone else, and can help you establish your own personal style.


Flights of Foundry, May 16-17, 2020

Flight of Foundry

Dream Foundry is thrilled to announce Flights of Foundry, a virtual convention for speculative creators and their fans. Registration is open and the convention will take place May 16-17. Our guests of honor are:

Comics: Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Editor: Liz Gorinsky
Fiction: Ken Liu
Games: Andrea Phillips
Illustration: Grace Fong
Translation: Alex Shvartsman and Rachel S. Cordasco

In addition to panels and information sessions, our programming will include workshops, a dealer's room, consuite (yes, a virtual consuite!), and more.

There is no cost to register, though donations to defray costs and support Dream Foundry's other programming are welcomed. Dream Foundry is a registered 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting creators working in the speculative arts as they begin their careers.

To register, go to:
For more information about the convention:
You can learn more about Dream Foundry or check out our other programs by visiting our website:

6 Tips For Building a World

So, you want to build a fictional world. Great! Now what?

An over-articulated world can easily tempt you into taking frequent, tedious detours to tell your readers all about it instead of focusing on character and story, and a world that was built with hardly any guiding principles often leads to situations where your audience will constantly ask, “Wait a minute, if X exists, why didn’t they just do Y instead of Z?”

Of course, there is no One Right Way of doing it. But the following principles can serve as useful guides to help keep you on target.

1. Your world doesn’t need to make sense, but it does need to have rules.

Lightsabers, sonic screwdrivers, zombies: none of these things really make sense, but we know what they can and can’t do. Knowing with clarity how things work prompts people to think about what might happen, which pulls them into the story. And for the writer, these rules also define the paths a story can take, form obstacles to be overcome or assets to be cleverly exploited by your characters, and can help you create satisfying suspense, action, twists, and drama.

2. Your rules can be broken, but only rarely, and at the right moment.

Sometimes, a broken rule can create all sorts of lovely responses in your audience. If a villain does something that should not be possible, it can establish the extreme nature of their threat, enhancing the fear and tension. If a hero does the impossible after an emotional three-act journey of unlocking their potential, you’ve created a compelling Chosen One. But if you break your rules too often, they'll cease to mean anything and your audience will stop caring.

3. Only tell your audience what they need to know.

If it isn’t relevant to the plot, to the character, or to the theme, then your audience doesn’t need to know it, plain and simple. There’s no need to explain all the rules to a fictional card game, for example. As long as your audience understands if a character is cheating, taking a big gamble, or in a tight spot, that’s all that really matters. Don’t force your audience to study your lore just to understand what they’re supposed to feel.

Moreover, what your audience doesn’t know can open up your world in ways no amount of information ever could. If an audience knows what a monster can do, but not what it wants or where it came from, the mystery can be powerfully compelling. Imagination often soars more vividly when left in the dark.

4. Treat your cultures the way you treat your characters.

As with your characters, first impressions of your fictional societies are crucial. We learn the most important things about Harry Potter the moment we meet him waking up in a cupboard under the stairs, brushing spiders off his socks. The same is true of hobbits, Klingons, and the Capitol of Panem. The rest—what deities they believe in, what their legal system looks like, what political factions exist—can be elaborated as the need arises. It is far more important for your audience to know what a member of a certain race, nation, or religion is likely to think or do in a given moment than it is for them to be well-versed in the particulars right off the bat. Just remember not to keep putting off that nuance indefinitely, or you’ll end up writing caricatures instead of believable cultures.

5. Don’t have something explained to a character who should already know it.

Physicists don’t go around explaining black holes to other physicists in the real world, so why would they in fiction? If you need to explain something to your audience, that’s what a Fish Out of Water is for! Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Bilbo Baggins—their ignorance is wonderfully useful for world building. If you find yourself writing dialogue like “As you well know,” chances are you need to find another way to introduce or integrate the information.

6. Culture clash is your friend.

But what if your story has no room for a character who’s been living under a rock and needs everything explained to them? Well, if you put characters in situations where their worldviews are at odds, but they have to come to an agreement about what to do, having them argue about it is a convenient and natural way to get them to explain and defend their morals, traditions, or beliefs. Dramatic conflict can thus be used to develop story, character, theme, and world simultaneously.

And lastly, you can’t build a world without giving it a shot, so go and keep filling blank pages with words. Deliberate practice over time is the only way to become a better writer.

OMEC: Discuss Firefly with SL Huang

Editor's Note: You can check out the forum topic here, but you'll need to log on to post.

There’s a fantastic essay by Hugo-winning writer John Chu about using non-English languages in English-language fiction. I come back to it every time I include multiple languages in a piece. John details the challenge of how “nonfluent readers must never feel as though something is missing but fluent readers must never feel as though anything is extraneous.”

The whole essay is very much worth reading, but there is one section I find myself thinking about during so many other creative circumstances as well, not just multilingual ones. And that’s the parallel story John tells about the composition of the musical Carousel:

The new theatrical orchestration of the Carousel Waltz obviously had to match Carousel‘s existing pit instrumentation, but Rodgers also needed an orchestration suitable for an upcoming concert performance. […] Rodgers wanted one orchestration which incorporated a set of additional instruments. Without those instruments, the instrumentation matched that of the Carousel pit. With those instruments, the instrumentation matched that of a concert orchestra.

The result had to be an orchestration that sounded complete and satisfying either way. Those additional instruments had to sound integral to the waltz when they were used. The waltz couldn’t sound like it’s missing something when they weren’t used.

Don Walker is quoted as saying, “This was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”

I think about this story when I’m writing about anything some of my audience will have a background in and others won’t, like math. I also think about it when I’m writing sequels, or other books in the same universe—how it has to make sense to people who know nothing and also not bore people who’ve read everything.

And I think about it when watching the first two episodes of Firefly.

When the network declined to air episode 1, both episodes 1 and 2 had to act as a pilot episode, letting the audience know exactly what was going on with the world and exactly who the characters and relationships were. But they also had to function sequentially, so that on an eventual DVD release, it wouldn’t seem like episode 2 was repeating information.

And they had to do this using the media techniques of film—namely, dialogue and audiovisuals—to accomplish all of this exposition.

In my opinion, they do a smashing job of this. Whatever other criticisms can be made of Firefly, the fact that the first two episodes are both able to introduce and establish an enormous main cast of characters and relationships—in addition to the world they live in—is a heck of a feat. And it doesn’t feel at all repetitive.

When I think about writing those teleplays, I almost faint with how difficult it feels. In both, it’s specifically established that Kaylee is the ship’s mechanic and also that she’s the sunny heart of the crew. In both, it’s slipped into conversation that Zoe and Wash are married, without it seeming like an “as you know, Bob” bit of dialogue. In both episodes we get told very clearly that Book is a preacher, and in both episodes we’re also given hints of his mysterious past. We get the history of the world and Mal and Zoe’s role in the war and long history together, and we’re shown and told exactly what kind of world we’re signing up for. And with nine people who function as a found family, we get many, many relationships established, sometimes visually, sometimes through dialogue, sometimes both.

If I were to make a list of everything they were clearly trying to establish and squeeze into each of two different episodes, ones that had different stories but that also had to function as one following the other, and tried to write those…well, I’d melt into an intimidated mess. But Firefly manages to leverage the techniques of filmmaking to do all of this to great effect, without it being at all obvious to the casual viewer.

I could keep going with examples, but instead, I want people to come discuss it with me! How does Firefly do this level of establishment of character, story, relationships, and world, and do it twice, using the techniques of film? Come nerd out about it! Or about anything else Firefly-related or film-related you’d like to talk about!

Let’s get our geek on and tear apart exactly how those two episodes drew so many of us in so effectively.

Editor's Note: You can check out the forum topic here, but you'll need to log on to post. Personally I'm excited to talk about Firefly any chance I get! I look forward to seeing you there.

Inside the News

Industry News, June 2019

Jason Sanford's publishing news will return in July, but for now we hope you'll enjoy this shortened edition of the news from around the speculative arts community.

Video Game News

FromSoftware Announces New Game in Partnership with George R. R. Martin

As reported in The Verge, the makers of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware announced at E3 that they have teamed up with George R. R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series , in making a new game titled Elden Ring, which will be published by Bandai Namco and available on Xbox One and PC. No release date has been announced at this time, but a teaser trailer from E3 is available, and has been raising a lot of speculation.

You Can't Catch Them All

NintendoLife reports that, based on information revealed by a game developer during a recent Nintendo livestream, it will not be possible for players to acquire a full set of all available Pokémon in their new game, Pokémon Sword And Shield. The game will feature a completely new set of Pokémon as well as some old fan favorites, but only monsters from the Galar Pokédex can be ported over into the new game via the new cloud service that will allow transfer of monsters from previous games.

Video Game Fashion

Kitfox Games' Victoria Tran discussed fashion in video games -- and how it could be improved -- in a 2019 Game Developers Conference talk now available on Gamasutra.

New and Upcoming

Continuing the long-running Zelda series, Gamasutra reports that Nintendo is working on a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The trailer revealed a darker direction and more open world that should be an interesting departure from what fans have come to expect from the series.

Meanwhile, according to io9, a Dark Crystal video game will be coming to Nintendo Switch, intended to tie-in with the upcoming Netflix TV series that will release on August 30. The title of the game, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics, reveals that rather than being an open-world concept, this title will be borrowing heavily from the style of Final Fantasy Tactics.

TV & Movie News

An Animated Pratchett Possibility, and a Petition Faux Pas

Following on the success of Amazon's Good Omens miniseries, showrun by Pratchett's coauthor Neil Gaiman, Variety reports that The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is now set to be the first of Terry Pratchett's novels to become an animated feature film.

In other Pratchett-related news, apparently a number of conservative Christians were upset by Good Omens. So upset, in fact, that, according to The Guardian, they addressed a petition to cancel the series to Netflix, which had nothing to do with its production or distribution. This author can only think that such a mix-up would have delighted Terry Pratchett just as it has visibly amused Neil Gaiman on Twitter.

More Nostalgia Fear is on the Way

You might have thought that the upcoming third season of Stranger Things was the most terrifying bit of nostalgia headed your way, but there's more where that came from! Per Deadline, Nickelodeon has announced the cast for their upcoming limited series reboot of Are You Afraid of the Dark? which scared the pants off many 90s kids back during its first iteration. This time, the stories that torment the Midnight Society will be coming to life in their world over three episodes, so we anticipate even more terror than before.

Dune: Sisterhood is Coming to TV, and Dune Back to Theaters

According to Hollywood Reporter, Denis Villeneuve will direct the pilot for an upcoming female-focused take on the Dune universe, based on Frank Herbert's novel, as well as writing and producing the new take on the main novel that is slated to premiere 2020. The TV series will be released on WarnerMedia's upcoming but as-yet-unnamed streaming service, and will follow the machinations of the Bene Gesserit through the complicated politics of the Imperium.

More Streaming Horror Strangeness

In a new quirk on streaming, Variety reports that Stephen Spielberg is writing a horror series for Quibi that viewers will only be able to watch when their phone detects that it's dark outside. "A clock will appear on phones, ticking down until sun sets in wherever that user is, until it’s completely gone. Then the clock starts ticking again to when the sun comes back up — and the show will disappear until the next night." Spielberg has reportedly written five or six of the "chapters," as Quibi refers to its shorter episodes, so far.

We Just Can't Have Nice Things

As reported in io9 and on producer Ben Edlund's Twitter, the comedic superhero adventures of The Tick are once again without a home or hope for immediate continuation. As Edlund said on June 14, "We will look for other opportunities to continue this story with this cast, but the current series must I'm afraid come to its end."

We want to hear from you! Let us know what you think about the news of the month on the forum post for this blog entry.