The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O'Brien

November 2014 • Yale University • New Haven, CTCLOSED

Photo credit: Paul Tate dePoo

Production Team

Design Concept:

Rocky Horror has always had a special place in my heart. As a sound designer, it's an extraordinary show to design for. Sound design as a discipline largely traces its origins to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which was set up in the 1950s to create otherwordly soundscapes for radioplays, TV shows, and films (probably the most famous example of which is the original Dr. Who theme). The biggest driver for this musical innovation was the public's craving for sci-fi - precisely the stories Rocky Horror was written to pay homage to.

For this production, I wanted to chart the history of electronic music from its earliest days through the mid 80s heyday of the Rocky Horror Live Show. The first scenes featured extensive foley work by both the Phantoms as well as select audience members. As we transitioned into the mansion, the soundscape began to take on basic electronic elements including simple oscillators, synthesizers, and a theremin. By "Hot Patootie" we started to incorporate elements of distortion and modulation typical of late 60s Rock N Roll. Act II's atmosphere included more advanced synthesizers and the beginnings of digital sound in the form of 8bit chiptune elements in the "blastoff" sequence.

Cast Recording

Selected Cues

  • Warp Sound v1

  • Warp Sound v2

  • Powerup Sequence

  • Radio Report

  • Intruder Alert

  • Chainsaw Murder

Sound Devices

For this production, I felt it was important for the audience to experience a tangible connection between the alien sounds being created on stage and the actions that precipitate them. We set a goal for ourselves early on to make the experience as immersive as possible; for me, that meant making sure the audience sourced effects directly from the objects on stage as opposed to the sound system.

Riff Raff's Laser

Riff Raff's laser - revealed in the penultimate scene in the show - was constructed from a modified megaphone and a series of simple analog circuits. The analog circuitry created an oscillating tone with a decay - that classic "pew pew" laser sound. The pulsating multi-colored LEDs helped sell the effect.

A video posted by @arsone on

Frank's Chainsaw

One of the stranger sequences in Rocky Horror occurs right before the end of Act 1. The entire cast is celebrating the reveal of Frank's creation, when they are interrupted by the appearance of the zombie Eddie who performs a rock 'n' roll number before being brutally murdered. We took this opportunity to draw attention to the surreal atmosphere by heightening the realism of Eddie's murder. A small horn driver, battery pack, and microcontroller was retrofitted inside an actual chainsaw - the sounds were triggered by the actor playing Frank.

A video posted by @arsone on

The Sonic Oscillator

The Sonic Oscillator is a device used in the initial lab sequence before the reveal of Frank's creation. For this production, we created a small box with a series of analog controllers connected to an Arduino-based microcontroller. The microcontroller generated a MIDI signal, which was then fed through a virtual instrument and routed to the sound system. This custom device gave us a fun opportunity to incorporate members of our on-stage audience into the staging by allowing them to control elements of the sound design.

A video posted by @arsone on

System Specs

  • 20kW Amplified System
  • 24 Ouput Channels (incl. 4 discrete surrounds)
  • 18 Wireless Vox Channels, 2 Wireless Handhelds
  • Full backline including: Stereo Keyboard and Synth, 4ch mic'd Acoustic Drum Kit, Tenor Sax w/ Wireless mic, Mic'd Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar w/ Wireless Transmitter and Remote Pedalboard, Electric Bass, Moog Etherwave Theremin
  • Custom Built "Sonic Oscillator" MIDI Controller
  • 2 Custom Built Amplified "Sound Coils"

Engineer: Chris Homburger
Rental House: ATR Treehouse - Providence, RI

Production Stills

Photo Credit: Bobby Dresser

Photo Credit: Bobby Dresser

Photo Credit: Bobby Dresser

Photo Credit: Bobby Dresser

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Miles

Music Research:

(*note: requires Spotify)

Copyright © 2014 Adam Salberg. All Rights Reserved.