Part of a series exploring the design of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Sound designer Nathan Wade discusses the music and “dirty science” of Frankenstein.

Have you read Frankenstein?
I hate to say it, but I’ve only just read it in preparation for this show.

How did the novel differ from your conception of Frankenstein, the cultural icon?
The Frankenstein movies from the 1930’s were so iconic that they’ve almost overwritten Shelley’s work. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”—or in this case, a film has almost replaced a classic novel.

It’s great to get back to the actual text and see it coming to life on stage. I think some minds will be blown, if not only by the production, but in subverted expectations of the Frankenstein story, especially if you’re only familiar with the Hollywood interpretation.

How is designing a classic, beloved story different from a lesser known contemporary novel? Any unique pressures there?
Having worked with David Quicksall on some of the biggies—Moby Dick, Or The Whale; Don Quixote; and Dracula: Jonathan Harker’s Journal—maybe I’ve become desensitized to the pressure. I try not to think about the weight of material, but focus on how well I can serve the production; the adaptation is its own beast and I want to make it come to life through music and sound as best as I can.


Moby-Dick or The Whale; photo by Erik Stuhaug.
Moby-Dick or The Whale; photo by Erik Stuhaug.


Is it true you’re sampling Nine Inch Nails for your design? That’s wild.
When I first met with David, he mentioned the Nine Inch Nails song “Burn” as a point of reference, largely because the angry lyrics could have come out of the mouth of the creature. David might not have realized that I’m a long-time fan of Nine Inch Nails, so I took that ball and ran with it.


“Burn” by Nine Inch Nails


An excerpt:

This world rejects me
This world threw me away
This world never gave me a chance
This world’s gonna have to pay

I don’t believe in your institutions
I did what you wanted me to
Like cancer in the system
I’ve got a little suprise for you

Something inside of me has opened up its eyes
Why did you put it there did you not realize
This thing inside of me it screams the loudest sound
Sometimes I think I could burn

I’m gonna burn this whole world down[/quote]

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While I don’t feel the heavy, industrial sound you typically associate with Nine Inch Nails belongs in this production, Trent Reznor is also a classically trained pianist, which has probably informed his music as much as unrequited rage and distorted instruments. He has also mentioned in interviews the influence of Tom Waits on past albums and, since I’m also a huge Tom Waits fan, that weird intersection of styles seemed perfect for this show; the “old victrola, makeshift percussion, out-of-tune piano” vibe.

While collaborating with David, it was never our intention to use music of the period, but the modern ideas need to still feel appropriate to Shelley’s setting. The phrase “dirty science” was brought up during our earliest meetings in regards to the set design and that seemed a good way to approach the music and sound. I’m stitching the elements together with pieces of Nine Inch Nails, Ennio Morricone, Mount Analog and my own original musical ideas. It’s going to be a little ragged and raw and it seemed like an appropriate approach for the subject matter.


Nine Inch Nails


Should good sound design be noticeable to an audience?
While it’s great to be recognized for your contributions to a play, the draw for me as a theatre artist has always been in supporting the overall production—the collaboration with the director and designers. Technical rehearsals, while often long and tiring, are also my most creative hours. It’s when I get a surge of inspiration watching all of the design elements working together and seeing how the actors are bringing the show to life in this little world we’ve all created. For the end result, I always hope my input feels seamless and natural.

Frankenstein comes to life February 12 – March 9, 2014. Buy tickets online now.