Spooky sounds for Halloween

As Halloween approaches, children and merry-makers ready their costumes and salivate like Pavlov's dog in anticipation of a night of mass consumption; the former dream of Starbursts and miniature boxes of NERDS candy, the latter ready their livers and wallets for a night of boozing and debauchery.

Most children have been thinking about next Sunday's trick-or-treating for months, and have their wardrobes selected and social calendars marked. Many adults are still flip-flopping about what ghost, ghoul, celebrity, or 'concept' costume they should don. Is 'Paris Hilton' played out? Is there enough ironic distance for 'Osama bin Laden' to be met with smiles by the equally crass, and non-violently ignored by the legions of mildly offended? These, like, "will anyone get 'Derrida?" and, "is 'misunderstood anarchist' too vague and pretentious?" (yes, all 'concept' costumes are tired and overwrought), are questions troubling many.

Many who are planning parties have begun stocking up on dry ice, faux cobwebs, liquor, and candy. But what of the soundtrack? Many will shove The Nightmare Before Christmas into their DVD players and press Repeat. A camp-obsessed minority might pop The Worst Witch into their VCRs. This made-for-television classic, starring a young Fairuza Balk (as Mildred Hubble), features musical numbers by Tim Curry (as the Grand Wizard) and Charolotte Rae (in the dual role of Ms. Cackle/Agatha). Neither of these video options is wrong, per say, but there's a world of creepy sounds out there, specifically-crafted for an evening cavorting with the devil.

Nestled between the Bluegrass and Comedy sections at Border's Bookstore (7th & New Hampshire), filed under 'Miscellaneous', one can find various releases from the Sound Effects Library, including the spooky Mystery & Terror Sounds.

The first twenty-eight of the staggering 78 tracks on Mystery & Terror Sounds could be played continuously over hidden loudspeakers to intimidate weakling children begging for candy. Much like Martha Stewart's Spooky Scary Sounds for Halloween, these 28 cuts are as a continuous progression of eerie audio. While each track has a distinct feature, a backdrop of mildy-creepy storm sounds ties them together, so there are no dead pauses between. 'Solitary Gong' (track 12) seamlessly merges into 'Chains,' (track 13), which ushers in 'Creaking Door, Cat Howl, Demonic Laughs, Door Closes' (track 14). As with 'Mean Mr. Mustard'/'Polythene Pam'/'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window', off the Beatle's Abbey Road; each spooky track holds its own, but they're stronger as a holistic unit. The remaining 50 selections on Mystery & Terror Sounds seem intended as stock audio for horror movies, or material for particularly sinister or campy Djs. 'Heavy Solution Boiling' (track 38), for example, is fascinating, and would be passable on KJHK as 'electronica', but it is not scary in the slightest, or connected to either of the tracks that flank it ('Bubbles In Water' precedes it, 'Chinese Gong' follows).

Martha Stewart Living's Spooky Scary Sounds, also available at Border's Bookstore, is a single track blending shrieks, heart beats, and ghostly wails.

Like the first half of Mystery & Terror Sounds, Martha Stewart Omnimedia presents the seasonal listener with background music for inducing fear in sugar-seeking youngsters. The intro on the back of the album promises 'authentic, eerie effects', a claim I doubt. Are those really madmen cackling for Martha? They sound like hourly employees in a recording studio to me. The Sound Effects Library would have us believe a ghost's cry sounds strikingly similar to a theramin, and that they play circus organs (track 9), but unlike Martha, they do not claim their sounds are 'authentic.' The witches' shrieks on Martha's album feel particularly bogus, but most of the sounds are very well done.

Casual listeners will not likely notice, but the effects on Martha's album are audibly superior to those on Mystery & Terror Sounds. Look at these savory Granny Smith caramel apples, dipped in nuts:

See those leaves! Notice the rustic sticks? Martha Stewart Omnimedia is a perfectionist, and it shows on Spooky Scary Sounds for Halloween. Whereas the Sound Effects Library's 'Demonic Laughter' (track 4) and 'More Demonic Laughter' (track 17) sound like the Butthole Surfers when their lead singer is trying to act creepy, running his voice through a delay pedal, the demonic laughter on Martha's album sounds like she might actually have hired a demon or two. Included with this album are tips for a pumpkin carving party, instructions on creating a ghostly visage in a mirror using inexpensive sheer polyester chiffon, and a delicious recipe for caramel apples.

Available at Fun at Games (816 Massachusetts), Midnight Syndicate's Vampyre: Symphonies from the Crypt, is a more ambitious effort of music for the undead and those who love them.

While Martha Stewart Omnimedia and the Sound Effects Library content themselves with compiling assemblages of standard Hollywood 'creepy' sounds, Midnight Syndicate composes an original score of throbbing, sometimes laughable, occasionally chill-inducing songs. Lauded by Gothic Beauty Magazine, who give the effort, "5 out of 5 fourteen tracks of audio-cinematic splendor", and Darklife Magazine, who say, "'Vampyre' confirms [the ability of Midnight Syndicate to produce] haunting music that stands at the forefront of the genre," Vampyre: Symphonies from the Crypt germinated from a stranger, and entirely different, effort than the two prior specimens.

It's difficult to take modern harpsichord compositions seriously (track 6, 'Blackest Rose', and track 11, 'Ancient Tomes', both prominently feature the instrument), but when listening to music that promises to unleash your darkest nightmares as you enter the world of the Vampyre, you have to suspend irony-detection and take it on its own terms. Did 'Spectral Masquerade' sound a bit too much like the music that announces Michael Myers before he takes a victim in the Halloween movies? Perhaps. But so what? This album is essentially a decent soundtrack for a creepy movie that hasn't been filmed. Mix thirty years of horror soundtracks, Bach, Danny Elfman's Batman compositions, and an extra measure of Goth romanticism: presto, Midnight Syndicate is born.

There are dozens of other albums you should consider for your Halloween get-together, depending on your guest list and theme. Halloween Hootenanny, a much more rockin' affair, comes to mind, if you're looking to get your friends liquored and dancing.

Halloween Hootenanny is more difficult to procure (check Love Garden, or Amazon), but it's worth the trouble. A compilation of artists including Rob Zombie (She Get So Mean), Reverend Horton Heat (The Halloween Dance), Los Straitjackets (The 'Munsters' theme), and others, it's a definite treat.

Martha Stewart Living's Spooky Halloween Sounds: $9.99 at Border's

Sound Effects Library's Mystery & Terror Sounds: $5.99 at Border's

Midnight Syndicate's Vampyre: Symphonies from the Crypt: $14.99 at Fun & Games

Halloween Hootenanny: $? (worth every penny)

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