When Matt and Collin first approached me about doing sound for Telescope, I immediately said yes. There is no genre sound designers like better than Sci-Fi, which is essentially a giant playground of lasers and spaceships. Space flicks have produced some of the best sound design of the past 50 years (see Star Wars and Wall-E for two great, Ben Burtt-filled examples), and unlike a period piece, there is always the chance that you can invent the next trademark sound by recording your dog food. However, thanks to the great history of the space genre, original sound design is no small challenge.
The first hurdle was was confronting the Sound Designer's Space Conundrum- that, actually, there is no sound in space. While shooting Matt and Collin an email explaining that I was finished before I even started would have been nice, soundless space has also been done before. And the vocabulary of sound in movies has already set a precedent for sound that audiences identify with, so I chose to continue the cinematic illusion and open up my toolbox.
Throughout the production and post-production process, we were constantly refining how the spaceship flight and telescope mechanisms would sound. I was thrown a new challenge, however, when we got the soundtrack music back. Holy cow, the music! Zach and Doug really outdid themselves- the music is gorgeous and lush, setting the perfect tone for this film. My main concern became how to get out of the way of this wonderful music. The synthesizers in the soundtrack demanded a greater portion of the frequency spectrum than even an orchestra would need. So while in the early drafts of the sound design the cockpit was a steady whir of buzzes, hums, and other analog sounds, we later chose to let the music fill that ambient space and instead focus on immediate elements.
One such effect occurs very early in the film, an ambiguous sound emanating from the husk of the destroyed earth. We arrived at that sound after discussing the method of "time travel" depicted in the film. This is a very different type of time travel than we're used to seeing in movies, this idea of traveling faster than the speed of light in order to see images centuries old. I wanted to play with this idea of time.
One of the coolest time-shift tools I used is called "Paulstretch." This software is best known for making Justin Bieber sound awesome, but in this case, it helped me create some really interesting sound effects for Telescope. I stretched the recording of a blazing inferno to 50 times its length to create the sound effect you hear during the destroyed earth title sequence. Incredibly, the fire kept some of its inherent "fieriness" in spite of being so stretched out, inspiring the feeling of destruction "echoing back" through time. Further playing on the idea of reverberating sound through time, I used Paulstretch again during the lightspeed scenes. I used an alarm clock stretched to 30x or 40x its length as part of the high pitched tone of flying through the black hole. Paulstretch has a funny way of playing with a sound's harmonics, an effect I used to create this high end sound that is much more smeary and wonderful than your average analog alarm clock.
Ultimately, the sound of Telescope is, indebted to the sound design vocabulary that emerged from movies like Star Wars, but I think it has also created its own niche within the increasingly crowded sci-fi genre. The time-shift effects played with in the design, and the referential nature of the music contributes to the film's meditation on nostalgia as a human condition.
Andrew Walker is a sound designer and musician living in New York City.