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D23: Audio Dissection of The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion story album

Randy Thornton is the go-to guy at Disney for creating soundtracks, reissues and boxed sets. I know this because I was sitting in the audience last Thursday at D23 when he ran down through his credentials, and the Diz faithful applauded him for giving them so much stuff over the years. Thornton is an amusing individual who knows his stuff and appears to be dedicated to putting out the best product he can–more on that in a moment–and he slides into a Ludwig Von Drake impression at random.

Thornton was there to talk about what he had done for the previous 30th anniversary edition of the “soundtrack” to The Haunted Mansion ride and what he had improved for the new 40th anniversary edition (which was available for sale in the D23 Dream Store but is not available elsewhere yet, apparently). To illustrate this, he brought along the literal soundtrack to the Mansion, laid out across seventy-two tracks. And he began to relate to the audience the difficulty in taking a theme park experience and making it a strictly audio experience. One of the major difficulties was dealing with “loops,” i.e. the attraction runs audio in loops so that a section of music or speaking or whatever is constantly repeating itself as you ride through that section of the ride. So in several instances, he had to find a way of making a looped audio bit into something that happened in one linear movement or just a few times–and preserve the experience of the ride for the listener.

[ad#longpost]A couple of examples spring to mind. After being besieged with fans who would admonish him for adding background music to the “stretching room” (for those who know the ride, you know what that is…for the unfamiliar, trust me, it would take far too long to explain), he, for the new edition, removed the music and added the sound of doors opening and shutting to the beginning and end to allow for the feeling of movement through the attraction. This also removed the problem of the “Ghost Host” (played by Paul Frees) sounding like…well, just Paul Frees.

Also, there is a section of the ride where, after looking out over the ghostly ballroom, you see two duelists come to life in their pictures and fire their guns at each other. This loops throughout that section–but Thornton chose to make it repeat twice towards the end of that audio section, to–again–preserve the feeling of moving through the ride.

It was in this panel that I realized where I was and what I was doing there. You see, I’ve marveled at DragonCon about how it’s the perfect audience for obscure pop culture geek references. I can through out practically anything but even if I go really, really obscure, I’ll still get a handful of people chuckling. I am among My People at such a Con, and I know it.

But I’ve never been at an entire event this size that dealt with such geek minutiae. In other words, it was very odd to be in a crowded room of people, all marveling at how the graveyard sequence has an undercurrent of singers performing “Grim Grinning Ghosts” in monotone to sort of form a foundation for everything else that’s going on. That’s some serious geekness going on–and I was just as geeked out as everybody else there. It’s a new revelation for “geek specialization” that I hadn’t experienced before.

The re-release of the Haunted Mansion story album is available from Amazon here. When I get a place where you can snag the 40th anniversary album, I’ll try and post an update.