Check-In: Scoring Zombies Ask Me Another's house musician Jonathan Coulton adds another credit to his resume: scoring a zombie TV show. He walks hosts Ophira Eisenberg through his bag of spooky audio tricks.

Check-In: Scoring Zombies

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JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: From NPR and WNYC, coming to you from beautiful Brooklyn, N.Y., it's NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia, ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thanks, Jonathan. Hey, Jonathan, I heard that you just finished working side-hustle for a television show.

COULTON: It's true. I did have a little side-hustle.

EISENBERG: Oh, my goodness.

COULTON: I did some television scoring work for a show called "The Bite," which is a show about zombies (laughter).

EISENBERG: Is it fast zombies or slow zombies?

COULTON: They're sort of regular zombies, regular-speed zombies.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) OK, regular-speed zombies.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Wait a second - so you're scoring a television series? That's amazing.

COULTON: Yeah, it's not a thing that I've ever done before. You know, I'm a songwriter. I write songs...


COULTON: ...With lyrics, and so this is a whole different thing. I have friends that have done it for years, and people have always said, oh, you should do this, but it has never felt like a thing I could do. And then somebody asked me to do it, and I said, I can't do it, and they said, yeah, you can. And even though...


EISENBERG: I love that - just, yeah, you can. You're like, OK, yeah, that's it.

COULTON: All right, if you say so.

EISENBERG: Push me over the edge - that line of reasoning.

COULTON: But, you know, it's a very scary thing doing something that you don't know how to do. And it's - I'm old now, so I don't get a chance to do that very often, so...

EISENBERG: Yeah. So where did you start? What was step one?

COULTON: I did some research. I watched some other scary shows and took notes. You know, you don't always listen to the music of a score; you're just watching the show. So I had to sit and actually listen. And, you know, you discover there - I mean, I'm writing music and writing melodies.


COULTON: There's some things that are sort of traditional music writing. But then for a scary show, you also need some classic scary sounds.


COULTON: You need a sound that says, something bad is about to happen.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Do you...

COULTON: Yeah. So, you know, here's a classic example of that, right?


COULTON: This is a classic spooky drone.



EISENBERG: Oh, that is so good. Yeah, that is definitely - the next line is, this is not what I ordered.


COULTON: I wanted a different sandwich.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) And the low tone is important, too, right? Because then it - like, how low it is, the...

COULTON: Low means scary.

EISENBERG: Low means scary (laughter). That's right. High can mean scary, but low definitely means...

COULTON: High can mean scary, too, but low is definitely serious - serious business.

EISENBERG: ...Ominous. OK.

COULTON: All right.

EISENBERG: OK, yeah, yeah. What else did you do?

COULTON: So there's another thing you need sometimes, which is, like, you need kind of a hit, kind of a, like, jumpy - I call it a shoong (ph) sound. So here's one of those.

EISENBERG: Oh, right.



EISENBERG: Oh, yeah, unexpected. Like...

COULTON: He's behind you.

EISENBERG: Yes. But - and it's never good. It's never like, ah, a parking space.

COULTON: (Laughter) Yeah, it's not, he's behind you, like he supports you; he's behind you like, he's got a knife.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, he's not going, you can do it.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: You worked so hard. You earned this.

COULTON: He's 100% behind you.

EISENBERG: OK, that's good. That's good, too. I love that.

COULTON: And as you said, there is a high - high also means scary. I call this the scree (ph) sound.



COULTON: I mean, it's...

EISENBERG: That is...

COULTON: It's extremely unsettling.

EISENBERG: That's the - yeah, that one made my stomach turn.

COULTON: That's the idea.



EISENBERG: So actually, do you have a - since now you're really good at this stuff...

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Do you have a sound that we could play to transition into the beginning of our show?

COULTON: (Laughter) Yeah, why don't we do sort of a spooky transition into the beginning of the show?

EISENBERG: Yes, evoke the right feeling.

COULTON: OK, here we go.


EISENBERG: Today's show is so fun it's scary. Comedian Beth Stelling is back, and this time with her childhood pal, actor Micah Stock. They'll play a game about their home state of Ohio. Plus, we'll talk to Ryan O'Connell, creator and star of the Netflix series "Special." And we're going to kick things off with two awesome comics and podcasters, so let's get to it.


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