Jaymie Valentine isn't the type of person who gets scared at Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. She might jump back — "I'm a jumpy person," she says — but fear, the kind that produces the screams we hear over and over again inside the holiday fright park, is rare. Instead, she is part of the reason that others recoil and run in terror out of mazes. At Dark Harbor, Valentine makes the bumps in the night.
For the past five years, Valentine has been handling the sound design for the Queen Mary's annual Halloween haunt. She makes new sound collages every year, mixing together ambient sound with cut-up melodies, the occasional beat and lots of noise. Her Dark Harbor back catalogue is re-used with the older haunts. Long before the first patron enters the gate, Valentine knows how Dark Harbor will scare them. She gets maps of how the event will look and notes on the narrative and specific scares. Then she heightens the experience with sound. If they ask for something that recalls a school, she'll think of things like bullies and bells and scratches on chalkboard.
Very little here comes as a surprise to Valentine. Then, in a dark, swampy corner of a maze called Voodoo Village, Valentine got her scare. We'll leave the spoilers aside, but the sound design artist was taken aback. "I usually can't be authentically scared," Valentine says after we exit the maze. "That one actually worked."
Valentine, who lived in Los Angeles for 14 years before a recent move to Antelope Valley, is a musician who frequently records under the name Cindergarden. Raised in Las Vegas, she grew up taking voice lessons and performing in talent shows, plays and various casino events. She studied jazz vocals in art school. After dropping out, Valentine headed to Los Angeles, got a piano and got to work. Early on, she sang and danced for the Toledo Show. For a while, she worked with producers and played showcases for major labels, but didn't land a deal.
Eventually, she fell in with an underground crowd, started going to goth and industrial parties and checking out experimental electronic musicians. Valentine was making music on her own at this point and her new work reflected the world she had entered. It was dark and weird in the best way possible. She started releasing her Cindergarden recordings and began doing some film work as well. That's part of how she got a gig scoring one of Southern California's major Halloween events after meeting someone from Dark Harbor at a vegan pot luck.
There are a lot of layers in Valentine's scores and most of the nuances are hard to detect inside the mazes. Even when you're listening, the sounds are often obscured by shrieks and yells and the big bursts of laughter that come after groups of friends bear hug each other in fright. When Valentine began working with Dark Harbor, she got instructions to make the music "subliminal," like the part edge-of-your-seat part of a horror film when you stop noticing the score. She was also told to make it "descriptive," lots of sound effects and noises that tie to the visuals in the scenes. "The music can be part of the scare itself," says Valentine.
Sometimes it's in the ocean rumbles and creaky port sounds that come up often when you're funneling in and out of an old ship. Sometimes it's the organ melodies that whirl through big gusts of noise. Circus music, after all, is inherently creepy. In B340, which takes you through the mind of a very scary individual, ticking clocks become unnerving. There's a bit of a respite in that maze when a dance beat, similar to what one might hear at an industrial club, takes over all-too-briefly. "If I do a rhythm part, I don't stay in it for very long because I don't want people to feel too comfortable in it," says Valentine.
In a portion of Voodoo Village, vintage jazz music is turned into part of the scare. It was a fun challenge for the former jazz student. Valentine works mostly digitally. She uses Cubase and a variety of synthesizer programs to create these pieces. However, she also digs into free samples and, ultimately, went the sample route to channel a sound that she couldn't reproduce digitally.
Valentine remembers a moment that occurred years ago, shortly after she started working on film music. She was at another Los Angeles Halloween event, siting in a foggy environment, listening to the creepy sounds. She thought, "I should do this." It wasn't a plan to make music for Halloween theme parks, she says, "It was just a thought." Eventually, that happened.
"I always go through these and I'm looking to be scared because I enjoy that," says Valentine. "That's why I got into this."
A little while later, we ended up in a room filled with spooky ambient noise and foggy white light. We can't see anything but each other and it sounds like something bad could very well happen. Valentine grabs my hand so we can try to figure our way out of there. We follow a ghostly figure and then stumble into pitch black. We're either walking straight into death or nearly finished with the maze. "That was perfect," Valentine says when we finally emerge into the world of zombies and screaming teenagers. "The motivation to proceed forward waned a lot," she adds, "but I persevered."
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