Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Sounds from the Stone Age (Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists, Nights Black Agents)

Way back in the misty reaches of 2001, Channel Four broadcast a fascinating documentary called Secrets of the Dead: Sounds from the Stone Age. It was followed by a book on the subject by Paul Devereux, Stone Age Soundtracks, which I highly recommend. As this is all about dolmens and stone tombs, and as I've just written a scenario on a related topic now in playtest, I thought I'd talk about these prehistoric monuments, and their potential relevance to an RPG setting.

Devereaux's work explores the theory of archaeoacoustics, which takes as its premise that certain archaeological sites may have been designed specifically for their acoustic properties. Devereux posits that, at some point in the very distant past, prehistoric peoples discovered cave sites with natural acoustic properties, and became fascinated by them. These people may have also discovered the strange effect that infrasound can have on human biology, causing feelings of fear, dread, and possibly inspiring quasi-supernatural events, which they would have interpreted as divine intervention. These explorers established religious sites at these caves, but of course, they were few and far between. Therefore they set out to create more, by establishing stone circles, chamber tombs and other man-made monuments, each with their own special acoustic qualities.

The documentary's well worth watching, but now the concept's been established, let's talk about what it might mean for Trail, Esoterrorists and Night's Black Agents.

In Trail, it could become a fairly conventional horror scenario with an interesting twist: the cultists, misguided archaeologists, or other bunch of interfering busybodies, manage to wake up something that they can't control, by singing at the wrong set of stones at the wrong time of year. It could as easily be a scientific expedition as a bunch of neo-pagans, since the basic theory of archaeoacoustics is already being talked about in the early 1900s.

There is a branch of archaeocoustics that theorizes specific sounds can be replayed from objects under the right circumstances, which TV shows like CSI and X-Files have gone on to claim means that voices from the past can be recorded in stone, and replayed. It wouldn't necessarily have to be stone; one researcher, Richard G. Woodbridge III, thought he could manage a similar effect with oil paintings. Under those circumstances it might be possible to encode a specific item with specific data; a ritual, say, that could be reactivated, and completed, without the person activating it truly knowing what's going on. Nigel Kneale plays with a very similar idea in his television play, The Stone Tape. In this instance the item causing the effect could be anywhere; in a house, on the Underground, in an art gallery or a bus terminal.

In Esoterrorists, the idea of a sound that can be used to evoke something from Beyond fits in very nicely with the concept of the Outer Dark. This time the Esoterrorists have stumbled on a method of evoking ODEs first used millenia ago by prehistoric man, and, in imitation of their forbears, the Esoterrorists are creating new, artificial sound temples. Perhaps Esoterror assets in the local municipal department are planning new public buildings with these sounds encoded, or artists are creating public art installations intended to evoke the Outer Dark. Big cities like London usually have several large scale events happening every year, whether it's an architectural display in one of the parks, or an exhibit at the British Museum; any one, or more, of those could be targeted by Esoterror. The initial threat, of course, could be detected in its early stages at some barrow mound or stone circle elsewhere, say, Ireland. Then through clues at that site the protagonists go on to discover the Esoterrorists' true scheme.

Night's Black Agents has at least two potential Vampire conspiracy types that might be interested in pagan sound temples: the aliens, and the Satanic. The alien race could have established these sound temples long ago, as part of a plan to subjugate the native species. Or perhaps sound is their means of transmitting a sonic vampire entity into a human host, or the means by which primitive humans long ago developed an effective vampire bane. The Satanic vampires might have used the temples as places of worship, a means of getting in touch with their otherworldly masters; a kind of two-way radio set, for the vampire entities trapped here on earth. In any case, the conspiracy would want to preserve the sites that still exist, and create new ones where possible. Why, the characters might wonder, are the vampires so interested in historic preservation societies, and why did that developer trying to build an access road past that old standing stone wind up so spectacularly murdered? 

That's it for now! Enjoy.

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