When Mark Bennett, who did the Original Music and Sound for Junk, started thinking about his contribution to the production, he didn’t zero in on the year when most of the play takes place: 1985. “I was trying to keep in mind,” Bennett said, “the note at the top of the script not to be bound by the era.” Or, as the playwright, Ayad Akhtar, puts it there, “The insinuation of the mid-1980s in costume and design must be not be overdone.”
If the production was not to percolate to the beat of 1980s pop hits, what direction would the sound take? “At first,” Bennett said, “Doug Hughes “ – Junk’s director – “and I danced around the whole of an equivalent to Shakespearean alarums and drums and trumpets.” He added: “There was more reliance on acoustic instruments, with some incorporation of synthesizer, which was used a great deal in the 1980s.”
As Bennett proceeded with the assignment – he works with a computer and a keyboard, often noodling around before finding something usable – he had to find a way to use the phone calls which ping frequently in the story. The production avoids the cumbersome picking up and slamming down of receivers, opting to indicate incoming conversation with sound and audience-facing direct address.
“The phone calls serve as demarcations between scenes and moments,” Bennett explained. “I worked to combine percussion and electronics with the rhythm of the phone calls.”
Bennett also wanted to represent the world of old Wall Street, as embodied in the blue-chip firm Everson Steel, which is the focus of the story’s takeover effort. “There,” he said, “I had the most license to go back to string ensembles with a bit of brass: the remains of the original conversation about alarums.” There were also remnants of the Shakespearean idea in the world of Addesso and Walsh, the U.S. Attorney and Assistant U.S. Attorney.
Other elements and motifs figured in eventually. The result was a slight departure for Bennett, who grew up in Connecticut and Florida and went to Vassar. “I have not often done scores that rely as heavily on electronic work as I did with the sound for Junk.”
Bennett’s exploration, he remarked, connects to what’s happening right now in the scores for TV/streaming programs and the creative renaissance they have ushered in on home screens. “The use of everything in recent compositions from a bag of nails to other everyday objects harkens back to John Cage’s sense of exactly what can be music.”
For the largest of his many previous projects at LCT -- the music for Stoppard’s trilogy, The Coast of Utopia -- Bennett received a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music for a Play in 2007. Among his upcoming assignments is as composer for the production of Bruce Norris’s play The Low Road at the Public Theater in February. Like Junk, that will also present a sizable sonic canvas: 16 actors playing 50 roles.
I asked Bennett if he would miss the 1980s – or, at least, the quasi-1980s. “I’m not sure,” he responded. “But I will say that working on Junk has been very rewarding.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.