Sunday, October 24, 2021

October...Day Twenty Four...

Hello friends and fiends,
Today (as I do on many occasions) I harken back to the glory days of when I was making Halloween music and somewhat working in the haunt industry.  A few years ago Weird Jon at Gravediggers Local 16 (here) did an incredible write up of my Pumpkinland CDs.

Here's the article:

The late 90’s were a very important time in the development of modern haunted attraction music. Midnight Syndicate had settled into the style which made them famous in 1998 and Michael Hedstrom entered the scene in 1999. That year also saw the release of Pumpkinland by a California native by the name Mark Harvey. He created the album due to the difficulties he had finding the right soundtrack for his “Pumpkinland” home haunt. As this was before the explosion of ambient horror music, he was limited to the various scary sound effects albums which used to flood supermarkets and drug stores each October. They offered more sound effects than music and many of said sound effects were inappropriate for children (who were the haunt’s intended audience). So he decided to just make his own custom mix of music and effects. Thank goodness he was an experienced musician with his own label!

Mark Harvey’s music career traces back to 1985 and he created Nobody Records in 1987 to release his band’s first album. The Screaming Paisleys were only the beginning of his working with others, as later years saw him playing as a member of Rain Station along with Beth Eyre and Month of Sundays. He also spent much of the 90’s as a solo act performing under the name “mopehead.” Pumpkinland not only spawned his recording studio, but its success led to his “HauntScapes” (as he calls them) appearing in haunted attractions and dark rides around the world! His work has also appeared in television, radio, commercials and film.

The opening track “Pumpkinland” features a slow, rumbling buildup which carries on through entire track. There are also touches of musical instruments to keep the tension up. It’s not too overwhelming for children while still being creepy enough for everyone else. It’s great for pumpkin patches, graveyards, boiler rooms, etc. If you go with a pumpkin theme, make sure to build a pumpkin arch to help with the mood. The track’s mild lurking feel helps it flow into the next track as well. “Creature” turns up the lurking sensation and oozes with unease. It’s all atmosphere with no additional music. That is, unless you count how the track “throbs” at times. You’ll understand once you hear it. “Swamp” picks things up a bit with hissing music and a feel that’s almost like breathing. There are the occasional distant cries heard as well. I really enjoyed the direction the music took toward the last leg of the track, especially the groaning tones. Maybe it’s due to the drum beats, but this has something of a Midnight Syndicate feel as well. You had better believe that’s meant as a compliment! “Ghouls” is a grand orchestral track. The amazing organs and horns are sometimes joined by vaguely mystical or spacey touches. It’s a bit insect-like at times, so it could work in spider or bug room. “The Pumpkin Patch” is an epic soundscape whose length depends on the format you purchase it on. The digital download runs a little over 25 minutes but has a brief silent pause about 17:14 into the track. This is due to Bandcamp’s size limits and the uninterrupted 34 minute version can only be found on CD. There’s wailing wind, creaking branches and night birds. There’s even some howling wolves, crickets and thunder at times for good measure. On the music side of things, there are the occasional touches of instruments. But they come and go too quickly to let you make any identifications.

Mark Harvey made a truly impressive impact upon the world of ambient Halloween music with Pumpkinland. With the shortest track only being a little under 4 minutes, looping isn’t a problem for any of the tracks. That is, unless you purchase “The Pumpkin Patch” as a digital download. They also flow into each other well enough to allow for the album to be looped as a whole. Naturally, a sequel soon followed and the year 2000 saw the release of Pumpkinland II.

Pumpkinland II” has a dark and low synth opening. There are plenty of musical variations to keep things interesting (and disturbing). It’s extremely creepy and gets even creepier halfway through thanks to vaguely metallic notes and subdued string work. I enjoyed how the strings picked up as it plays out. The vaguely creaking open of “Nightfall” leads to sinister synth tones that take on an almost heartbeat-like feel at times. Said heartbeat is enhanced by both the percussion sounds and the soft sounds of wind which are woven into the track. Since it reminds me of an old rope swaying in the wind, why not play it near your haunt’s gibbet? In “Lagoon,” classic jungle sounds (monkeys and birds) are melded with dark synth work. There are steady, stab-like tones and vaguely otherworldly touches as well. Later we can hear effects like a heartbeat, something moving through vegetation and a yowling cat in the distance. The track picks up a bit for the second half (especially the heartbeat and moving sounds). You could potentially time a scare to happen when the heartbeat reaches its highest point. Alternately, you could wait until when the jungle sounds yield to a heartbeat as the traveler exits the lagoon. I’m sure the guests’ guards will be down then. This would be perfect for jungle scenes or encounters with amphibious monsters. But if you really want to throw a curve ball at your guests, try making an alligator box!

Clocking in at over 8 minutes in length, “Caverns” is one of the album’s longer tracks. The synth work has an appropriately heavy mood and strange laughter can be briefly heard at times. The fluttering bats and distant dripping perfectly capture the feel of wandering in an underground realm. The sound of footsteps let us know we’re not alone in the caves. These briefly give way to more synth work, but the effects do return. My only (minor) complaint is how the effects simply get repeated rather than use variations of them. Haunted caves and mine shafts would greatly benefit from this track. “Creep” offers low (but not too heavy) synth work backed by soft tones. It’s eerie rather than intense. This is not a bad thing. “Behind the Castle” starts off with the sounds of a rope creaking and straining, in addition to soft wind and plenty of dark ambience. But then we get a surprise: electrical zapping and machinery noises pop in for a short spell. So why not use this in a mad scientist’s laboratory? You can even have a Frankenstein’s monster prop laid out on a table hanging from ropes! Synthesizer notes are used to create a low key sense of dread in “Green Mist.” You could potentially use it outdoors with a fog machine (and fog chiller) if so desired, but I highly recommend using some creepy scarecrows as well. “Midnight” is the longest track, clocking in at a little under 24 minutes. The sound of wailing wind is louder than it was on the other tracks. The inclusion of rain and creepy bird sounds enhances the mood, as do the sound of leaves rustling in the wind (or something rustling in the grass, it works either way). There’s plenty of variations, especially the weather effects. Sometimes a random sound effect is used once and never appears again. These include church bells, bats and distant thunder. All other effects return in some form throughout the track. There are tons of potential uses for this track. You could even play it softly in a haunted room scene with the music player hidden near a false window to create effect of a stormy night outside. Alternately, you could use a real window with drawn curtains if the window sill is large enough to support your audio player.

Mark Harvey did more than match the quality of his last album, he improved upon it! There’s more tracks and most are either equal to or greater than the lengths of the material on Pumpkinland. The HauntScapes themselves are all perfectly chilling. You can close your eyes and be instantly transported to a variety of scary locations while listening. 2000 also saw the release of a soundscape album called Mark Harvey​.​.​.​Unreleased. I think you can figure out the source of the material based on the title, so let’s move on to the final (as of this writing) installment of the Pumpkinland series: 2001’s Pumpkinland III.

“Procession” has what I like to call a “medium low” musical backbone. There are some neat variations to the plodding drumbeats and other instruments take over at times. It’s perfect for those who want to use something other than Chopin’s funeral march in their haunted attraction. It also works as a standalone track you can enjoy on any day of the year. The synth heavy “Rites” is suggestive of dark doings. Its unique use of drums is supported by dripping sounds and distant moaning. So it’s ideal for caverns, altars, prisons and dungeons. You could even score an entire garage haunt with this track since it’s over 12 minutes long! Pounding synth work and some new wind effects kick off “Pumpkinland III.” Its ominous feel would aid any graveyard or pumpkin patch it’s used in. This is another track that I think would pair nicely with scarecrows. “Nocturne” features low, heavy synths and chirping insects. The chirping fades in and out and crickets join in at times to keep things interesting. This track can be used in haunted forests or any any scene involving nature. The use of insect calls also mean it can be used as the musical backing for a room involving the Necronomicon. The creepy opening of “Docks” vaguely reminds me of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? series. But the soft wind and creepily cooing synthesizers take things in a different direction. Dripping water and softly lapping waves can be heard later on, along with the occasional appearance by wordless female vocals. The synths get very varied about halfway through. There’s also a sound effect that’s either someone walking or the sound of the docks settling. Either way, this lengthy soundscape is very eerie and effective. Its name makes me think of pirates, but that isn’t the only potential use this track could have in your haunt. You could easily use it if you have a rumble bridge in a swamp scene. Haunts using tour guides can even make up a story about a ghost who crosses the bridge at times in order to take advantage of the “walking” sounds. Low synth notes lurk in the background of “Nightmare,” which conjures up a feeling of mild nervousness. A lengthy screech breaks the tension and returns just before the end. Other random effects put in brief appearances throughout the track. The sounds of wind and militaristic drum beats are combined with synth work in “Graveyard.” The synth work is just as wonderfully varied as the drums are steady. I love the sneaking tones and mournful notes. There’s a nice callback to the album’s opening track too. The album could have only consisted of this track and it still would have delivered everything promised by the cover art.

Pumpkinland III is yet another triumph from Mark Harvey. Previous albums used variations on certain sound effects in the tracks to keep things interesting, but this time synth work handles that particular task more. But don’t let that make you think the effects are boring. Hell, there’s more different wind sound effects in this than the other two albums combined! But no matter which album(s) you use, your guests (be they trick-or-treaters or haunt patrons) are certain to have a great time. The HauntScapes are both creepy enough for adults while not being too intense for kids. These albums can also be played in haunted attractions on a royalty free basis once purchased. What’s not to love?

Although his work is respected in the Halloween and haunting communities, I’ve noticed how his work seems to be more obscure than the other artists who started out in the 90’s. I’ve lurked at a few forums devoted to haunting and was shocked to haunt operators’ discussions of what audio they should use rarely mentioned him. This might be due to how his albums were initially sold on eBay and his work is only available as a digital download from select services like Bandcamp rather than big name online retailers like Amazon or iTunes. Others have noted how the various covers for Pumpkinland (and its sequels) might have made some potential buyers think it was a kiddie album and pass on it. I’m convinced everyone would use his name in the same breath as Midnight Syndicate if Pumpkinland had used the cover of Pumpkinland III. Hopefully this situation will change soon. His work is amazing and deserves all the recognition it can get.

What has Mark Harvey been up to since then? He released Fleshrot: Songs from the Dead in 2003 to act as the soundtrack for John Pearson’s graphic novel Fleshrot: Tales From The Dead. A few tracks were recycled from Pumpkinland II and Pumpkinland III, but I’d like to think it’s a reference to how Pearson created the current cover art for those albums. At some point a sampler album was released and I imagine he did plenty of custom tracks for various attractions as well. After that, he stopped making ambient albums to focus on his family and various musical projects. He still kept himself in the world of Halloween thanks to his blog and by running the online radio station But last year saw the release of the haunting single Undead and left fans wondering if more albums are in the works. Stay tuned!

So there you have it folks...such a kind review and it really makes me want to get back in the studio and make more tracks. Yes, Weird Jon, "Undead" is a view of what's to come.  I'll be back...someday.

Happy Haunting,

Mark Harvey

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