On Monday, Disney debuted the addition of “Starry-O-Phonic” music and sound effects aboard Walt Disney World’s Space Mountain roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom and initial reactions have been mixed.
Some Disney park guests have found the thumping dance/techno-style music to be a welcome accompaniment to the ride, while others see it as underwhelming.
Before I offer my thoughts, here’s a video I recorded of a ride aboard Space Mountain with the new music and sound effects. The audio was recorded using binaural microphones, meaning you should wear your headphones while watching this video for the most immersive experience:
(The final couple minutes of the video also includes a live recording of the new song now heard as you exit the attraction.)
I ended up riding through the newly-updated Space Mountain three times in a row to fully take in the experience as it now exists. After my first ride, I was unsure whether I liked the new music or not, as it greatly differs from the widely-popular Michael Giacchino-composed music added a few years ago to DIsneyland’s Space Mountain. After my second ride, I decided I do like the new song, though not as much as Giacchino’s, but was still unsure about the experience as a whole.
It was only after the third ride that I realized what I was puzzled about. The ride vehicles for Walt Disney World’s Space Mountain do not contain speakers to allow onboard music to pump directly into riders’ ears. Instead, Disney opted for an external solution, placing around 60 speakers throughout the roller coaster track, each looping a different portion of the new music and/or new sound effects. The result is an inconsistent experience in many ways.
The sound of the music fading in and out in the video above is not due to a poor recording. That is how it actually sounds as you ride through the updated Space Mountain. For a few seconds, you hear fast-paced, thumping dance music - and then back to silence. Then the music returns, or perhaps a “whooshing” sound effect - then back to silence. It repeats throughout the roughly 2-minute ride, culminating in a fun spiraling sound as you round the ride’s final turns.
While the added sound effects do seem to heighten the overall experience, adding an extra perceived force to your movements, the on-and-off music is leaving many riders (including myself) wanting more. In other versions of Space Mountain around the world (and likewise with the nearby Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios), music fills out the experience, as it is present throughout the entire ride, timed with its movements. But when the music comes and goes so often, it almost feels like something is wrong - which is not the feeling Disney ever wants a guest to leave with.
From a technical standpoint, it seems like adding more speakers - perhaps two or three times as many - would complete the experience, allowing the music to stay continuous throughout the ride. But perhaps that would create too much audio bleeding from one section of the track to another, causing a cacophony of dance beats, which would be far worse than the sporadic absence of them. I had heard rumors of onboard audio being tested during last year’s Space Mountain refurbishment - and ultimately abandoned for reasons unknown (the notion of speakers weighing down the cars too much was sent my way but never substantiated). Perhaps the current solution was the next-best option Walt Disney Imagineering had available.
Now, the new music and sound effects do not ruin the Space Mountain experience by any means. Most guests will hardly notice they are there (part of the problem) and those that do will not likely think twice about their presence, no matter how prominent they are (or not). Space Mountain is still a classic roller coaster - the first dark, indoor ride of its kind - and will remain a Walt Disney World staple. The music (gaps and all) won’t stop me from frequenting this ride for decades to come.
What do you think about the new Space Mountain music and sound effects? Comment below!