• Victoria Altern

What does fear sound like?

Let's dive into the world of horror films. We've decided to take a short film provided to us and we'll be re-doing all the audio to get a first hand experience at what mixing a horror film (as well as composing for and doing the sound design for) is like. Horror films would not be the same without sound - let's face it, no movie since 1935 has optionally gone without sound, there's reasons for that

Lets pretend we're sitting in the sweet spot, that area right in the centre of the screen (or speakers) where you have stereo speakers on either side but somehow it feels like there's got to be a speaker in the middle because you could have sworn you thought Charlize Theron was speaking directly to you. This is when physics of sound takes over and your brain perceives a perfect stereo image as sound coming from the centre. "If you do this then the special ‘sound’ of a phantom image becomes obvious and one of the first things you will notice is that using a phantom center, the sound appears to come from a point closer to you than the line between the speakers. You can also hear the coloration effect. And you can hear the comb-filtering effect changing as you move your head in and out of the sweet spot." (, n.d.) This is usually achieved by panning. Of course, it is different when using surround sound (or 5:1) as there will be an actual, physical speaker where the 'phantom speaker' is.

My team and I are brainstorming for this horror short and we really want to stay within the guidelines of what makes a horror film sonically. We also want to be creative and explore a bit. In this film (Darkness Calls, 2019) a couple goes on a camping trip only to find that they are stalked with a red telephone that rings in the middle of the forest - hence, darkness calls - and instead of using a ringing noise we might personify the phone ring to sound like someone is calling him/her name. We are going to re-do the score using dark synths/pads and other instruments that represent suspenseful themes - I've been waiting my whole life to use an open pluck of the strings just after the nut on a guitar as It's one of the creepiest sounds out there. On that note, a horror score is also creepy because of the key, notes and chords used to cause angst and unease.

A good production technique to create fear is the use of tritones. This is because it creates dissonance which leads us to feel like we are on the edge of something, as if something has not been resolved and is off balance. It created so much tension that some churches would ban it from being played as it represented the antithesis of God. Use of reverb or lack of reverb can create tension. Leaving things completely dry can create an unnatural feeling of emptiness whereas also using a lot of reverb can create chaos. A more straight forward way to create tension is using certain frequencies wisely, for example when exaggerating the range of 1-4khz it creates a sense of urgency and we can lay this sine wave/tone under a scene to create tension.

Bibliography: (2003). Horror film genre typing and scene labeling via audio analysis - IEEE Conference Publication. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2020].

Karanam, K. and Karanam, K. (2016). What Makes Horror Movie Music So Scary? — SYNC PROJECT. [online] SYNC PROJECT. Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2020]. (n.d.). Under the Hood of the Stereophonic System: Phantom Sources - Dirac. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2020].

Vickers,E 2009,AES Convention 127, Paper number 7916, Audio Engineering Society, Delivered October 1 2009

Weiss, M. (2018). 4 Effective Ways to Use Tension in Your Productions — Pro Audio Files. [online] Pro Audio Files. Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2020].

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