For a long time I have been fascinated by Psychological horror and how it manages to unnerve me. Going by a philosophy that "The purpose of art is to crete an emotion inside the viewer", I decided that I should try to make music sound scary or at least a bit unseteling/unnerving (these all can be considered scary in my oppinion) I read quite a bit on this subject and I'm still searching. There could be a few core things to make music "scary" that I'm considering (but honestly a lot more things probably come into play). Here's a few I'm going to be adressing.
- The sound design.
- The musical arrangement.
- The story.
So lets Tackle the first issue, the sound design, in theory we are we humans as a species are afraid of numerous things, but its all rather subjective (it alwas is). What seems scary to one may be only laughable to another. But that doesn't mean we don't have any fears that we share in common. We are probably afraid of demise... simply put things that put an end to something we cherish, it doesn't always have to be life (but in media especially movies thats almost always the case, and its someting we all grieve about), we are afraid of some parts of reality, loud thunder still sends chills down on quite a lot of peoples spines (its not fear per-say but oftenly its an unsettling emotion), gunshots and screams alarm us... But why? Well because it makes us aware of a possible danger, or an unseteling outcome. So irregular patterns in sound as in screams, sirens, gunshots, static force us to listen because those sounds are oftenly associated with bad outcomes. In one article there was a statement saying that animal oftenly use irregular shrieks/sygnals as warnings. So in theory sounds that try to warn us of a bad outcome tend to make us alarmed, and thats only natural. How does that translate into Sound design of our trusty Caustic synthesizers? Well it doesn't do the job well on its own, but it should, right? Yes but only once they are used in a correct manner. The repeating sounds of sirens that graduily get louder will probably add more of a warning sign, then ones that come and go in an unreglar pattern (but that can also work of handled properly). Don't rely on these sounds to make your song scary, sometimes less is more, right? Well yes and also no. "without darkness there is no light" (and vise-versa), I mentioned before that we are afraid of things that put an end to something we cherish, so in music that something can be a beutyful piano melody, or a synthy lead that makes you smile, with those getting interrupted or put to dissaray by allarming sounds will provide a much bigger effect, the tricky part will be going foreward to when "that" goes off, you can try continuing the melody before, or maybe completely putting up a new one surprising the listener and probably shking their expectations. Aaah So Its a Jumpscare but only In music! Well... Jumpscares are iconic by putting suspense at the beggining by making everything qiuet (I'll provide information on why that works also) but having jumpscares in music is like a cheap excuse to not dive deeper into the abyss of horror (as I mentioned there are multiple things that go into this). Its a good tool but you don't need to rely on only that to get the job done, theres a lot more that good pacing coupled with that little subtle stutter of the melody can do. Atmosphere can be a hell your listener won't leave for a full 3 minutes, don't throw that possibility for a minute of a surpise factor. Another point I would like to adress is unfamiliar sounds, so far I was talikng about alarms and how those work, but unfamilar sounds like reversed ones, or glitched and bitcrushed up noise can work just as fine, its sounds we don't normally experience.
*Why does no sound is an equivalent to suspense? Because naturally in our enviroments theres tons of sound, and we oftenly don't experience pure silence, theres always something: the wind that rustles the leaves, our humming fridge, birds, traffic, sound of rain hitting the window. So in return pure silence is sadly kind of a rarety nowadays, knowing that everything has stopped kinda endangers our normal everyday life... That kind of translates to suspense in a way, that we are put in an unfamilar enviroment. Try to leave a listener with abrupt silences after cutting of in a midle of a melody.
Now go ahead Take a sip of coffe or some tea. ^^ Maybe You'll notice some sounds that alarm you.
2nd point. The musical arrangement.
This one probably hides the most secrets from me, and is probably one of the most difficult to express in music without proper knowledge.
But so far I know this. The Tritone works! The tritone is an interval consistng of 6 semitones, if you are playing C after 6 semis you go down to an F# (notice you need to know these on your own, I'm can't provide information on how keys are named, you'll need to memorise a scale on your own sadly)
Every interval or rather a distance between notes has a sort of a character, some notes work together to create a pleasing sound, some crete an empty sound, some create an unpleasing sound (for example two notes next to each other). But are there chords (a chord is simpy more then one note hit at the same time) that sound scary? Well no... There isn't its just pleasant or unpleasant, happy or sad, not much more,but I believe that combining certain characters of certain notes an affect of an unsettling combination can be achieved. Maybe theres some dissonance thats always keeps surfacing up, maybe the main melody falls apart into a completely diferent mode... Theres lots of things you can probably do, but enough of that, there are more points I need to mention (because this one is the deepest and I could sit here researching certain keys all night). Now the GENRES of music, I believe that a genre is defined by associations that we make with certain sets of sounds and tempos (and probably more stuff). You hit play on a track of an artitst you never heard about, you listen for a couple of seconds not knowing what to expect (a lot of the time, not always), but almost always that intro leads you to a genre by introducing more elements to the song. So certain types of sounds produce a genre? Well probably... (Theres likely way more to that)... But whats intersting to me, is that introduction and the feeling when you start listening, that unknown feeling of whats going to happen next... Its probably always like that, when you are starting to view some form of media, be it a movie, a book or anything, you are expecting certain things to happen and not meeting those expectatitions can introduce that same feeling of unease that you had in the beggining. Music has a lot of those expectations, you expect a big Drop, or a certain lead to kick in after an intense build-up, but rather meeting the listener with noise or a complete switch up, or a tempo drop will throw them of. Now... The tempo... I tackled some intervals, and you are now probably going to head down to pick a minor scale to go off an try to unsettle someone, but the thing is, scales aren't going to help, you also have to heavily consider the timing, and in my oppinion this is the key in this subject, having a slow melody won't probably help all that much, but having certain things happen during certain thought-out times should... Take time to build up an atmosphere, it can be comfortable to the listener it can not, its your choise.
Also there can be pieces so obscure the listener won't find any associations with anything, thats also a good way to instill horror. Having to work with limited audio information will probably send them down a path of expectence to try and find something, that search can be a dreadfull one tho ^^
(Also I'm no proffesor in this subject so please correct me, refute my claims or discuss any idea or project, anything goes)
3rd point I'm adressing before completely shutting off into sleep, is the STORY
Story?? Aren't we making music? Well yes but you can insert a story into music by having vocals. What if I'm not going to Insert vocals? Well theres more then 0_0... Sounds can tell a story, sounds can probably define a world our listener is hearing, it can define events that the main subject is going thru, and most importantly it can define emotions of ... us. With 14 synths??? Yes actually theres quite a bit you can do if you somehow stumbled on this without knowing that then go check out what the community has made... (Ok I know all that get to the point!) sure ^^. The story can be told thru automation, panning (binural panning even) the sounds that we come across in daily life (you just need to record that)... Even without all that, remember expectations, yes the laws of those are still binding us here, but that isn't bad, because thru those you can tell a story of someone for example falling into a mechanism and getting crushed there (I heard a 3 minute song telling a story like that, and it honestly unnerves me more then a 60 minute horror movie). What do you need for a story inside a song, well change somekind of a change, that change needs to have a clear motive to happen and you need to try to make it sound at least remotely alike to the phenomena you are trying to express... YES thats REALLY hard...
You probably will need a sinopsis for the events you are going to create...
Feel free to write down anything after this, I'll need to extend this "guide", and hearing varying oppinions can dramatically help, if you won't well then Thank you for reading this far down. (sorry for the grammar I'll probably start correcting the ones I spot once I get some sleep)
just a bit
This is meant to be somewhat of a guide, but you are right I should have probably scripted this and went for a more of an essay like format ^^