Horror Track

When working on this track I didn’t really have a firm idea of where to start. I didn’t know what type of setting and scene I was composing for, let alone the type of horror movie. I wanted to experiment with the different types of instruments and samples I was going to use but I also wanted to meet the cliches of classic horror soundtracks. I also felt that using  some bare bones instrumentals as a guide would help identify which sounds would be appropriate and where to actually start in terms of sound design.

I started looking up soundtracks from some of my favourite horror movies for inspiration. I went straight to the classics first: Friday the 13th, Halloween and The Thing. One element that I noticed was in almost all of the soundtracks was a predictable formula- all of the instruments build up, suddenly stop and are replaced with silence, then there’s a loud bang (or something of that effect) and a long, high pitched, droning chord. I definitely wanted to include that into my track.

Another movie that came to mind was the recent release, It Follows. The soundtrack was fantastic and incorporated the aesthetic of 80’s horror soundtracks with tense percussions and low subtle synths. The opening track of the movie proved by far to be the best reference for what I wanted to compose.

I thought it would be interesting to mix the cheesy and predictable composition of 80’s horror with the percussion and synth elements of It Follows. At first I wanted to experiment with having a low rumbling sub bass constantly playing behind everything else. That way when the track builds up to the scare and every element starts dropping out, the bass would be the last to fade out and would make the incorporation of silence a lot more effective and unsettling. I created the low rumble with Massive, using an oscillator to make sure it was just a simple low hum.

Low Rumbling Synth
Low Rumbling Synth

I then decided to add a percussion of some sort but wasn’t sure what would be fitting. While deciding (procrastinating) I noticed my bass guitar leaning up against my wall. I plucked one of the strings and the next of the guitar vibrated against my wall and resulted in a brilliant rumbling sound. So of course I had to record and use it. After I processed it with a large reverb and messed around with the EQ it ended up sounding like an old church bell. I pushed it back into the mix so it wouldn’t be confused with the actual sound design of the setting. This constant ring and hum served as the drive for the first half of the track.

I then created a synth with Sculpture to serve as eerie keys to further set the atmosphere. I looped the first progression once then moved the midi data to lower keys which made the synth sound like it was deteriorating and getting more sinister. Then I put some string samples into a sampler and played some low droning notes which I then pitched down.

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Eerie Keys

I faded each individual element out one by one, leaving the low rumbling synth for last. I left a couple of seconds of silence then triggered a loud bang to indicate the “scare” of the movie. Before the reverb of the bang had decayed I had 2 different high pitched synths both play at once to replicate the high screech that has become a cliche of 80’s horror films. I also noticed that some movies, as time went on, tried to change up this cliche by having a second scare straight after the first. So I used the same synths and pitched them down 2 octaves to indicate this second scare.

I took inspiration from It Follows for the second half of the track and tried to signal the resolution of the scene. I put another 2 different low synths and had them occasionally drop in pitch while banging noises played in the background. This mix of low eerie droning and imagery of a struggle of some sort in the background was pretty effective. I then faded out the synths as they started lowering in pitch.

Most of my sound design was recorded breaths that were reversed, or slowed down. I also had a sample of crickets that loaded into a sampler. I reversed the data then dropped it down in pitch and added a huge reverb. This resulted in the “banging” that is heard towards the end of the track. Another thing that I experimented with was using a stereo spreader. I started processing all of the sound design with it and it gave them a surreal type of attribute. I wanted the sounds to really play up the setting but still make enough room for the music without sort of muddying it up and blurring the separation of the music and the background sounds.

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