The Importance of Sound Design: Tale Tell Heart and Puppetmaster

by on Aug.30, 2011, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from Rotting Flesh Radio | Go to Original Post

by: RFR Casket Crew Maestro Macbre

The Importance of Sound Design: Tell Tale Heart

The Importance of Sound Design: Tell Tale Heart

In Poe’s classic story, the beating of a heart causes nervousness and paranoia in the lead character.  The sound of a EKG beeping, growing faster and then flat-lining.  The sound of a video game charecter underwater, as the sound gets faster and faster till the poor little digital creature drowns.  The fact is the tempo of a sound can literally make you nervous, uncomfortable and even cause panic.

However, pairing tempo with frequency can act as a double whammy.  Think of the “Psycho” theme, the shrill of the strings.  Think of the sound of nails on chalk boards.  These high frequencies cause us discomfort and to tense up.  On the opposite side of things, bass frequencies cause us to relax.  So using both makes one edgier and paranoid.

How can you use this.  Increasing tempos at the beginning of a haunt will set your customers on edge before entering.  the human heart beats at 60-100 beats per minute.  Increasing the tempo by just a few beats per minute can physically cause a persons heart beat to rise.  Don’t believe me?  Think of a defibrillator, that is just a amplified electrical current sent through the body to restart the heart.

Unexpected changes in rhythm can also cause discomfort, heightened awareness and that jumpy feeling.  A good example of this is “Tubular Bells” or the exorcist theme to those of you hard core horror freaks.  The tempo settles in and then throws in an unexpected hit every now and then that almost makes you jump.  Some time signatures also create discomfort because of the unnatural rhythm of the human body.  Time signature that are odd like 7/8 and 5/8 feel like they actually skip a beat, causing the feeling of confusion and hypersensitivity.

You as a haunt owner/designer can use both of these to your advantage, however it isn’t that simple.

If you have ever used a “Buttkicker” speaker or a similar system, knows you can physically feel sound.  The best utilization is to invade and manipulate your customer!  Rhythmic beats interrupted by unexpected hits, can startle anyone.

Well most of you don’t write your own music or create your own sounds, how does this help?  Start looking for things that do use these!  The best source is movie soundtracks, haunt soundtracks and sometimes even classical scores.  However, be careful and aware of copyrights and performance rights.

So how do you lay this all out and be the puppet master?

Outside in a Cue, you want songs that will create ambiance and atmosphere.  Think carefully about what your theme is, location and target audience.  Nothing turns me off more than a confusing haunt theme.  If you play on fears, think of those fears and find songs that characterize those.  For example: haunted mansion should include sounds that fit that, a church should be filled with church like sounds and organ drones.

Cue music should be practical not personal, just because you like a certain style or genre, doesn’t mean it will always work.  If you aim toward teens and young adults, heavy metal works, however, you are turning off older individuals, that might not appreciate your desire for GWAR.  So sometimes a combination of the two works best.  Think about it, does your haunt usually attract younger audiences or older?

Dark Pandemonium: A Descent Into The Labyrinth of the Mind

Dark Pandemonium: A Descent Into The Labyrinth of the Mind

Also don’t look past finding your own unique style!  Have fun and listen all year.  There are great albums by composers that spend a GREAT majority of their time carefully creating these pieces.  Nox Arcana, Midnight Syndicate, Dead Rose Symphony, Virgil, Jerry Vayne, Rotting Flesh Radio’s Dark Pandemonium and even myself, to name a few.  Don’t overlook the importance of cue music.

Waiting room or welcome rooms, are becoming ever more popular to gauge the flow and also prep your patrons, if you have the space and means, DO IT!  This is where you create a uncomfortable feeling.  Quicken the tempo and frequencies.  The Great thing about welcome areas is that you can use a prerecorded consistent track.  But careful more than a minute makes your scare dull and annoying.  The key is to create immediate discomfort and to make your patrons afraid to enter the haunt.  This is a good primer, but remember, NOT TOO LONG!  20-30 seconds is best!

But the other school of thought is, just send them in unprepared.  This works too, but you have to use the same basis, you have 20-30 seconds to  scare and surprise, use original scares, not the standard, “boo” or prop.

Once inside, Ambient tracks work best, save the music for themed rooms (Music boxes in nurseries, Organs and bells in churches, you get the picture).  I won’t really elaborate on this because I covered it in the previous post.

Remember to make sense with sound.  Using high volume only works if the music or sounds are subtle.  You shouldn’t notice them unless you think about it.  Less is more in there.  It makes your scares more intense and unexpected, when you are waiting for that, SHOCK.  If there is loud chaos and screaming going on it’s more annoying than scary.  So tell your actors to save it for the scare.

I do want to emphasize the need for loops that are short and can be used to lead to the next room.  Great areas for this are vortexes, transition halls, and segues to the next haunt.  use a brief short loop, maybe 20-30 seconds, that take the rhythm from comfortable 80BPM to 130-140 BPM.  This can be easily made on your own, or pay someone to make something unique.

Remember, if it annoys you, it will probably annoy your patrons!

Placement of speakers is important as well, but I will cover this in the next article.  I will show you how to create surround sound on a budget!  Impressive and fun!

As with all tips and tricks, you have to analyze your own haunt and objectives, but these simple tricks can be used to aid you in preparing for this fright season!

If you have any questions of comments, please feel free to contact me at or email me at

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