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99% Invisible: All In Your Head

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On the July 17, 2015 edition of 99% Invisible.

People who make horror movies know: if you want to scare someone, use scary music.

There are two fundamental ways to make music scary. The first way is to compose music with lots of screechy, irregular tones, imitating the sounds of screams and distress. It’s a biological trigger for “Something terrible is happening right now!”

The second way horror movie music makes you feel uneasy is to go the other direction: low grumbling sounds. This is also rooted in biology, since the lowest frequency a species can produce is a function of its body size. Low-frequency sounds mean that something big is around.

Mix these two and you’re on your way to creating a classic scary soundtrack [...]