Music and Horror – Mad Fiends With Violins

Strange Bedfellows

Music and horror have been intimate partners bent on emotional sabotage since the silent film era of the mid-1890s to the late 1920s. F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), Georges Méliès Le Manoir Du Diable (House of the Devil) (1896), Victor Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage (1921) all incorporated and relied on music to lure their audience into the film’s world of ghastly abominations. This relationship between music and horror is now so embedded into our experience that it is anticipated. Over the decades composers have created soundtracks that are so chilling and memorable, that the music on its own will make your pulse quicken when you hear it.

music and horror have long been hand in hand

Like other storytelling mediums, Audio Drama recordings become a richer, layered experience with the right composition. The 11th Hour Audio Challenge event attracts composers who are either already deeply embedded in pulse-mastering discordant sounds of horror – to those who want to broaden their skills by taking a stab at summoning the essence of dread.

Dayn is a veteran of the 11th Hour Audio Challenge. He has composed eight different shows for the event so far. His scores are complex and original. They inform the story and the audience. They are intertwined with everything that the audience is hearing and experiencing and refuse to lie in the background like wallpaper. And sometimes, the stories inspire the composer to create even more.

Meet Dayn Leonardson

picture of Dayn Leonardson looking over his right shoulder

Dayn is a senior sound designer, dialogue editor, composer, and writer at Fool & Scholar Productions. He works on series such as VAST Horizon, Dark Dice, The White Vault, and Wordtastic: Kid Agents. He notably composed music for A Haunting Beyond the Lake, which recently achieved a first-place victory in the 2021 UK International Radio Drama Festival.

“11th hour gives such a variety of directors to work with, so we are able to develop the much-needed skill of deciphering the musical vision of the director. It also helps us learn when to take musical risks and fill in the blanks where the director might not have a clear blueprint for a scene musically.”

a haunting beyond the lake

Goodbye Lucy

Dayn composed the score for Richard Brooks’s award-winning 11th Hour submission, A Haunting Beyond the Lake. The story inspired Dayn to go back after the 30-days of October madness and create Goodbye, an alternate musical ending inspired by the story.

Mad Scientists Dig Deeper

Researchers have examined the connection between vertebrate distress vocalizations and non-linear sounds. They’ve found that music that feels jarring and unexpected, such as Bernard Herrman’s contribution to the movie Psycho (1960), signals the endocrine system to release hormones that support self-preservation. These stress hormones signal the brain’s neural pathways that control emotion and cognition. The use of the stabbing violins in ‘The Murder (Shower Scene)’ is the sort of non-linear sound that mimics the sounds of animals (including the kind with opposable thumbs) in distress and therefore triggers a fight or flight response in our subconscious.

Composing for 11th Hour Audio

The 11th Hour Audio Challenge has given a few composers the opportunity to test their skills at creating those soundtracks that linger under the moment of terror, telling you what to feel and what may be about to happen next. Because audio drama tells stories without visual elements, a composer is key. Not only do they create those stirring, dramatic musical strains, stings, and stabs, but they also help set the pace of a scene, a moment, and the final release. The non-linear music that jumps out and tells you something is wrong creates the tension that you feel when Michael Myers appears from behind the hedge.

Final Thought

Being taken on a journey into a nightmare world is fun and thrilling. We love to be frightened because even though our vertebrate brains tell us something here is very wrong and we should do something about it, we know it’s safe. We laugh and feel a little embarrassed by our reactions (especially if the cat yowl got us AGAIN). But never underestimate the raw psychological power that music and horror holds over us.

Come Make Some Noise With Us

Do you have a little music and horror in your blood waiting for just the right project to pounce on? LISTEN to more shows at 11th Hour Audio Productions today and then help us make some horror!