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When you hear this sound something bad is probably about to
happen. This sound is what TV Tropes calls the Drone of Dread. No, not attack drones or those robots flying in the air, or a male honeybee, or that part of a
bagpipe. Drones. Like the sustained sound that can be a low or high frequency. How composers create the Drone of Dread can vary. But some version of it is used in almost every thriller, horror
movie, or suspenseful drama. New technology has made it possible to mix sounds in new ways, helping make drones more common. – It’s a sound of dread and that is something that I think triggers fear in all kinds of
creatures. And the dread that the drone
represents: our real life anxieties, rendered
through sound. I’m Adam Epstein. This is Quartz. Please subscribe to our channel. This might be the very first drone
sound created specifically for film. It’s part of what’s considered to be one of the very first horror film
scores. – It’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ that begins
this tradition of the horror film doing really unsettling effects with the sound and the music
together. And these sustained sort of
mysterious sounds that you can sort of identify, but can’t quite identify. It creates a really uncanny effect. Neil Lerner is a musicologist at
Davidson College in North Carolina. He’s studied music in film for
over 20 years. He even wrote a book on how sounds build fear in horror films. Neil says that films use the drone sound specifically to make viewers feel uncomfortable in their seats. – The way Drones often work is that
they just build up tension and in their unwavering qualities in
the way it just keeps on giving that same
sound. That reaction of feeling tension or
something. Some sort of unease over that is what
it’s there to do. One example is the iconic, disturbing
droning you hear several times throughout
‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. That music was just, you know,
listeners wouldn’t know what to make of that. It doesn’t have rhythm really, it doesn’t have melody. I mean it’s just sort of a mass of sound that might, it might start on this pitch and stuff might just start to build
on top of it. The drone tends to pop up most often
in films during moments of great global
anxiety and unrest. ‘Space Odyssey’, for instance, came out at the height of the space race, when the world was blanketed in anxiety about new technology that could take over—or destroy—civilization. Even at the time of ‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ the world was facing a major depression. The worries and fear around the Cold War Brought out intense, foreboding drone sounds in films like ‘Eraserhead’ and ‘The Thing’. And more recently, the drone is getting at our deeper anxieties, in a society dominated by technology, and questions of loneliness and self worth. Take the social network. – And each of these have their own
relationship to the drone pitch. So he’s playing with mostly stable
harmonies in here. They’re all the other sounds that he
starts to put into the mix that make it sound more unstable and unsettling as it goes on. But to reach our deepest fears and
anxieties the drone must go beyond just a
film’s music score. – We would take these segments of his score and then start using them in other places where they weren’t originally
intended to. Because it was such a perfect element
of anxiety that we started building other scenes
and other areas where they didn’t originally discuss
to use it. Lewis Goldstein and Tom Ryan mixed
and edited the sound for the hit 2018 horror
film ‘Hereditary’. – So that you know,. that’s just the drone without
anything, this is our drone. It’s always there, subtly. Especially when the music goes away
you hear it much more. They worked closely with composer
Colin Stetson’s score to make the sounds that calibrate the tension and dread in the film. – Why is it, why do they work so
well? – The non-wavering, you know, and when I say wavering I mean if something that goes on for so long, it just affects you. The late Johann Johansson created
drone sounds so overwhelming, that they cause
rooms to shake. Like this one from ‘Arrival’. These low humming drones make us anxious. Playing directly into our
subconscious as humans. – It triggers something just hard
wired into us, as physical creatures that used to
run around in the forest and flee from predators, and of being able to detect just through these vibrations, as huge creatures from miles away are pounding towards us. That films have been so effective at connecting the drone to anxiety, may tell us something about our
modern world. – Tying it into the sort of zeitgeist, into the sort of just the general feeling of 2019 and apocalypticism, and climate change, and all this stuff, like, the world has a drone going on
right now. We can feel this unease in the ‘Dark Knight’, which opens with an obvious drone that then sets the mood for the rest
of the film. – Just complete psychological unease. I think it’s a great sonic symbol for it. There are problems that we’ve known about for a long time, that we’re just letting that drone on. – That’s terrifying. – It is really terrifying. The drone has found its way off the
screen and into real life too, in terrifying
ways. Thousands of people around the world have reported hearing a bizarre, low-frequency sound in a phenomenon known only as “the hum”. – The worldwide hum is usually
described as a low-pitched rumble. And scientists, still, aren’t totally
sure of the cause. Maybe it’s mass hysteria. Maybe it’s just tennitis. Or maybe it’s the Drone of Dread, ever present, a herald of our impending doom. Have you noticed the drone of dread
in movies? Or maybe in real life? Tell us about it in the comments and
follow us on Facebook. Next week Quartz takes a look at what could be the future of meat — real, lab-grown meat.

17 thoughts on “Why that drone sound in movies gives you anxiety

  1. Basically they're alpha waves. They're at the same frequency which brain works. So according to what kind of sound is , it can give feelings. Bad or good.

  2. Mass Effect used this drone sound for the reapers, it gave them a very existential dread when they started to make those sounds

  3. They don't wanna say it for fear of legal repercussions & marketing so I will:

    These are not drone sounds. Humans haven't been exposed to drones enough in real life to recognise it.

    These are tribal calls.

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