Songs To Scare You Stupid

So, maybe you’re going for a little more edge in your “haunted house”, this Halloween? Or do your fireside ghost stories need some extra oomph? Say no more, my young apprentice.

From inside Torture Garden, Naked City, 1990.

From inside Naked City, 1990.

You can do much better than “Monster Mash” and Doom soundtracks to terrify trick-or-treaters. Please help yourself to some suggestions. You with the eggs and the toilet paper; take two.

One of the most brutal and off-putting films I’ve ever seen is Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (my favorite movie). Its musical score was created by Thomas Bangalter, also known as one half of Daft Punk. Early in the film, Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and his ill-fated friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) descend into a hard-core gay S&M club called “Rectum”. It’s the best part of the film, leading up to its most notorious, and Bangalter’s music evokes Throbbing Gristle to make it as terrifying for us as it is for the protagonists.

Subconsciously, that low siren offsets your breathing, making you increasingly anxious. Then the pounding drums come in, raising your heart rate. During the theatrical run, a frequency was added to this scene that causes nausea and is generally the result of earthquakes. Folks; when I tell you this movie does not play around with the mental effects of trauma, rape and violence, I mean it.

Think about Joe Pesci’s final scene in Goodfellas. No matter how many times you see it, its impact never diminishes. That’s what almost the entire run time of Irreversible is like. It’s even harsher once you grasp the futility of the revenge depicted. The “Rectum” scene isn’t horrific because of the lurid gayness on screen; what you’re seeing is the leads’ anxieties visualized. The incessant and queasy motions of the camera are like a detached retina following a major concussion. By the time you get to the flattened skull or the post-rape cock shot, you feel like you’ve gone six rounds with Tyson. (I do not recommend Irreversible to women, despite my accolades. With only the music, you should be fine however.)

Goth-industrial pioneers Skinny Puppy offer a wide variety of spooky tunes (unsurprisingly). If you feel brave one night, put on your best headphones, turn out the lights, and listen to this.

That’s from 1992, and one of the people involved is dead! BOOOOO!!!

You could put that baby on repeat, and be all set for Halloween hijinks. I don’t know why “hijinks” is coming up misspelled on my post editor; I learned from the late great Bob Elliott that it’s the only word in the English language with three dotted letters in a row. So there.

Anyway! How creepy is that loop, where it sounds like a woman saying “over here”? The middle section sounds like Godzilla battling some kind of equally-massive space monster. Then it gets spacey, then spooky-spacey for the outro. Think of all the weird shit you could stage to that single track. A monster fight, for sure.

Okay kids… you wanna hear something really scary?

Grab your favorite scary book, and read while the following track is playing.

I used to play that music when I told the Chicken Man story, which was passed on to me by an elder cousin. Don’t ask about it unless you’re comfortable messing your pants.

That’s Naked City’s version of an Olivier Messiaen piece, or perhaps I should say masterpiece, from a master composer of the 20th century. Here, don’t take my word for it:

At the outbreak of World War II, Messiaen was drafted into the French army. Due to poor eyesight, he was enlisted as a medical auxiliary rather than an active combatant. He was captured at Verdun and taken to Görlitz in May 1940, and was imprisoned at Stalag VIII-A. He met a violinist, a cellist and a clarinetist among his fellow prisoners. He wrote a trio for them, which he gradually incorporated into his Quatuor pour la fin du temps (“Quartet for the End of Time”). The Quartet was first performed in January 1941 to an audience of prisoners and prison guards, with the composer playing a poorly maintained upright piano in freezing conditions. Thus the enforced introspection and reflection of camp life bore fruit in one of 20th-century European classical music’s acknowledged masterpieces. The title’s “end of time” alludes to the Apocalypse, and also to the way in which Messiaen, through rhythm and harmony, used time in a manner completely different from his predecessors and contemporaries. [Wikipedia]


Can you hear all that in the piece? Because I sure as hell can.

As for Naked City, they pretty much closed the book on scary music in a few albums. The piece above appears on Grand Guignol, which is one example, but the champion is Absinthe, their final disc.

From the now-defunct website of Avant, their label:

[Drummer] Joey Baron plays bags of dry leaves, fishing reels and buckshot. Bill Frisell solos on a microtonal guitar. [Keyboardist] Wayne Horvitz samples everything from crickets to Giacinto Scelsi. [Bassist] Fred Frith does what he does best. Zorn doesn’t even touch the saxophone.

Did you need to stay up all night? Here’s the first track.

Sounds like something horrendous is moments from happening, does it not?

The sixth track, “Notre dame de l’oubli”, is dedicated to Messiaen, who died in 1992. It’s very possibly the most terrifying piece of music I’ve ever heard. All kidding aside. This track could turn the most ebullient birthday party into a death march.

Deep breaths! You can do this!

It’s just thunder!

What’s that behind you? What’s… that smell? What’s dripping? Are those otters?

Relax, it’s alright. Come out of that awful dungeon.

Sorry; something’s wrong with the TV. Here, I’ll shut it off. Oh- oh my god. Are those-

Are those spiders crawling up the walls?





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