The Halloween Found Music Review

The Halloween Found Music Review


This Halloween, pay attention to the origin of those frightening sounds around you. Do they come from humans, animals, or aliens? Animal-alien partnerships? It’s time to jump to conclusions!

A cinematic, Shakespearean haunting in 1964

The unexpected delight of this newsreel clip comes from its descent (albeit a jokey, planned one) into an unresolved seance. Bookended by other news/human interest stories, it both pokes fun at a group of psychics and yields them time. The story is this: a ghost has appeared at the Shakespeare Exposition and folks have taken it upon themselves to solve this mystery and send the apparition back to whence it came. The newsreader’s barely-contained condescension sits at odds with the still unbreakable impulse to read the news exactly how it happened. We get lines like “The medium, 51-year-old Arthur Steadman of Solihull, thinks the spirit’s been wandering around for centuries, quite lost.”

Arthur Steadman conjuring the ghost.

I would like to think that the ghost of Shakespeare had an influence on the making of this video clip, because a mysterious silence takes it over about halfway through. The sensational turn is all about the background music. Its stately orchestral music transitions smoothly into an eerie, ringing soundtrack once the seance is mentioned. The narrator abandons us, aside from a few interjections (“Faces should appear!”). Hokey swells punctuate jump scares. All the while, our trusted group of psychics circles up, conjuring the ghost. Just before the clip ends (without a satisfying resolution), we hear an extremely 1964 electronic blip from something like a Moog. It tears the whole thing apart, and I honestly don’t know where we leave off with this story. I myself haven’t heard anything new from Shakespeare’s ghost, so we likely have Mr. Steadman and his crew to thank.

The ghost of the violin

In case you’ve been thirsting for music in its more traditional definition, “The ghost of the violin” gives you a bona fide song. This Tin Pan Alley-type tune is a wonderful novelty in both its asides and its instrumental imaginings. Endeavoring to explore the title ghost, it bolsters its believability with a screeching violin riff. Much like the sound effects in the Shakespeare video, this accompaniment reveals the human drive to approximate fear with a sound. If a ghost got its hands on a violin, would it have the skill or motive to perform a long glissando? Maybe, but we learn what scares us by listening to these portraits in sound. The ghost makes the violin “moan in a weepy, creepy tone,” suggesting anything too much resembling the human voice is to be avoided. Of course, the violin doesn’t have far to go, timbre-wise, but anybody sensible would stay away from those types of wailings.

The questioning refrain, “What ghost!? What ghost?!” is backed up by brasher horn notes, which confirm the problem with associating too heavily with the human voice. How in the world will we separate ourselves from our unliving instruments? That’s what our own voices are for. In any case, look out for signs of your instrument turning on you—it may just be a ghost.

The (not so) mysterious “Bio-duck”

Figure 1 from “Mysterious bio-duck sound attributed to the Antarctic minke whale”

Elsewhere in the realm of unexplained events is the quacking sound heard by submarines once known as the “Bio-duck.” First of all, this naming convention seems off, as normal ducks (bird-type, swimmers) could also wear the name “Bio-duck.” We could call them necro-ducks after they pass on, but Bio-duck seems to shroud the concept of life in mystery. More accurately, we could say that the noise describes an undersea quacking, the type that radiates out through the depths.

But this great maritime unknown became a known in 2014. It’s without a doubt the sound of the Antarctic minke whale. I can’t decide if this kind of closure is satisfying or a huge letdown, but it’s not unexpected. Most underwater sounds turn out to be icebergs or animals, and if isn’t one of those, it’s electrical interference in instruments. The best takeaway may be to appreciate the organic nature of the sound. Those pulsing quacks really are quacks of a sort, not cold metal scraping as far removed as we are from the sounds we collect in space. Viewing it as a sound first, and maybe even as music, it lacks reproducibility. If you were to hear the whale up close, I expect the sound would deliver an even greater sense of wonder.


Honorable mentions:

Forest Grove mystery sound

Described as a “mechanical scream,” this still unsolved sound was heard for weeks before quieting. Past the possibilities of faulty equipment, we can propose such explanations as alien calls and earth resonances. Go ahead, try it.

Hell-Bound Train

This story of a devil train features a real commitment to character. A quick caution: this one’s pretty scary. Please only pursue it if you really, truly want to be scared.