Kendra Preston Leonard


Music & Sound in Horror Media seminar for SAM 2019

I’m delighted to announce that Paul Allen Sommerfeld and I will be chairing a seminar at SAM 2019 in New Orleans on Music & Sound in Horror Media. You will be able to submit for the seminar when the SAM submissions portal opens. Here’s the seminar abstract:

This seminar seeks to encourage exploration of the use of music and sound in horror media—broadly described—and including but not limited to music within the concert hall, literature, film, radio, television, and online formats.

As scholarship by Deaville and Van Elferen demonstrates, music that explores the concept of social horror— the breakdown of the government or other systems, the loss of personal freedoms, and/or other dystopias— in particular has received increased notice in the twenty-first century. Operas including Macbeth and The Turn of the Screw, bands such as GWAR, and the soundtracks for media like The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror, mother!, and The Babadook present multiple shades of physical and psychological trauma. Recent operatic treatments of The Shining by Paul Moravec and composer Brooke deRosa’s The Monkey’s Paw likewise testify to the long reach of horror in music. The Horror Studies Scholarly Interest Group, founded in 2016, notes that while academic treatment of horror genres has been popular since the 1970s, horror is today “central to the elaboration of psychoanalytic film criticism, to feminist criticism, and, more recently, to affect studies,” all of which intersect with musicological approaches of study.

Indeed, past musical tropes engaging with horror play a significant role in current music and musical projects, both in evoking and discarding past sonic contexts. The anthologies edited by Lerner and Hayward speak to how previously used signifiers for horror induce nostalgia, otherness, humor, irony, revulsion, shock, or danger. They are freely invoked within scores to communicate danger, strength, death, survival, and other tropes in innovative ways. Cumming and Wlodarski cite the affect of horror and the realities of the Second World War in Reich’s Different Trains: Reich musically considers the trains he rode as a child in America and those he might have been forced on had he been in Europe during the Shoah. Outside of the concert hall, Nathan Barr, an established composer for horror films, uses similar approaches in which the familiar is made alien in the soundtrack for The Americans. The show’s introductory theme recalls music by Shostakovich, referencing a creative life lived under the horrors of the Stalin regime. The montage juxtaposes images of Soviet Cold War warriors in their home environments and infiltrating quintessential American activities: baseball, cook-outs, and meeting Santa Claus. Similarly, Hirsch details music’s ability to both punish and use to incriminate through its sonic and lyric qualities.

Knowing that horror is often in the mind of the perceiver, we welcome papers that focus on any kind of music for horror, particularly the analysis of unexpected or new uses of music to express horror in the diverse guises it takes shape.


Select Bibliography

Bellano, Marco, “I Fear What I Hear: The Expression of Horror in Film Music.” In Fear Within Melting Boundaries. Edited Lee Baxter and Paula Braescu. Oxford: ID Press, 2011.

Cooper, B. Lee. “Terror Translated into Comedy: The popular Music Metamorphosis of Film and Television Horror, 1956-1991.” The Journal of American Culture 20/3 (Fall 1997): 31-42.

Cumming, Naomi. “The Horrors of Identification: Reich’s Different Trains.” Perspectives of New Music 35/1 (Winter 1997): 129-152.

Deaville, James. “The Topos of ‘Evil Medieval’ in American Horror Film Music.” In Music, Meaning, and Media. Edited by Erkki Pekkila, David Neumeyer, and Richard Littlefield, 26-37. Helsinki, Finland: International Semiotics Institute, 2006.

____________. “The Sounds of American and Canadian Television News after 9/11: Entoning Horror and Grief, Fear and Anger.” In Music in the Post-9/11 World. Edited by Jonathan Ritter and J. Martin Daughtry, 43-70. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Donnelly, K. J., The Spectre of Sound: Music in Film and Television. London: BFI, 2005.

Elferen, Isabella van. Gothic Music: The Sounds of the Uncanny. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press, 2012.

Elferen, Isabella van, ed. “Special Issue: Sonic Horror,” Horror Studies 7/2 (Autumn 2016): 165-320.

Fahy, Thomas. “Killer Culture: Classical Music and the Art of Killing in Silence of the Lambs and Se7en.” The Journal of Popular Culture 37/1 (August 2003): 28-42.

Fichera, J. Blake. Scored to Death: Conversations with some of Horror’s Great Composers. West Hollywood, CA: Silman-James, 2016.

Halfyard, Janet K. Sounds of Fear and Wonder: Music in Cult TV. London: Tauris, 2016.

Hand, Richard J. Terror on the Air!: Horror Radio in America, 1931-1952. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006.

Hayward, Philip, ed. Terror Tracks: Music, Sound, and Horror Cinema. Sheffield, UK: Equinox, 2009.

Hirsch, Lily. “‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?’: Music as Punishment in the United States Legal System” Popular Music and Society 34/1 (February 2011): 35-53.

Lerner, Neil, ed. Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Long, Michael. Beautiful Monsters: Imagining the Classic in Musical Media. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008.

Roberts, Rebecca. “Fear of the Unknown: Music and Sound Design in Psychological Horror Games.” In Music in Video Games: Studying Play. Edited by K.J. Donnelly, William Gibbons, and Neil Lerner, 138- 150. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Tompkins, J. “What’s the Deal with Soundtrack Albums?: Metal Music and the Customized Aesthetics of Contemporary Horror.” Cinema Journal 49/1 (2009): 65-81.

Wlodarski, Amy Lynn. “The Testimonial Aesthetics of Different Trains.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 63/1 (Spring 2010): 99-141.