Why do certain sounds make us feel uncomfortable?
It is Arts’ very nature to evoke and provoke an emotional response but if we remove the conglomeration of a musical piece or composition and simply analyse the emotive power of a single unit of sound, we can still be very intellectually, psychologically and sometimes even physically affected.
I am a composer who loves to challenge listeners and through my more experimental lead synthesised and sampled work, I actively listen for and organise disconcerting and uncomfortable sounds into through-composed musical pieces. Some sounds are globally recognised as disturbing and some, in a very general sense, may include:
- nails on a chalkboard (you all knew that would be number one)
- metallic textures and loud machinery
- human pained sounds such as screaming or crying
But of course there are also cultural and societal sounds that are disturbing for others, for instance my grandpa finds the sound of traffic and the metro environment very stressful because he is used to the natural sounds of a quiet sea town. For some in the metro districts they may find the quiet ambience an eerie silence to the constant hustle and bustle of the city districts.
I myself have personal sounds that I find utterly disgusting. I was recently working with a very skilled actress and the ADR session required her to deliver an almost ASMR driven performance. Between the heavy breathing, sighing, moaning, grunting….no it is not a work of pornographic nature believe it or not, and lastly; sounds of licking and sucking of fingers (but Tamara how could this not be a porno? I digress it is not sexual in nature at all.)
During this session, like all sessions, we as sound editors are required to filter through the multiple takes, gate out all unwanted noises and hums, sculpt out frequencies and create a dynamic balance. All of this means we have to listen to the sounds over and over and over. This is where I learnt that the sounds of someone sucking and licking their own fingers within an inch of a Neumann TLM103 is an incredulously offending sound, BUT WHY?!
Personally, it sounds like someone is trying to chew a tough piece of steak right in your face and the act of someone doing that would be an infringement on personal boundaries in so many ways but I also found the sound of saliva moving around the mouth disturbing. This is inherently what kissing sounds like though, and I find kissing in no way offensive.
I feel it’s an interesting topic to discuss as it can challenge us as composers and listeners to open our ears up to more challenging sounds and reflect on why we respond in such a strong emotional way.
What sounds disturb and disgust you?