Horror vinyl

Unusual musical instruments used in horror movies

This world has lots of unusually sounding and interestingly looking musical instruments, which do not become popular. Their popularity is limited to “certain circles” of diehard fans of ethnic music or subcultures.

But there are also sound pioneers who solve unusual creative tasks, experiment and create a new reading of traditional melodies using non-traditional musical instruments. One area which uses these instruments frequently – horror movies. We found most interesting instruments that are used in it (or could be used).

About the importance of sound and the difference in approaches

The purpose of traditional musical instruments is to create a harmonic sound, pleasant for human hearing. On the other hand, in horror films (and, incidentally, horror games), the music and sounds perform the opposite function – they must frighten, cause horror, discomfort and unpleasant sensations.

Therefore, sound engineers and horror film composers favor instruments that produce unusual sounds – they allow to go beyond the comfortable tone and create unusual and frightening sounds.


This instrument is used primarily to record movie soundtracks, where it creates an unusual, unearthly, shrill sound. Richard A. Waters invented it in 1968. You can hear it in “The Matrix” and “Poltergeist” soundtracks.

The waterphone is a round bowl with monolithic bronze rods of different length along the edges. The bowl is filled with water which serves as a resonator. It helps to produce vibrating effect. Musicians usually play waterphone with a bow, but sometimes sounds are extracted with the help of a rod or a rubber hammer. The sound depends on the length of the rods or the position of the water in the bowl.

The waterphone allows you to extract microtone (musical intervals less than a semitone), so the sound of the waterphone differs significantly from the usual musical instruments in a standard 12-tone temperamental system.

Richard Waters explained the popularity of the waterphone among sound designers and sound engineers:

…his sound serves as a reflection of the Strange and Unidentified: aliens, ghosts, unusual states of consciousness and narcotic effect, death…

Only one company in America has the right to produce real waterphones. The price starts from 1 100 US dollars. It is interesting that the waterphone sometimes resembles a whale’s song – this instrument was used by researchers to attract killer whales.


This musical instrument is a recent invention of a Turkish musician Görkem Şen. It reminds electronic music from old horror films, although yaybahar is an acoustic instrument that has no electronics inside.

Yaybahar consists of long neck (like a guitar) with two strings and a membrane (large and small). The membranes are connected to the neck by two long springs, which begin to vibrate at every touch. Player extracts the sound with a bow, and the vibration of the strings, reflected from the membranes, is bizarrely refracted, creating an echo effect. You can use membranes as drums too. Yaybahar quickly found it’s fan base – many people create their own versions of this instrument.

The Apprehension Engine

Apprehension engine is a factory for production of horror sound effects.

This instrument (system of instruments, to be more precise) was ordered by composer Mark Korven and created by guitar master Tony Duggan-Smith. The very essence of this device is to make sounds that frighten and cause horror.

The instrument consists of several iron rulers, spring reverbs, metal rods and strings. You can play it with a bow or hands.

“The Apprehension Engine” creates a bizarre and completely unmelodious, disturbing sound. Sounds are always unique – it is quite difficult to extract two absolutely identical sounds. Unfortunately, “Apprehension Engine” is not for mass sale at the moment, but creators plan to make it available to the public.


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