I need help finding tragic and scary musical inspiration!
January 29, 2009 7:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for very sad and slightly spooky-sounding instrumental music. Nothing cheesy, though. What should I get?

I'm working on some fictional writing for middle school children, and I find that I work best when I listen to music that makes me feel the mood of the story. This tale involves deep despair, loneliness, unbridled rage, and something quite terrifying on a playground. So, I need music that's very sad or a little creepy (especially in that spooky carnival or music box way). Some examples of music I've found inspirational so far: Danny Elfman's Serenada Schizophrana, "Magnolia," by Jon Brion from the Magnolia score, and lots of Grieg and Vivaldi. What else would you recommend?

Oh, and it doesn't absolutely have to be instrumental, but that's my preference. Firewater's "The Man on the Burning Tightrope" and all of Tom Waits' The Black Rider have been on repeat lately, too.
posted by katillathehun to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
er... I meant middle *grade* children, by the way, not middle school. If that helps at all.
posted by katillathehun at 7:55 PM on January 29, 2009

Go to the Nine Inch Nails website and download "Ghosts I". The first nine tracks are free, and you can download the other 27 tracks for $5.

All 36 tracks are moody instrumental stuff. Trent Reznor calls them "soundtracks for daydreams." I love it.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:57 PM on January 29, 2009

Anything by Phillip Glass would probably work. His movie soundtracks should be pretty easy to find.
posted by genmonster at 7:59 PM on January 29, 2009

"Missing" by Calexico has a weird, spooky vibraphone lead.

and Sigur Ros might as well be insturmental, for all the sense Jonsi makes in his gibberish language.
posted by notsnot at 8:11 PM on January 29, 2009

Adagio in G Minor.

Or the Mozart Requiem.

Or the Saturn theme from "The Planets".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:13 PM on January 29, 2009

A lot of godspeed you black emperor fits that description. Many have short spoken bits at the beginning. Youtube has several vids, including this one for Moya.
posted by sciatica at 8:15 PM on January 29, 2009

This instrumental version of Elliott Smith music makes me sad.
posted by foxinthesnow at 8:15 PM on January 29, 2009

The Dirty Three would probably be perfect for this.
posted by neroli at 8:20 PM on January 29, 2009

Carnivale soundtrack, most definitely.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 8:25 PM on January 29, 2009

Schubert's quartet in d minor is based on a lieder in which Death mocks a little girl.

The adagio of Handel's organ concerto in d minor (Op. 7 no. 4) will make you want to rend your clothes in grief.

Most anything on this album ought to fit the bill.
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:25 PM on January 29, 2009

Air's "Virgin Suicides" album. Not the regular "Music from the film" version with Heart, etc.
posted by rhizome at 8:26 PM on January 29, 2009

Cantus in Memoriam of Benjamin Britten, by Arvo Pärt.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:30 PM on January 29, 2009

Dance Macabre. It's about corpses coming to life and frolicking at midnight. I still get shivers listening to it.
posted by piratebowling at 8:31 PM on January 29, 2009

Oh, oh, oh. I know this one. You want the "City of Lost Children" soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 8:38 PM on January 29, 2009

There's also black metal. This sound is getting more and more popular, so you can look like a total hipster in three years when your former students hear it in a McDonalds commercial or something. Everything in the related sidebar is good, too.
posted by rhizome at 8:43 PM on January 29, 2009

Seconding Arvo Part (listen to Fratres). Also quite a few songs from A Silver Mt. Zion
posted by ddaavviidd at 8:45 PM on January 29, 2009

BEACH HOUSE!!!! There is something beautiful yet spooky carnival about it. It is a slow cd, but if you are using it for background music and for inspiration it's perfect.
posted by itsamonkeytree at 8:47 PM on January 29, 2009

Speaking of NIN, "Corona Radiata" off The Slip might fit the bill. And "A Warm Place" on The Downward Spiral.

Damien Jurado - Ghost in the Snow

Angelo Badalamenti - Twin Peaks Theme & Laura Palmer's Theme
posted by puritycontrol at 8:52 PM on January 29, 2009

Anything by Black Heart Procession should fit the bill.
posted by theperfectcrime at 9:09 PM on January 29, 2009

The soundtrack from City of Lost Children would indeed be perfect. One song in particular is exactly the sound you describe: sample.

Also try:
The Kronos Quartet's soundtrack to Dracula (scored by Philip Glass)
Any Portishead
Paganini's Caprices
Terry Riley's Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight
posted by Paragon at 9:55 PM on January 29, 2009

Here's a few:

Astor Piazzolla, Tango: Zero Hour
Lhasa, La Llorona
both more in the tragic/emotional mode than scary.

For scary, you've already got Tom Waits' Black Rider, but "Bone Machine" is even better (scarier and more interesting music), IMO

In a similar vein, but more exotic (to us Americans, anyway,) Haus Der Lüge by Einstürzende Neubauten is very good, scary stuff.

CocoRosie also has the evil clown, hurdy gurdy thing going on. Noah's Ark is probably the best of their albums for this purpose.

Finally, in the "spooooky" vein, Dead Can Dance's "Within the Realm of a Dying Sun" is really tasty.

I could go on and on, but I've probably overloaded you already.
posted by dylanjames at 9:56 PM on January 29, 2009

Side two of the Alan Parsons Project's first album, "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" would work. Each song on the album is inspired by a Poe story or poem. Side two is all Andrew Powell's magnificent orchestral arrangement, save for the last song.
posted by OneOliveShort at 10:02 PM on January 29, 2009

2nding Godspeed You Black Emperor, Beach House, Sigur Ros and A Silver Mt Zion

A Silver Mt Zion's best album to use is probably their first, which is definitely the most desolate and spooky (see "Broken Chords Can Sing a Little" and "13 angels standing guard round your bed"). In the same vein is Evangelista by Carla Bozulich. The first and last tracks are two of the scariest tracks I've ever heard.

H r s t a is a band fronted by Mike Moya (namesake of the GYBE track mentioned by sciatica). Moya's voice and guitar playing are particularly haunting.

If you want to get into the super-spooky stuff. Look into Sunn O))). Lonely, loud, scary goodness.

I also had a friend who used to make spooky mixes for fun. He went under the name Passion Immortal, he has 3 compilations. The one titled Passion Immortal can scare the living bejesus out of you if you listen to it in the dark.

Like dylanjames, I could go on and on cause this is basically all I listen to, but I think this is probably enough.
posted by azarbayejani at 10:18 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing Godspeed You! Black Emporer, try Dead Flag Blues which has a post-apocalyptic poem as the first movement. It is a very sad song. Also Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique is also quite good.
posted by schyler523 at 10:22 PM on January 29, 2009

Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn's score for the film Ravenous fits this perfectly. Really underrated.

Caleb Sampson's score for Errol Morris's Fast, Cheap, And Out Of Control fits the bill in a Phillip Glass does circus music kind of way.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 10:28 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

David Bowie, Sense of Doubt, from Heroes. (Most of the instrumental material off either Low or Heroes might fit the bill, in fact, but "Sense of Doubt" seems the most overly spooky to me.)
posted by scody at 10:34 PM on January 29, 2009

I haven't listened to it in years, but I recall the soundtrack to Donnie Darko as being up the alley you describe.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:51 PM on January 29, 2009

Oh my gosh! I've been on a music-listening frenzy all night. So many great suggestions here. I haven't gotten through them all yet, but things like Philip Glass, Arvo Part, godspeed you! black emperor and the soundtrack to City of Lost Children are exactly what I was looking for. (And how did I not know about Dirty Three, Nick Cave fan that I am?)
posted by katillathehun at 11:02 PM on January 29, 2009

A specific Philip Glass soundtrack recommendation: Candyman, which is indeed 'a little creepy... in that spooky carnival or music box way.'
posted by misteraitch at 11:05 PM on January 29, 2009

Might be too spooky, but Burial's two albums (Burial, and Untrue) are about as creepy as it gets. Unfortunately the effect is proportional to the amount of bass you have and works a lot better at night. I've gotten freaked the hell out walking across campus at 3am while listening before.

More moody, less scary; I'm partial to Portishead, Mezzanine, and other trip-hop stuff from a decade ago.

Seconding symphonie fantastique (although you probably shouldn't explain the story behind it)
posted by mezamashii at 11:15 PM on January 29, 2009

Definitely Silver Mt. Zion's first, He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms. First time I listened to it I was half-asleep by the time it came on and in that state it somehow actually frightened me.

Fly Pan Am is often scary and sad-sounding but also very weird. Try Sédatifs en fréquences et sillons.

Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles, though that's a very offensive album if you're the type to be offended by things.

Also definitely The Black Heart Procession, especially the first couple albums and the five song "Waiter" sequence.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:17 PM on January 29, 2009

Ravel's La Valse - minor key, a waltz with a slight syncope to its' gait... eerie.
posted by pjern at 11:50 PM on January 29, 2009

Since you dig the Dirty Three stuff, you might like their guitarist Mick Turner's solo material. YouTube: 1 2... and his The Beach That Leads to Your Shore breaks my heart every time.

Rachel's is also excellent. 1
posted by carsonb at 11:57 PM on January 29, 2009

Bruce Haacke's Electric Lucifer is right down this alley. Gimme an email holler and I can make you a mix if you want (Some Stockhausen, some Varese, some theramin weirdness…)
posted by klangklangston at 12:15 AM on January 30, 2009

Perhaps check out some Shinjuku Thief for leftfield gothic soundtrack style stuff. It's creepy, melancholy and evocative, while still being fairly unknown.

Also, another vote for Arvo Part.
posted by iivix at 1:55 AM on January 30, 2009

Morte Macabre interprets classic European horror movie music. It turns out very moody and touch wistful.
posted by ignignokt at 2:21 AM on January 30, 2009

The first track to The Shining, by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 3:41 AM on January 30, 2009

Clint Mansell's score for 'Requiem For A Dream' and 'The Fountain'.
posted by PenDevil at 4:45 AM on January 30, 2009

I am very late to this party, but Scanner's Lauwarm will fit the bill.

I highly encourage you to check out netlabel releases: there are a lot of gems out there by basement recording artists, largely available through archive.org. This Plague of Dreaming is a netlabel with a wealth of amazing ambient-to-spooky music that you might like.
Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to The Thing is one of the spookiest pieces of music I own, topped only by Zoviet:France's Look Into Me, which is the only album that has ever forced me to jump out of bed, run across the room moaning, and slap my stereo into submission.
posted by Shepherd at 5:32 AM on January 30, 2009

How about Aphex Twin's Nannou, a song made entirely with music boxes. Even the rhythm parts were made using the sounds of winding music boxes. It has a very melancholy feel and really evokes strong childhood associations for me.
posted by otolith at 5:46 AM on January 30, 2009

Chopin's Waltz in C# minor - I've always found it sort of melancholy...
posted by perpetualstroll at 6:28 AM on January 30, 2009

Theme for a Film, by Japancakes. More sad than spooky, but deeply evocative. And all instrumental. I think it would be great for a writing project.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:29 AM on January 30, 2009

Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima by Krzysztof Penderecky is a really powerfully sad piece. It might be a bit much though.
posted by schyler523 at 6:48 AM on January 30, 2009

Maneche, from Lasry-Baschet's Structures Sonores #4.
posted by scruss at 8:27 AM on January 30, 2009

Man Man's 10-lb moustache has a spooky feel and very weird instrumentation (though not purely instrumental). Beirut's Mount Wroclai might fit the bill also, melancholy and utterly novel instrumentation.
posted by subajestad at 8:34 AM on January 30, 2009

Man Man's 10-lb moustache has a spooky feel and very weird instrumentation (though not purely instrumental). Beirut's Mount Wroclai might fit the bill also, melancholy and utterly novel instrumentation. Then of course there's Zappa's Watermelon in Easter Hay which, being as it is Joe's last imaginary guitar solo, is quite sad, but still beautiful. [There's a wee bit of innapropriate language in the first suggestion, something about needing pornography to sleep at night, and the f word is used 2 times at the very beginning of the last, right before launching into the greatest guitar solo ever -- assuming your students are very young]
posted by subajestad at 8:42 AM on January 30, 2009

Get Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files. Also look at Mark Snow's instrumental music for the X-Files, The Truth and the Light. (Also, also! Nick Cave and the Dirty Three want you to know that "0" is also a number.)
posted by Tufa at 2:08 PM on January 30, 2009

Seconding everything by Arvo Pärt!

Yesterday I was on a concert of Lichens, who is somehow strange and spooky.
Tim Hecker also comes to mind (listen to Chimeras in the playlist) or Growing, also more in the ambient direction.

World's End Girlfriend fits your description pretty well. Beautiful, sad music between post-rock and classical...

maybe you'll also enjoy Giovanni Sollima's cello compositions, esp. the album "Works"
posted by kolophon at 8:10 PM on January 30, 2009

Another one by Sollima, rocking out live on his cello. He may make the serious highbrow classical music fan frown, but somehow he manages to touch me...
posted by kolophon at 8:26 PM on January 30, 2009

Have to mention the most spooky music - Bohren and Der Club of Gore. It's instrumental "horror jazz." The record that I own is "Black Earth." Imagine the Twin Peaks soundtrack but MUCH spookier. They've got a song available for download from the most recent record on their official site
posted by brandsilence at 10:13 AM on February 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

forgot to say this - my 8 year old thinks it's really spooky.
posted by brandsilence at 10:15 AM on February 2, 2009

Except for the last two songs, the entire soundtrack for The Proposition might fit your bill; weird and atmospheric. Until the last two tracks, it's all aboriginal instruments, Cave's ghoulish, mostly wordless crooning, and other awesome. The Proposition is Nick Cave's awesome Western set in Australia, if you didn't know.

If the Proposition soundtrack works for you, also try Burial and some of the more atmospheric dubstep. Burial's self-titled album and Untrue were what I listened to when I used to go for long bike rides in the countryside at 2 am or had to pull an all-nighter working in some deserted lab.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 4:38 PM on August 12, 2009

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