When you need sounds for horror scoring, you’re spoilt for choice with KONTAKT – everything from ghoulish gasps to dreadful drones, can be downloaded for free from many developers’ websites. If you’re looking to recreate a particular vibe from the genre’s expansive cinematic legacy, then pay special attention to the soundtracks of that era. The 80’s were heavy on minimal synth scoring whereas further back the screeching strings of Bernard Herrmann accompanied psychotic shower stabbings. Modern horror soundtracks are incredibly varied, featuring multiple techniques from fully orchestrated cues to simpler solo instrumentation.
The selections below cover a few different horror tropes and emphasize unusual recordings, aleatoric instruments and alien soundscapes. Most of these libraries require the full version of KONTAKT to run. However the first pick, Embertone’s Arcane, can be experienced simply by downloading NI’s free KONTAKT Player.
Let’s begin with one of the strangest libraries you’re ever likely to encounter. From the dungeon masters at Embertone, Arcane is part sample library and part ouija board seance. Load up the main Kontakt patch and begin by entering your name and lighting the two candles. Then you’ll need to solve the clues to explore Arcane’s deeper secrets. Bouncing between Arcane’s macabre messages and the Embertone website, new worlds are uncovered, accompanied by horrifying sounds. I won’t say too much more as discovering Arcane’s secrets is half the fun. If you just want to get at the sounds without bothering with the escape-room style puzzles, there are 7 individual patches full of shrieks, creaks and more. Playable instruments include an alto vocal, ethereal dulcimer, metal chimes, and otherworldly drones. There’s even a useful demo patch to try out Embertone’s Friedlander violin. Arcane is an innovative and brain-bending way to get to know Embertone’s selection of instruments and if you survive the experience, a cute prize will be revealed!
Fledgling developer Sonora Cinematic is helmed by Italian composer and sound designer Alessandro Mastroianni. For this free library he’s taken influence from the hybrid electronic soundtracks of suspenseful video games like Dead Space. The relatively modest sample pool was recorded from a Fender Stratocaster played with an eBow, but these have been twisted into unrecognizable tones. Flick your mod wheel up to increase the dissonance, introducing harmonics and taking the sound into darker territory. The onboard effects range from filters to reverb and distortion. These are triggered from four side panels which open up extensive editing options. Be sure to try out the tape saturation and the additional “texture” layer to add grit and sparkle to your spooky sci-fi sound. If you like what you hear, grab the full versions which contain up to 60 different sounds per volume.
ASMR is short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and the internet has gone crazy for these intimate sensations. Bonafide ASMR celebrities on YouTube delight in speaking softly and manipulating objects near their microphones, producing a spine-tingling sensation in many listeners (although not everybody will feel the effect). Keen to leap on the ASMR bandwagon, 8DIO have attached one of their generous freebies to the concept. This particular library was developed using closely mic’d samples that their fans donated, each one selected to caress the eardrums in a particular way. After gathering over 8 GB of content, the samples were cleaned and categorized into 7 main banks and a folder of presets. The sounds here include pulses, field recordings, creatures, and playable instruments. You won’t have to look very hard to find scary soundscapes which feel as though they’re coming from right inside the listener’s head.
Wavesfactory have a reputation for quality boutique sample libraries, and Whispers shows off what they do so well; distinctive interfaces and simple controls. This creepy selection of male and female vowel sounds are actually sculpted from the same white noise sample. Each of the 8 sounds employs clever convolution and filtering, meaning that you can combine multiple vowels to create your own tones. ADSR controls and an 8-slot FX rack allow for more shaping. The most terrifying aspect of this instrument is the monochrome background animations ripped from horror movies. The images change periodically, causing a little fright with each accidental mouse click.
Famed for their vocal libraries, Fluffy Audio rescued a recording session to create their Haunted Choir. This female ensemble was recorded in a warm concert hall with four different microphone positions. Each of these mic options is fully mixable within the interface and 13 different convolution reverbs can be dialed in with adjustable wet/dry levels. The two patches include a hummed polyphonic legato and an “uuu” sustain, both with mod wheel dynamics. Of course you could use these choirs to score an angelic ascension, but the low female registers lend themselves more to demonic beckoning – especially with the extended low end.