In the last 24 hours I've had a couple of really affecting soundless sound experiences. I'm talking sounds you feel in your guts. Like when you stand on the top floor of a really tall building on a windy day and you can feel it swaying, but everything looks fine out the window.

1: I was in the Indigo (= the Canadian Walmart of books) at the Eaton Center a couple of hours ago. The store is up at the top of the mall and has floor to ceiling glass windows that face out over thousands of people making noise.

I was sitting on the floor at the end of one of the rows and I suddenly noticed that I was starting to get a headache. But it wasn't a normal kind of temple-pounding too much coffee/booze headache, it was more at the base of my skull. Almost as if my neck was tired of holding up my head. It's the kind I get when I listen to most house music, i.e. too much low end. Anyway, after a couple minutes of "listening" I realized that it was probably a combination of escalator rumble and the noise on the other side of the window exciting the natural resonance of the gigantic windows I was sitting next to. A couple minutes more and I started to feel sick and had to leave.

It was bizzarre. I couldn't hear anything unusual, but I could feel the insides of my body vibrating extremely slowly. Big waves of back and forth.

2: Earlier in the day I bought a coffee from a shop near my house. It had one of those 2-year-old kid sippy cup lids on it. I was walking around for a while, sipping away, when I dropped my cup-hand down to my side; holding the cup around the rim with the tips of my fingers. As I swung my arm forward and backward I found that if I held it just the right way I could get the air flowing past it to play the cup and make it resonate.

But! I couldn't hear it. I could feel it on the palm of my hand in the little airpocket created by my inverted and cupped hand. The weirdest part is that that feeling felt like I was hearing it, if you take my meaning. It was almost as if my skin had ears.

This is probably really weird, I know. It's an idea I heard about a while ago (and kind of dismissed), but having such visceral experience with it I must say that I'm intruiged.

It got me thinking...

Do any of you guys make use of these sub-sub frequencies in your work? How would these translate to a theatre or home system with likely sub-par playback devices?

I know of the deaf Xylophonist (whose name I can't remember) who "hears" with her entire body, but I haven't seen any work that makes specific use of it.

Have you seen any art/music that makes use of the "hearing skin" phenomenon?

  • Not sure of a Xylophonist but Evelyn Glennie is a deaf percussionist and she's bloody awesome!!!
    – user6513
    May 24, 2011 at 7:52
  • Yeah, that's her name! For some reason I can never remember it.
    – g.a.harry
    May 24, 2011 at 13:01
  • yay for infrasound! it makes people sick..
    – georgi
    May 26, 2011 at 9:32
  • Didn't a bunch of Nazis kill themselves trying to make a weapon out of it?
    – g.a.harry
    May 26, 2011 at 12:54
  • Haha, infrasonics can be really sickening :-) Sep 3, 2011 at 8:50

4 Answers 4


Apparently, the guys who did the sound design for Alien 3, brought in big subs to some of the preview screening to reproduce some super lows, which resulted in folks getting uncomfortable and leaving.

More recently, I saw "Tron Legacy" in IMAX 3D and the sound of the first Reco as it goes overhead actually made me "stunned" for a second - the combo of low frequency's and the cool distortion it makes. I thought at first it might have just been the volume in the IMAX, but it has the same effect on Blu-Ray.

  • I still haven't seen that yet. Boo on me.
    – g.a.harry
    May 24, 2011 at 13:02


This has been used in a few productions but the cost and speaker development in order to reproduce these frequences are very high and it was only reproduced in certain theatres.

Dont get me wrong is it possible to recreate frequencies below our hearing range - http://www.danleysoundlabs.com/tapped_horn.asp?MODEL=DTS+20

And of course there will be purists that say although the accepted hearing range is 20Hz - 20kHz we can sense higher or lower harmonics which some people claim to be able to detect.

Its unlikely that you would manage to recreate these frequencies on a home hifi system and even if audio was produced like this, the amount of people that would be able to recreate/interprate or hear them would be too much hassell to make common practice. Its an intersting concept and possibly more of a psycolanalysis question than a technical posibilitis question.

hope that helps!


  • With the ultra-lows it's not a matter of what you can hear at all, it's what you can feel. I can't remember the exact number anymore, but while working on a record-studio in the end of the 90's I was experimenting with an oscillator, and found that I could hear clear oscillations already around 35Hz or something. That pretty much means that all audible gain on bass ends around 35Hz in favor of pure bodily sensation. After all, much of what we think we hear of really low bass we frankly doesn't hear at all, we just think we do as it's so mixed up with higher frequencies, we just feel 'em :-) Sep 3, 2011 at 8:43

I was at a Chakra Workshop and we did a series of exercises where we listened from our throats. After that we did a series where we listened from the tops of our heads.


Interesting thread!

One really important aspect of sounddesigns frankly isn't to recreate what people hear, it's to recreate what they THINK they hear! Good example with the cup. For anyone around you it probably didn't sound more than possible a light plink, but for you it made an actual sound. In movies one mostly works to tell a personal perspective, and that means translating sounds too faint to hear but transferring well enough to the very sensitive fingertips into an actually not only audible sound, but in compare to how the character actually thinks he/she hears it!

Another good example is in fights. I train a style of full contact Karate called KyokushinKai, and though the strikes and kicks are indeed powerful as such, they give more of a cracky, clothy sound for the spectators. I take this particular style as an example as we rarely use gloves, and the ones we do use frankly are more for protecting our knuckles than the opponent, and unlike boxing-gloves bare knuckles are sounding very mute as such. As I said, a third person just hear a sound based mostly between higher low mid and somewhere around 4-5KHz, whereas for us actually receiving the impact it sounds rich and full with a fair amount of lows, but with as much highs as the third person perceives. That's what one must respect while designing such sounds if it should has any impact on the audience, no matter what nitpicks never doing anything more physical than receiving occasional wedgies say...

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