Stop, just for a second, and listen. What can you hear? Music from your headphones… the vehicle you are in… the tap of your colleague's keyboard… your own breathing. Nowhere is ever truly silent.
Even when you think you are in the quietest room in your house, there will be something around that your ears will pick up.
But there is one place that’s ‘quieter’ than anywhere else, that place is an anechoic chamber. A box within a box, it’s a room that absorbs sound. Instead of bouncing a sound back to your ear, imposing glass fibre wedges take it away, until the sound in the room is below the threshold of human hearing.
It’s the perfect place, then, to watch A Quiet Place. Those who watched the movie on the big screen will attest to this.
The survival thriller-cum-horror movie is a superb study in tension that uses sounds with precision to ratchet up the fear. A Quiet Place focuses on a family, against all odds, trying to survive a post apocalypse in near silence (lead by real-life husband and wife Emily Blunt and John Krasinski) because any big sound would attract deadly creatures that are constantly lurking nearby.
For the movie to work, however, silence really is golden and no matter how much you want that when viewing on the big screen, there is always someone chowing down on popcorn or rustling a packet of sweets. At the cinema, the movie turned the audience into the creatures, their heads turning at every crinkle and crunch.
Now, The Quiet Place is heading to homes and the atmosphere can be controlled a little more. Even with surround sound on, I had to take a ticking clock out of the room I was in as it got in the way of the atmosphere when viewed at home.
Not so with the anechoic chamber. Used by the University College London for recordings and hearing experiments, I sat in there and watched key scenes from A Quiet Place, with only the early onset of tinnitus and my own heartbeat for company.
You see, the brain just doesn’t allow silence. Here I was listening to my own amplified heartbeat (that’s what two coffees beforehand does to you) and dealing with the noises my brain decided to fill the silence with. Every rustle of clothing was pin sharp. I sat there for 10 minutes to acclimatise and then the beginning of the movie started.
“Some people find it a meditative experience, for others it’s a little stressful,” explained John Drever, professor of Acoustic Ecology and Sound Art at Goldsmiths, University of London, who spoke to me after being in the anechoic chamber.
“What you heard wasn’t silence, not in the way we talk about silence. Evolutionary speaking we didn’t evolve in a silent world, there always has been background ambience. Take that away and our ears and mind search for sound and that can be disorienting.”
Watching A Quiet Place in the quietest room I have ever been in was an unnerving experience. I didn’t miss a beat of the fantastic sound design of the movie, everything was just really enhanced. The only distraction in the room was me. Any movement I made I could hear, and it turns out I breathe really loudly.
When I first got into the room, there was a strange pressure feeling in my ears that soon left but it was definitely there at the start. In the opening scene when it flips from the point of view of the little girl, wonderfully played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, and her brother, the sudden movement of sound brought that pressure back.
The tiniest of crackles and shuffles were amplified and when the big scares finally came, they were really big.
Watching something in an anechoic chamber needs absolute stillness. Because of the dampening of sound, a slight move of the head shifts the stereo sound and it becomes a little disorientating.
But not as much as when the movie clip finished, the doors opened behind me and I wandered out of the chamber - natural, everyday sounds were suddenly quite overwhelming.
It was the first time I felt a little bit of empathy for the creatures in the movie.
A Quiet Place is out now on Digital Download and arrives on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD August 13.
- The best movies on Netflix right now.