Contemporary Gothic Music: Uncanny Sounds on Screens and in Scenes presented by Professor Isabella van Elferen

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Professor Isabella van Elferen and Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes
Works of the Gothic often conjure images of towering spires, long dark corridors, melted candles and eerie moonlit graveyards, but often overlooked within the study of the Gothic is that of the music and soundtrack the accompanies the genre.

As part of the Humanities in Public Lectures series at MMU, in association with the Centre for Gothic Studies, Professor Isabella van Elferen from Kingston University, sought to address these issues and bring to light an area that is often solely and simply described as ‘dark’.

‘We’re all perhaps aware of the rich, haunting tracks of bands like Bauhaus, Nine Inch Nails and Combichrist, but Gothic music extends beyond the realms of lush Goth club nights. Music and sound occupy a prominent place in Gothic texts, but these aspects remain largely obscured in both academic and public debates,’ said Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes from the Centre for Gothic Studies at MMU before we entered the lecture.

Dressed in a Bauhaus t-shirt and accompanied by iconic music from gothic bands Siouxsie and The Banshees, Isabella launched into her lecture by pointing out just how easily Gothic music and sound was reduced to stereotypical subcultural characteristics such as ‘gloomy, depressing and sinister’ when in fact it represented the ‘sounds of the uncanny.’

Moreover, Gothic music is often studied in the ‘narrow confines of subcultural Goth association’ and that Gothic music and sound could be expanded to include the study of a range of cultural texts. From the resonating sonic imagery created in Gothic literature, accompanying sound tracks in films, and even in Video Games such as Silent Hill and Amnesia: After Dark, the sonic landscape of the Gothic is a rich and largely unexplored realm. 

‘Sound has to come from somewhere, somebody and something. In gothic texts, however, noises have a disembodied and unidentifiable origin giving a haunting and unsettling tone… Open Glissandos, high pitched string music and ‘transcendent’ female choir add to the overall spectral quality to many Gothic sound and music.

‘Film and game music is almost subconsciously heard, it’s in the background to narrative and dialogue – it enters and disturbs our mind practically unnoticed… as Derrida noted, the nature of the spectre conflates our past, presents and futures. It distorts time. The nature of the music and sound portrayed in Gothic texts deconstructs the solidity of our being… as a product we become ontologically unstable and we ourselves become haunted.’

Closing her lecture, Professor van Elferen ended on a suitably uncanny note.

‘When all meaning is gone, we are left with an abyss, and that abyss exposes even greater fears we might feel.’

This event concluded the Contemporary Gothic element of the Humanities in Public open lecture series. More information about Humanities in Public can be found at their website

For anyone with a taste for the uncanny the Centre for Gothic Studies run a series of competitions, events, conferences and courses. Details can be found at:

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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