Drone of Distraction YKTTW Discussion

Drone of Distraction
Rising atonal sound effect used to convey a character's isolation or emotional state
Needs Examples Better Name
(permanent link) added: 2012-01-02 09:20:18 sponsor: Shnakepup (last reply: 2013-03-23 15:12:11)

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(Needs More Examples. I know I've Seen It a Million Times! Needs a Better Name)

This trope occurs when the audio in a scene fades out (or is completely muted) while another non-diegetic sound element begins rising and drowns out all other sound in the scene. This sound element is only heard by the audience, and is primarily intended to convey an onscreen character's isolation or extreme emotional state.

For example, let's say you have Bob, who's just received some shocking information. Maybe he just received news that he has an inoperabable cancer. Or maybe someone close to him just died. Regardless, he's trying to get along with life but he just can't seem to focus on anything. The trope occurs when the camera focuses on Bob's Thousand-Yard Stare. A droning or atonal noise will begin rising, drowning out all background noise until there's nothing except the noise [[hottip:note:this is a sound effect that only the audience hears. Nobody in the actual scene is aware of the noise, not even Bob]]. The drone is meant to convey Bob getting lost in his thoughts; maybe he feels empty, distraught, or just plain not himself.

A common secondary part to the trope is another character suddenly cutting through the noise, abruptly ending it (representing Bob's attention snapping back to focus). Bonus points if they're actually repeating themselves because Bob didn't hear them the first time.

A type of audio cue, similar to Psycho Strings or Scare Chord in that it's not actually a soundtrack-type element but rather a auditory way of enhancing the story. When it's actually a persistent part of the soundtrack, this is Drone of Dread. Compare Shell-Shock Silence. For a longer, more psychological version of this, see Angst Coma. Can be related to a Heroic BSOD. Can also overlap with Alone in a Crowd.

Note: This doesn't necessarily have to be a literal droning noise, but can also be plain white noise, some Source Music in the background, or even random background noise that gets amplified louder and louder.


  • This happens in the Scott Pilgrim movie. During the battle of the bands with the Katayanagi twins, Scott spies Ramona with Gideon in the crowd. Meanwhile, the Katayanagis start playing, their music beginning with a shrill note as Scott zones out. Kim snaps him out of it by yelling his name.
  • In The Dark Knight, after Harvey Dent wakes up in the hospital. He puts his hand up to his halfway bandaged face and remembers what happened - i.e. Rachel dying because Batman (accidently) saved him instead. He starts to scream in anguish, but onscreen the sound is silent and replaced with a rising atonal howling noise.

Live-Action Television
  • Happens in Breaking Bad to Walter. In the first episode, when he receives his cancer diagnosis. As the doctor is talking to him, you can hear a drone rising. Eventually you can't even hear the doctor at all, you just see his lips moving. Then, abruptly, the drone cuts out and the doctor says "Mr. White, are you listening?"
    • Also in the Season 2 episode "Down", this happens to Walt as he's receiving a chemo treatment; prior to that scene, he had gotten in a huge fight with his wife.
  • The Walking Dead fills the air with the sound of cicadas to emphasize he lack of machinery, traffic, or other human noise in a zombie apocalypse.
  • Something similar happened to Olivia Dunham in Fringe when she was recovering from her first trip to the Alternate Universe, only that the noise in question was due to her hyperactive senses working on overdrive. The fly/bathtub scene early in Season 2 comes to mind.
  • This was used in the pilot miniseries of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica when Roslin learns of her cancer. In the doctor's office, Roslin sits and listens to her doctor as he tells her the diagnosis, only for the dull roar/drone sound of the engines to effectively mute his words. Then the scene shifts to Colonial One taking off. The droning sound was that ship's engines.

  • Sufjan Stevens has a track called "A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze".

Real Life

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