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Quieter Than Silence

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If a scene, response or view is shown in total silence, often the audience may simply think the sound is out on their TV or movie theater. Having a background noise that is normally drowned out by foreground noise— a quiet wind, faint crickets chirping, etc. — is thus a marker to say "nothing is happening" to the audience. The Manga Unsound Effect shiiiiiiinnote  does the same thing. A visual of a tumbleweed blowing across the scene is used in Westerns, and nowadays mainly in comedies, to convey the same effect. A low rumbling is often also used, to simulate that sort of feeling a person gets in their ears in a dark, quiet room.

If it's quieter than that, the hero's heartbeat may be amplified. This kind of silence almost always ends with a Scare Chord, or someone saying It's Quiet… Too Quiet.

Compare Visible Silence, Nothing Is Scarier, Chirping Crickets, Loading Screen (so that Video Games make it clear they are still on while the level loads). The inverse is Music Video Syndrome or Left the Background Music On.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece
    • When Zoro first learns to cut steel, the whole world goes silent save for his heartbeat — you can even see his opponent yelling, but no sound can be heard.
    • This is actually the Devil Fruit of Donquixote Rocinante, the Calm-Calm fruit. Which allows the clumsy man to be an incredible infiltrator, by snuffing any noise in a given area, including explosions.
  • In Part 2 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, when an attack from Joseph manages to burst through Wamuu's chest from behind, everyone in the place falls completely silent, as acknowledged by the narration.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Mansions of the Gods: When Asterix and Obelix get back to the deserted village, a tumbleweed is seen rolling around. And no, those shouldn't be found in Gaul....
  • Shrek: When Shrek and Donkey enter Duloc, Shrek comments that it's quiet, too quiet. Some music is heard, which almost sounds like it is in the background in-universe.
  • Shrek 2: When Shrek and Fiona make their entrance to the people of Far Far Away, everyone looks at them in shock while a lone baby's crying can be heard from amongst the crowd.
  • In an earlier version of Turning Red, Mei was going to run for class president against Tyler and the debate would have ended with an awkward silence in which someone coughing can be heard.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The subtle sound of wind can be heard in the external shots of the capsule in Apollo 13, as the would be no sound in space in Real Life.
  • An inversion: Actual dead silence was used to punctuate the seismic charges (shown here) in Star Wars:
    • Attack of the Clones, considered an experiment in cinematography by the film's sound engineers.
    • In The Last Jedi, when Holdo rams the Raddus into Snoke's massive ship at lightspeed, all of the sound is cut except for a barely-audible rumbling.
  • A similar effect is used in the climax of Aranofsky's The Fountain, just before the star goes supernova and explodes.
  • Non-threatening example: in Thank You for Smoking, a hot-shot's assistant points out that their building's elevator is completely silent.
  • During the filming of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, director John Hughes told the sound editor that he wanted the scene in which Rooney and Jeannie sneak up on each other to be completely silent. When he got the finished footage back, he asked why a fly was buzzing. The editor said "If it was really quiet, you could hear a fly buzzing."
  • In Dead Silence one of the signs of Mary Shaw's appearance is sound slowing down, then fading to nothing. The only things that make any sound are the victims and her....
  • Whenever "the Darkness Comes!" in Silent Hill, there is an absolute shrieking chorus of air-raid sirens, squawking birds, and if anyone's around, panicked running people. Then the darkness overtakes, and for a few moments, everything is utterly pitch black, and the sirens fade out with a sound not unlike every bit of energy in the world shutting off. The silence and darkness are only broken by heavy breathing or the patter of rain. Then a few moments later you can see again, but really wish you couldn't.

    Literature 
  • A Fable: In this World War I novel, Gen. Gragnon is approaching the front when he is "startled, shocked" by what he does not hear, namely, any guns or artillery anywhere. He gets panicky when he realizes that he can hear cicadas chirping and larks singing and beyond that, "the unbearable golden silence." (The soldiers on both sides have, in a mass, refused to attack.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Gerry Anderson shows like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, UFO (1970), and Space: 1999, the airless silence of space or the moon's surface is conveyed by a slow droning sound like a cello or double-bass.
  • The Walking Dead (2010): If it's not actually silent, then the air hums with the call of cicadas, to emphasize that there's nothing human to hear.
  • The Crystal Maze: In the four zones, there is always a faint background noise, such as birds singing in the Aztec zone; machinery sounds in Industrial; wind blowing in Medieval; a low drone in Futuristic; ship creaking in Ocean. In some very quiet games, such as "no confering" games, or really tense automatic lock-in games, these sounds become much more noticeable. In one game in Medieval, the silence is punctuated by the tolling of a distant bell.

    Theater 
  • In Sophie Treadwell's play Machinal, every scene is accompanied by some sort of background music or noise, with the exception of the scene where the husband and wife spend a quiet evening at home, where there is no sound until the wife goes insane and murders her husband.

    Video Games 
  • In Pokémon Colosseum, Nascour's battle has no music, just the crowd in the background constantly chanting, "BATTLE! BATTLE! BATTLE!"
  • The fight with Cosmic Horror Giygas from EarthBound (1994) features strange ambient noise in the background which sounds like monotone radio buzzing.
  • Halo: Combat Evolved: In the cutscene before the Flood arrive, there are zero enemies around even though a dead body just fell at John. However, the music and faint sounds continue as you play on into the encounter.
  • Gears of War has instances where you'll only hear the sounds of you moving and some ambient sounds in the Locust tunnels.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum also has Batman make some noise and having music at times.
  • Super Mario Galaxy 2's Slimy Spring Galaxy uses a very minimalistic background track, while the rest of the game's levels were timed to music. Then even the insignificant tones get turned off, ending with nothing but birds chirping to finish the serene effect. Cue finale immediately afterwards.
  • In Mega Man Battle Network 3, when you're in ACDC Town at nighttime in the first story ark, all background music is completely turned off, leaving only the sound effects of the menu opening.

    Web Original 
  • Marble Hornets
    • Whenever the Slender Man appears, the camera typically produces heavy audio distortion before the sound cuts off completely.
    • The series does this a lot even in entries which don't feature the Slender Man. The video footage is mostly recorded with only ambient background noise (that is, without a soundtrack), most of which doesn't get picked up by the camcorders that the characters are carrying.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Batman Beyond episode "Shriek", Shriek tracks Batman by using a device that amplifies the sounds he makes while filtering out all others. We hear from Shriek's perspective, and even in an automated car factory, the only sounds are the occasional distorted footfall when Batman moves. After Batman sabotages the device and the Sensory Overload renders Shriek deaf, the only sound heard is a very high tone.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "The Cutie Pox", after Spike blabs about how Apple Bloom has contracted the title disease, which scares nearly everyone in Ponyville into hiding, a tumbleweed blows by and a hawk can be heard screeching in the distance.
    • In "The Times They Are a Changeling", a tumbleweed rolls by at the Crystal Empire train station, to show how empty it is, and a squeaking hawk is heard.

Alternative Title(s): Unnerving Silence

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