Origins of the Inception Horn

Think of a recent movie trailer.
Did it have a slow beginning, followed perhaps by a couple of scenes showing a peaceful world, building tension with a ominous line of dialogue? Then, you hear it – your speakers shake as you hear the first of many BRAAAAHHHHHMMMMMS.........Read more on the blog...

This is a comment topic for a blog post.



  • KirstieTKirstieT Staff
    edited October 2014

    As a side note, here are the other recent trailers I found with some form of the Horn in them (it's everywhere!):  

    Star Trek (Into Darkness) by J.J.Abrams (the horn is a little higher and quieter, but it’s there),

    World War Z by Marc Forster (again, higher and very tinny sounding, but there 3 times),

    Planet of the Apes by Rupert Wyatt (this is debatable as to whether it counts as the Horn because it’s so synthesized, but its use is pretty similar),

    Prometheus by Ridley Scott (created more through string instruments than brass, it sounds like, but there all the same - 4 times!),

    Pacific Rim by Guillermo del Toro (closest to Inception I think, but just a little higher again),

    Transformers: Dark of the Moon by Michael Bay (with a high alien ring, but still the same),

    Godzilla by Gareth Edwards (little bit of popping in the horn, but otherwise very similar),

    The Dark Knight Rises, Super 8, Battleship, a number of others too many to name, countless video games including Dead Space 3 - and even very briefly at the end of this JAGUAR commercial!


  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    Yeah, after Don LaFontaine died, trailers couldn't start with "In a World...." anymore.... So, wheel out the overused horn thingy.

  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator
    edited October 2014

    Heh, good point, Triem. As tired as it had become, I do kinda miss the old "in a world" style. That ruled supreme for decades - I certainly remember it being very prominent throughout the 80s and 90s, although by the late-90s/early-2000s it had already crossed over into self-parody.

    Still, I'd happily take LaFontaine OR Inception Horn over the generic romcom trailer style - complete with jaunty piano music and that intensely annoying Cheerful Narrator Guy.

  • HarHar
    edited October 2014

    Probably the one done-to-death comedy trailer cliche I find the most funny/annoying is the archaic long record-scratch/scrape sound bringing all the background music to a sudden halt, to emphasize a "Oooops, that's not what HE expected!" moment... LOL

    As for the Horn - probably the first time I remember hearing it was all over the Prometheus trailers (no doubt because I've not seen any of the other movies listed LOL).

  • edited October 2014

    @Kirstie- That a capella trailer had me in tears I was laughing so hard.

    @Triem23- I forgot about the "In a world..." intros. They were around a long time weren't they?

    @Simon- You guys are keeping me in stitches today!

    @Har- I'm going to have to check out The Wil Wheaton Project. That's a funny vid too! My stomach hurts.

    People at work were looking at me funny for laughing so hard until I showed them the vids and they too were doubled over with laughter.

  • The utterly peculiar thing about the "oops!" record scratch noise is that most people have never owned a record or used a record player. It's a strange little archaic tradition a bit like the use of the floppy disc in software as the icon for saving (yes, we do that too!). 

    I'm trying to think of an equivalent for my generation, born in the 80s...

  • KirstieTKirstieT Staff
    edited October 2014

    @StormyKnight Glad it tickled - I've had it playing for a couple of days (not incessantly) and keep giggling at my desk :)

    I also agree with @Simon about the use of the record scratch in comedies - it's a good point that I'm of the generation who have never actually used a record, and yet still through association the scratch is what I think of when someone "holds up" in a movie. It seems a bit ridiculous now you mention it. But then what would we replace it with?
    Coupled with the creepy panicked violin crescendo it's just one of those overused trailer staples. I have to say though, the latter definitely has the desired effect on me especially in horror trailers. 

    Also @Har that trailer is BRILLIANT. I hadn't stumbled across that!
    Possibly because the Horn is called a million different things including BRAAAHHHMMMM, BWAAANNNNGGG, the Inception Horn, the Horn of death etc. etc. 
    I particularly like this explanation of the Inception Horn in Urban Dictionary: 
    "Side effects of frequent exposure to the Inception Horn may include "the dream collapsing", "checking your totem" and everything happening in slow motion."


    "Inception Horn" seems similar to those giant Tibetan horns

    and similar to the Altered States sounds!

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    Side note: a buddy and I were looking up movie trailers to show each other tonight, and it became obvious when the trailer had been ripped from a PAL disc. I give you Brits my heartfelt sympathy for your home media being sped up from 24 to 25 fps. That 4 percent speed increase just destroys the audio track... 

  • HarHar
    edited October 2014

    >> It seems a bit ridiculous now you mention it. But then what would we replace it with?

    Being as old as I am LOL (born in the 60's)....prior to the record-scratch cliche, I can remember the standard sound effect for "ooops! Hold everything!"...being the more slapstick sound of the screeching of brakes. I vote for a return to that, since car brakes are timeless! ;-D

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    Yeah, car brakes are good. Or even that "tape winding down"  sound.... Nope, I date myself as in my 40's... Tape is also gone. 

  • HarHar
    edited October 2014

    Don't tell that to the "back to analog tape" hipsters.... ;-)

    EDIT: thinking about it, it's kind of a shame nobody's thought of using the sound of a skipping CD in trailers somehow. Though some would argue that even that's becoming an archaic form of media...
    (Damn, I wish I could find a video of the classic Type O Negative song "Skip It", where they started an album with that exact sound followed by "..........sucker!" The also did a variation for the cassette release version of the album, using that dreaded sound of a cassette player starting to tangle and chew up the tape. LOL)

    EDIT 2: ahh, here it is! (along with the whole album)

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    You could use a skipping CD, as it's similar to the stutter you get with stream slowdowns on digital video services, but that kind of stutter is A) very ugly, and B) continuous until you hit a stop button. I don't think it would convey the same feel as the scratch. The scratch is a definitively "ending" sound, as the record is a finite surface, and a CD skip is a repeat loop. 

    I think there are enough period shows out there that the record scratch still works in some context, and will survive because it's now part of the sonic language of film. Much like how, in the 50's, computers beeped on readout, and in any action film, when text or graphics scroll onto a computer screen, there's the stupid beeping noises. Computers only beep in movies and TV shows. 

  • HarHar
    edited October 2014

    Oh yeah, I wasn't thinking of using the CD skip to indicate the hard-stop as a replacement for the scratch....I was just wondering aloud if it could've been used for something else. ;-)

    Ah yes, ya gotta love how even the most futuristic and/or utterly alien computers in movies still do that slow left-to-right cursor scroll, and still look like they're on a green monochrome monitor... LOL

    Case in point, from "2010" complete with whirring sounds as each text character goes by -

  • edited October 2014

    @Har- The brake sound won't be understood in a generation as all the older model cars left on the road will all have anti-lock brakes; which don't screech when they come to a quick stop. So I find it humorous when a tv show/movie has a car chase with late model cars and the brakes are screeching. Perhaps they modify the car for the tv show/movie just to get the sound or dub it in. I guess they'd have to modify the cars to do 90 degree turns or 180 spins as anti-lock brakes don't really allow for that to happen either. Another cliche about to end up on the proverbial 'side of the road'.

    The Type O Negative track certainly would have gotten me.

    @richyoung- ;Good point on the Altered States and the Tibetan Buddhist horns. How did you ever remember the Altered States trailer using that sound?

    @SimonKJones & KirstieT- Even though you may not have any record albums you still know where the record scratch sound is from. How does that happen?

    @Triem23- ;Tape- quit now lest the 8-track rear it's ugly head. lol Hey, remember reel-to-reel? I used my grandpa's reel-to-reel to hear the secret message in Pink Floyd's The Wall 'cause they put the message on the album backwards. Heard it clear as a bell. Ah, pre-digital media had such a nice warm sound.

  • @StormyKnight - I dunno, my 2010 car has anti-lock brakes, and I've still managed to get them to screech! Must be these zany PA roads... ;-)

    Reel-to-reels definitely still are being used in recording these days, though obviously not as much as they used to. My own recording band's most recent album had a lot of the tracks flown onto my bandmate's old Otari and TASCAM units, but then again he's also the sort of guy who finds editing tape with razors, etc to still be fun. After too many years of doing that myself, I gladly traded that sort of thing in for DAW recording years ago and never looked back. LOL

  • edited October 2014

    @Har- Maybe I didn't try hard enough to get the anti-lock breaks to screech. Wasn't my vehicle so I didn't want to chance it. I stand corrected- my car doesn't have the anti-lock feature. Can you slam on the breaks and do a 180? (don't try on my account) lol

    Tascam made really good units. They seemed to last forever. I later moved to the 4 track cassette recorder (also Tascam) but about 10 years ago I switched to an 8 track digital system by Roland. It's still going strong and I can bounce tracks and combine them to get as many tracks needed without degradation of sound like with tape and I don't need external effects units as they are already on board (reverb, delay, compression etc.). I wouldn't want to go through the splicing proceedure again.

  • KirstieTKirstieT Staff
    edited October 2014

    @Har - definitely the car screech as a replacement! I forgot that even existed (don't know how). 
    The beginning of that album you linked was awful! Eurgh - I hope never to hear that again. The kind of sound belongs in a jump into a character's psyche. Gives me the heebies. 

    Even the use of rewinding/fastforwarding through tapes would be feasible as an indication of coming to an abrupt halt. Just general squeals (I can't remember which film, but the use of squealing rubber shoes on a linoleum floor in a mental ward as someone stopped running abruptly) are all better than the record scratch, I think. 

    Also @stormyknight - unfortunately I seem to know about records from watching so many films growing up. All the indie/hipster/old school films where people start to play a record and you get that initial crackle, or when they pull it off abruptly. That's my only experience of records. I guess if they'd prepared in advance, they could have made me believe that ANY sound was a record scratch :P

  • That's something you still see - the 'tape rewinding' sound and look as events play through again. Even though nobody uses linear tape-based stuff anymore (at least, not for general consumption).

  • HarHar
    edited October 2014

    @KirstieT - yah, but as admittedly painful as "Skip It" is to hear, they pulled the same kind of stunt at the start of another one of their albums, this time called "Bad Ground" and was the sound that drives terror into the heart of audiophiles and musicians everywhere: about 30 seconds of a bad 60Hz hum, like when there's something amiss with your wiring...and people everywhere probably fell for it again, running to their stereos in a panic. Ahh, such pranksters those guys were... :) ;

  • edited October 2014

    @Kirstie- I don't know if you're a Lost fan but the second season opens with the start of a needle being put on a record and the song "Make Your Own Kind of Music" starts up. Since Lost utilized flashbacks in the story, I'm sure most of the audience thought it was a flashback from the late 60s/early 70s but it wasn't. It was a surprise as to what was going on though.   

    A friend of mine noted, after hearing a CD for the first time, that there is no 'backing'. He was referring to the difference of the needle on the vinyl providing a sense of 'propping' the music up (for lack of a better description- it's an experietial thing) whereas with a CD (and now mp3s) the music seems to come from out of thin air. When I went from recording my own music on tape to the digital realm the first thing I noticed as I listened to a tape a year later was- I could hear the sound of the tape moving across the tape head (between songs) for the first time. With a laser there is no background sound. Just pure music.

    If I could associate a sound to depict this revelation it would be: Braaaaaaahhhhhmmmmm.  :^)

    @ Har- That album opening is all at once mean and clever. lol Reminds me of Skinny Puppy who, through digital manipulation, released their second album "Remission" which was their first album backwards. I wasn't a fan but my roommate in college was and he felt ripped off.

    The Beatles, at the end of 'A Day in the Life' on the Sgt. Pepper album, put a short couple second blast from a dog whistle. It occurred just before the needle would lift from the album on the run out groove. It was left off the cassette tape and CD versions probably because it's not widely known it was there- well, by humans anyway. I'm sure the canine world was well aware of it. lol

  • @Har - ah that one is less terrifying to me. Wonder why? Actually, the part of the song you linked which freaked me out the most was the camera slowly zooming out on the picture. I thought I was going insane!

    @StormyKnight - I never really watched Lost no, but I would have jumped immediately to the conclusion it was a flashback as well. 
    What you said about the 'backing' is really interesting. I have myself noticed the sound between songs on tapes for the first time recently. I miss it :(
    I also love the sound of rewinding tapes at high speed. 
    But then if you were to shoot a film/series and open an episode with the protagonist playing a tape, you would make the same assumption that it was 'old school'. In fact, the same with CD's. Now THAT'S depressing!

  • Great article!  While the inception horn is a very recognized, and a powerful sound, for me and many others who were around at the "inception" of 5.1 home audio it is the THX sound.

    Ah yes, that hi frequency down, lows up, meet in the middle test your subwoofer......If I asked all themovie lovers I know if they knew what the inception horns was most would say no. But everyone of them would know what the THX sound was.


  • Stargazer54Stargazer54 Moderator
    edited October 2014

    I think the low freqs of the organ in Also sprach Zarathustra is what started it all.

    Thanks for the trip down (a very long) memory lane, folks!

  • @duffman - great point! Oh wow I really forgot about the THX noise. That definitely shares some similarities. 
    It's interesting that many film lovers don't know what the inception horn is - could that be because they watch the films and not the trailers where it's typically featured? I think the fact I've been researching this article for a while has clouded my judgement. I hear it everywhere. 
    I'm having very dramatic dreams with trailer-like montages and the inception horn. It's bad. 

    @Stargazer54 - no problem :) I'm really glad you enjoyed reading it. 

  • edited October 2014

    @duffman- That THX sweep sounds awesome not only at the theater but also on todays home theaters. (5.1)



    I'm afraid that's the only way to stop the dreams.

  • And that's supposed to STOP the nightmares?!?

  • Maybe half a bottle of scotch? lol

  • Way ahead of you....

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