When Discovery Channel’s MythBusters set out to test the claim that subaudible low-frequency sounds near 19 Hz can instill feelings of discomfort, dread, and even outright terror, they turned to Meyer Sound and Dr. Roger Schwenke, the company’s staff scientist and honorary MythBuster, for assistance. The episode was aired on Discovery Channel on October 28.
Filming for the “fear frequency” segment took place in and around four abandoned cabins at a secluded forest resort in Northern California. To test the theory, the show enlisted 10 volunteers to spend time in the cabins.
“One cabin was subjected to infrasonic sound while the other control cabins had no sound,” says Schwenke. “Although the cabins were essentially identical, the idea was to ask the participants if one cabin seemed more eerie or frightening than the others.”
Unbeknownst to the subjects, a U-shaped array of nine modified Meyer Sound 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements was hidden behind one of the cabins to create the ultra-low sounds.
“We used the U-shape to get the 1100-LFCs as close together as possible,” explains Schwenke, “and to direct any higher overtones away from the cabin so we could get the infrasonic level as high as possible without anything being audible.”
It turns out that nine of the potent 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements were more than needed. “We had to be careful with the level because, at around 95 dB, we started rattling the cabin walls,”
recalls Schwenke. “That would have been a dead giveaway.”
Did the MythBusters debunk or confirm the myth? Schwenke isn’t saying: “I did feel a sense of unease. You could tell when it was on even though you couldn’t hear anything. It was more of a whole-body, change-in-the-air sensation, an undefined ominous feeling.”
To find out if the myth was officially confirmed, busted, or deemed merely plausible, tune in to the Discovery Channel. The 2012 Halloween edition marks Schwenke’s seventh appearance on the phenomenally popular TV series.
In previous episodes, Schwenke applied his expertise and Meyer Sound technical resources to urban myths associated with movie gunshots and explosions, extinguishing flames with sound, the echo of a duck’s call, a human voice breaking glass, and the infamous “brown note.”