Listen: Big Ears Artists Share Music That Terrifies

Do you remember the first time music scared you? Was it the historic boogeyman of heavy metal or perhaps a bit of Wagner’s Sturm und Drang in a movie score? Or maybe it was the contemporary master of fright, John Carpenter? In honor of Halloween, we asked a few Big Ears 2019 performers to name a piece of music that terrified them—and how it got under their skin.


Clarice Jensen: A Slow, Deliberate Haunting
“The sparseness, intervals, pacing, and silences in the second movement of György Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata are downright terrifying to me. A haunting that is slow, deliberate, and contained is much scarier to me than chaos and gore. I think Stanley Kubrick used this music in a genius way in Eyes Wide Shut.”  –Jensen

The artistic director and cellist of ACME, Clarice Jensen will perform her debut solo album, For This From That Will Be Filled, at Big Ears 2019.


Rafiq Bhatia: From Sam Rivers to George Crumb
“I feel like my intake of “scary” music—or, at least, the aural equivalent of psychological thrillers—has steadily increased over the years. There have been times where Sam Rivers’ swarming, throbbing “Hues of Melanin” made me feel like the walls were closing in. Ben Frost’s “Killshot” reminds me how utterly useless and vulnerable I am in the face of the awe-inspiring power of the natural world. But pieces like George Crumb’s Vietnam-inspired “Black Angels” and Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” leave me vacant and hopeless. That may be what’s most terrifying to me.”  –Bhatia

Rafiq Bhatia’s new album, Breaking English, is out now on ANTI-. He performs with his trio at Big Ears 2019.


Rachel Grimes: Fright with Soundtracks
“‘Lipstick to Void’ is a track by Mica Levi, a contemporary British composer. She created a deeply unsettling soundtrack for the 2014 film Under the Skin that builds a terrifying world of menace and uncertainty, occupied by the presence of an enveloping force of will that is not human and not of this world. Her sound design and themes throughout the film are inseparable from the unfolding surreal scenes of the hungry alt-dimensional creature making her way through Scotland and luring men into her trap. Bone chilling and brilliant: I could not turn away despite being terrified.” –Grimes

Composer Rachel Grimes will share The Way Forth, a folk opera and experimental film reimagining centuries of Kentucky history through women’s voices, at Big Ears 2019.


Lonnie Holley: Actual Terror
“I’m not into make-believe. And fiction, just for the thrill of it, is not my thing. Because reality and real occurrences are with us every day. For me, it’s just trying to imagine the events of war, because my grandfather and father had been in the great wars, I and II. America is always trying to show its strength, and some of our leaders only know one way to do that. “War,” by the Temptations, came out when I was 20, and I knew that so many people my own age was off to that war. Sending boys off to war is far scarier to me than any Halloween House.” –Holley

Lonnie Holley will perform at Big Ears 2019 twice—once, with his own band, and then with the instrumental D.C. trio, The Messthetics, in a one-off improvisation. His third album, MITH, is out now on Jagjaguwar.


Knoxville, TN · USA



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