“I just always felt like sound, and sound design, and sound effects, and creating a world of sound was something that was really, really attractive to me,” says sound designer Craig Henighan. His love of sound started at a young age. Since his dad played in bands, Henighan was always able to find microphones and tape recorders to experiment with.
He’s been involved with Stranger Things since the first season, and he says this season was the most intense yet. “The conversations for season 4 were like… it’s big,” Henighan says. “It’s bigger than you’re ever going to imagine… basically bigger, badder, more cinematic.”
Created, written, and directed by Matt and Ross Duffer, this sci-fi horror series mixes the pop culture of the ’80s with supernatural conspiracy theories surrounding the Cold War. Season four takes place six months after the events at the Starcourt Mall, which led to the disappearance of Hopper (David Harbour). The group is separated and navigating high school when a new supernatural threat approaches.
One of the biggest sounds to design this season was the creepy grandfather clock. “It’s a really big story point so we needed it to be Stranger Things-sounding” he says, “but we also needed it to still tell the idea that time is ticking away.” The first version of the sound that the Duffer brothers sent to Henighan just wasn’t scary enough so he told them, “Oh no, we can take this much further.”
“I was thinking about the pendulum swinging and how we can make that more interesting and more terrifying and just more involved than just a classic grandfather clock,” he says. “I ended up finding these cello [tracks], basically taking the bow and striking across the strings, not really playing a note but you’re sort of doing this like thumping sound.” When he put those sounds in sync with the pendulum, the next challenge was to find the right chiming noise.
Luckily the Duffer brothers were searching for sounds as well. “The great thing about Matt and Ross,” he says, “is that when we talk and we do spotting sessions, we actually almost talk in sound effects. They’re really into sound and how sound can help storytelling.” Once they sent him some samples they liked, Henighan was able to lock together four different chime sounds to create a great distortion that linked with the regular ticking sounds. Combined with the cello-pendulum track, he had created a scary distortion of the traditional grandfather clock and gave it that “Stranger Things sound.”
Click on the video above to watch the full interview.