Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

The voiceless Acousmêtre

Paranormal Activity’s Digital Surround Sound Demon

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2015), 9, (2), 131–144.


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Paranormal Activity’s (2007) ‘found footage’ horror conceit hinges upon the efforts of yuppie Micah to use his digital video camera to capture proof of his girlfriend’s supernatural visitations. Micah concentrates on capturing visual evidence but the demon remains elusive. Only ephemeral effects of its presence are captured visually – instead, the invisible demon is embodied sonically. This article will concentrate on this sonic embodiment within the broader context of found footage horror’s cultural significance. Though Paranormal Activity mainly employs a screen-centred 2.0 stereo sound mix in keeping with its ‘home movie’ sound aesthetic, it later uses the surround channels so that the eerie, demonic sound ‘creeps’ into the full 5.1 surround sound field. Referring to Michel Chion’s and Randolph Jordan’s theorisations of the acousmêtre as an unseen diegetic character whose audible voice is imbued with mysterious power, and Mark Kerins’ work on digital surround sound, this article argues that Paranormal Activity opens up a space beyond the screen for the digital surround sound demon to ‘haunt’ the exhibition space sonically as a voiceless acousmêtre beyond its ‘home movie’ digital screen.

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Author details

Johnston, Nessa