Inside’s Sound Was Recorded Through A Human Skull

Sounds and music for Inside [official site] were recorded through a real human skull.

Vibrations rattled the skull so much that its teeth fell out.

No one’s saying whose skull it is/was.

Yep, sounds and music for Playdead’s grim platformer were played through a (severed, defleshed) human skull and recorded with contact microphones to eerie them up, audio director Martin Stig Andersen explains in a post on Gamasutra. He’s mentioned this before, all casual like, but here drills down into it (the technique, not the bone). And he has photos of the skull. And sound samples. It is all quite good.

“I had the basic idea of trying to recreate sounds as they would sound if they were happening inside your head,” he says, explaining that sounds resonating inside our bodies and bones changes them. “That was the curious thought that led me to acquire a human skull and experiment with it.”

As one does.

So he hooked the skull and lower jaw up to contact microphones and played them some songs. Even aside from the ace effect it had on sounds, I am so into the whole idea of this. A little incidental black magic never hurt anyone.

Here, check out what this track (by Andersen’s co-composer SØS Gynver Ryberg) sounded like in its original form:

And here after skullgrooving (and post-processing to clean up the recording):

However realistic the initial inspiration was, the end result is ace. Following strange fancies can take you wonderful places.

Andersen says:

“The end result, after the post-processing, is generally a bit creepy and cold. The sound has almost a chill about it. Eventually all the teeth fell out of the skull because of the vibrations, but while they were still there they created this small vibrating sound that I think was unsettling but also strangely familiar to people. Because we all know it, in a way.”

Fab. Do read the whole thing.

I can’t promise skulls but you might also enjoy Pip’s look at Inside’s animations.

Sponsored links by Taboola

More from the web

From this site


  1. lowenz says:

    The famous OpenskAL APIs.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Ben King says:

    thank you guys so much for sharing this- I’ve found several editorials on other sites regarding Inside’s sound design but couldn’t seem to find a straightforward interview. Reading this straight from the man himself is great, and I’m glad to get to see it.

  3. inspiredhandle says:

    Sounds a bit like pretentious wank to me. We already hear things inside of our own skulls, why would doubling the effect make it any more human-ey?

    Another thing… Why would we hear our teeth vibrate? We have gums that would dampen that.

    I mean… Wtf? Am I missing something here?
    I get the whole experimentation in sound design thing, but saying that it has an effect it can’t possibly have is nonsense.

    • Flopod says:

      I agree with you. I’m a sound deisgner myself and I know you can get some pretty cool sounds by trying weird stuff but that’s not really how you should think. Sometimes it works to think “It’s all happening in your head so let’s use a skull, that’s logical” but really, it’s the end sound that matters, not how you do it. I feel like the dude convinced himself it sounded cool because the process is cool.

      • dorobo says:

        ok but would get that same effect without doing it with the skull? Sure somekind of filter might be very similar but how would you know wich? I personally think it’s genius and the end result has a dramatic mood change and this analogue feel to it.

      • ooshp says:

        I dunno, binaural recording is a thing, mounting mics in dummy human ears to record sound in a 3D space. And we do hear our own voices distorted via bone induction in the skull. So it’s not really that crazy.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jekadu says:

      What a strange attitude.

    • JJRPIII says:

      Yeah, it’s a gimmick. Re-recording techniques like this are nothing new, and there are no audio or musical reasons for using a human skull any more than using any other sort of object.

      Even if he made an acoustic recording with instruments made out of human bones, there’s not going to be a specific identifiable musical effect that you couldn’t easily achieve via other means. There’s no mechanism in the brain for identifying the sonic qualities of repurposed human remains.

      • grrrz says:

        Skull aside I never heard of sound designers using exciter speakers and contact mic like this to recreate a space, so that’s pretty imaginative (I use both but in live conditions; and I don’t know of that many people who do.).
        also it’s cool, it works, and it adds something to the works, so kudos to them.
        (related: look up “berberian sound studio” for a movie about Foley recording in vintage horror movies)

    • goon buggy says:

      well yeah its a wank. Id rather watch Eddie Hitler play chess against, Richard Richard.
      Hammersmith sandwitches for ever.
      F&^k the A team

    • Jeremy says:

      From the article:

      “I stuck with it because the skull works like a unique filter. It gives our sounds an iconic signature, boosting certain frequencies and dipping others. I really liked the way frequencies shifted when we played sound through the skull, even though they needed some post-processing afterwards. I also think that taking such a detour is often necessary in order to obtain something unique, and ruining sounds only to restore them again are steps I often take to create something that sounds a little different.”

      So, not that wanky. Trying new things, finding new frequencies, generally asking “why” or “what if”? He liked the way it sounded after some post-processing, and it IS unique. In all mediums(art), and ideals(faith, politics, culture), there are always going to be people that try and be gatekeepers, because it doesn’t make sense to them. That’s what I love about this guy. He used it once, and probably won’t use it again(his words), and that’s fine.

      • inspiredhandle says:

        I understand perfectly well the idea behind imposing a filter onto your art be it through taking drugs, or recording through a skull in this case, etc. to get a unique perspective. I’m by no means trying to stop artists expressing themselves how they want.

        Art is sort of meant to attract criticism, from what i understand, that is the point. Your, and others point seems to be “you just don’t get it” or “don’t fence in my art, man.” Of course I get it. The fact that it ended up sounding good doesn’t necessarily mean it was owed to his bold use of a human skull, maybe even it’s in spite of it.

        The main point I guess I’m trying to make is that he could have used anything to change the sound, and thus, his thinking on the score/sound fx, but the use of this particular object, and the initial thinking behind using it makes it pretty much the dictionary definition of pretentiousness. Of course this is very subjective. I can’t be wrong neither can you.

        • Premium User Badge

          Jekadu says:

          Honestly, you sound really gatekeeper-y right now. Have you ever done audio work? You use all kinds of weird things. Editing is a natural part of the production process — virtually nothing that gets recorded in a professional studio is released without getting touched up in some way.

          Comparing a microphone filter to drug use is like comparing a charcoal pencil to alcohol. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how a tool relates to a profession.

      • aircool says:

        Oh, I’d say definitely wanky. I used to do commissions for artists up in the NE who wanted sound/music for their installations/films/whatever. Once you’ve managed to actually get them to nail down what they’re after (because they will change their minds, forget to tell you (ie, just thought of it) etc…), you go away, do the work, rinse and repeat every time they change their mind and finally come up with something that works and works well, the hard work is over (until they change their mind again).

        The easiest part is coming up with the pretentious wanky bullshit for them to use in their promotional spiel (don’t bother with the technical stuff. ie what you actually did – they won’t understand it and it will sound boring to them). Ker-ching, easy money in the bank (personal best effort, £600 for twenty minutes work along with three huge video projectors on which we played Tie Fighter on the living room hallway for six weeks whilst on loan from Sunderland Library).

        Got offered lots of work in London when my then partner moved down, but fuck that, I hate London and hate working with artists ;)

        • aerozol says:

          COOL M8

          edit: you guys are chomping at the bit to tear this guy down huh. In the interview he isn’t being ‘wanky’ for even a second, but guess jumping on the internet hate train is easier than spending 2 minutes reading something.

          • P.Funk says:

            Well if you notice its all about the perception of the choice of using the skull and absolutely no real discussion of the actual product itself.

            Its textbook anti-wankery art-critical chatter. Its the pretentious version of criticizing pretentious art wankery.

            There’s a satisfying symmetry to it in the end.

    • milligna says:

      It’s only a gimmick so stories like this could be run about it.

      • Arglebargle says:

        Pretty much. There’s no problem with trying all sorts of filtering and techniques, and if it works, it works. It’s the post recording ‘Iconic Signature!’ spiel that is the pretentious and attention-drawing aspect.

        I’ve gotten some really great effects by using various children’s toys, or bent sheet metal air conditioning housing inside giant concrete storm drains. It only gains an aura of bullshit if I start talking about its ‘iconic representation of the modern human dilemma’.

    • skorpeyon says:

      I will say that the mentality you’re approaching this with isn’t really the same as what I feel like he was trying to achieve. He’s trying to make it seem like the sound would be INSIDE your skull. We do not hear sounds through our skull, we hear it through our ears. If you’ve ever held a speaker to your jaw firmly, you know it severely distorts the noise being made by the time you manage to hear anything, if at all. If you bite something that’s transmitting vibrations, that’s about as close as you’d get to the effect he’s got. It feels internal instead of external, in a strange way that I’m sure you COULD do with a filter, but if this is working as one why try to create another that does the same thing?

      It actually did make me think of how vibrations feel rather than how they sound when I heard the second recording. I think he’s got something interesting, and it ended up being a successful experiment.

      • P.Funk says:

        Well I think you’ve actually tried to understand the point of the artistic intent instead of just rejecting it on its surface without even trying to understand it.

        I’m very critical of art wankery myself but I’m equally critical of people who want to reject art as wankery as quickly as possible without trying.

        You can’t really call something pretentious until you actually dig into it. I’m not going to say people “just don’t get it” like a twat on an IMDB thread, but I will suggest most have chosen to not try and get it.

        The reality of art I think is that most artists aren’t very good or are really pretentious, but good artists doing cool things are basically pretentious but get away with it, or in another way of saying it bad artists trying to do what good artists do fail to achieve without being pretentious.

        The sad reality though is that most people casually want to simply brand art pretentious without examining it closely.

        • inspiredhandle says:

          I agree completely. I think there’s an exceptionally thin line between wanky and “true art” if you want to call it that. I perceive that line in a slightly different place to those that disagree with me I think. I only read the excerpts in this article, not the full interview. perhaps I didn’t read into it enough before making my mind up about this.

          I think it sounds great, love the look and sound of this game, will definitely pick it up at some stage. I still think there’s an air of pretense hanging over the thinking behind it all.

  4. buenaventura says:

    Can’t be a real skull can it? You can’t just use human remains like that, but I guess someone wrote in a clause in his will saying something like “It shall be OK to use my skull for recording music with”.

    • Rogerio Martins says:

      Meh, I’m sure he doesn’t mind anymore.

    • inspiredhandle says:

      It is a bit macabre. I’m not the most sentimental or superstitious guy, but the whole “the vibrations made the teeth fall out. LOL.” Made me feel a bit uneasy.

    • Rumpelstiltskin says:

      You can buy them fairly legally, though they are not cheap (around 2K). Also, I think it should have been a child skull for better authenticity.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Don’t know under what jurisdiction they are, but I’m pretty sure they risk getting in trouble with the prosecutor’s office for ‘desecration of human remains’.

      • inspiredhandle says:

        Seems like something you’d wanna be sure of before doing, especially if your going to do interviews ‘n’ whatnot, just short of posing for selfies with the damn thing.

      • grrrz says:

        also this
        link to
        is shown everyday in countries that allow it (France banned it, don’t know for others). Seen it in Romania, and yes, it’s very exploitative, and everything about how they got the bodies is shady as hell (mainly, they got chinese death convicts). can’t say it wasn’t worth seeing but there are definitely something really wrong here.

        • inspiredhandle says:

          Heard about this. I would have thought with all of the controversy this attracted, that everything concerning how they obtained bodies would have to be completely above board. Troubling to think that it might not be.

          • skorpeyon says:

            Not that I’m saying the other post is wrong, but their FAQ claims:

            “Where do the specimens originate from?

            The scientific, educational exhibition was developed and provided by the Anatomical Sciences & Technologies Foundation in Hong Kong. The specimens in the exhibition were provided by various accredited Chinese universities, medical schools, medical institutions, research centers and laboratories to further the goals of the Anatomical Sciences & Technologies Foundation which are to promote educational and medical research of the human body.”

            Doesn’t sound significantly shady to me, what with the accreditation, but I’d prefer to see a list of who provided them so it can be followed up on and confirmed, rather than simply a claim that the places were accredited.

      • JFS says:

        ‘Acquiring a skull’ sounds a lot like Störung der Totenruhe, somehow. Don’t know if that exists where the dev lives.

    • grrrz says:

      human bodies given to science are used everyday by medical students just for learning purposes, can’t imagine it would be this hard to obtain a skull (legally), and you can’t say it’s for a lesser purpose than this.

      • inspiredhandle says:

        You can donate your body to one of those… What do you call them? Body farms? Just so they can watch you rot away… For forensic science I think.

    • skorpeyon says:

      Looks like sourcing one isn’t too hard. It’s not like he took a recently deceased body’s head, skinned it, and did this. Desecration is only against the law if it is done illegally. If you own the bones, it’s not illegal to deface them (the legal definition of desecration). They can’t be shipped to TN, NY, and GA here in the US from one page I just read, but are perfectly legal to own. It does make me very curious how bones are able to be sourced to begin with, though.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Some years ago, when I was young and thought it would be very chic to have a real live (dead) skull on my shelf, I looked into it. In the US, you can buy various human bones from medical supply places, or at least you could in the late ’90s. Never actually did it, though. Too expensive at the time, and I think I would find it a bit ghoulish now.

    • Premium User Badge

      PoulWrist says:

      You can acquire remains legally here in Denmark. And use them for whatever

  5. Premium User Badge

    Ben King says:

    Hoping he follows this one up with another q&a on how he managed to mic up a sword swallower to re-record game SFX from inside a stomach. I secretly suspect some of the (SPOILER ALERT) underwater sequences and the distant reverberating lead up to the shockwave chamber *involuntary shiver* might have utilized this, but I have no idea.

  6. grrrz says:

    as a side note he used this kind of special vibrating speaker
    link to
    with a metal rod screwed into it and into the skull and jaw (so he had to drill through both)
    would be curious to hear what it sounds like live.

    • inspiredhandle says:

      If they were live I imagine they might protest to having the thing implanted in their skull in the first place.

      See what I did there? 😐

  7. horsemedic says:

    Post-processing makes the comparison useless. Who knows what effects he applied?

    Regardless, how does echoing the soundtrack through a dead, empty skull come close to replicating the way sound reverberates through the human body, which I hear is pretty crammed full of non-bone stuff. It’s like trying to replicate the ambience of your family living room by sitting in an empty shipping container of the same dimension.

    • inspiredhandle says:

      Agree completely. Except it would need to be a building of the same foundational materials (brick on concrete etc). Complete nonsense. Grim for the sake of it.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Man, reading through this comments section was pretty depressing at first, I was surprised at the number of people who were being dismissive of the whole thing. Then I realized that nearly all of them were you and I felt a lot better.

        Seriously, even if the end result isn’t something that clicks with you, what’s your problem with other people thinking it’s rad? It’s not ‘pretentious wank’, it’s not ‘nonsense’, it’s just another interesting thing someone did. To create something. For people to enjoy (depending on your definition of enjoy, of course, it’s kinda a disturbing theme but lots of people are into that). Just let it go.

        • inspiredhandle says:

          The initial idea that kicked off the whole “record through a skull” thing was flawed. It doesn’t recreate anything we might recognise on a base level. We have a whole assortment of tissues and fluids in our skulls, which would be fine if it was just the jumping off point. The fact that he came to the conclusion that the sound was “strangely familiar to people. Because we all know it, in a way.” I think is very pretentious.

          That coupled with the fact that it seems to be controversial for its own sake makes it even more wanky.

          I am looking forward to the game however, all that aside. Have had it on my wish list since last month.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Yes, that would be a silly idea. Luckily this wasn’t that, so we can all relax.

        • inspiredhandle says:

          Just got home and listened to the sample track with, and without skull filter. It definitely sounds cool with. I made sure to listen to it with headphones on (for that extra skulley goodness).

          I’m still not sure the skull was necessary, it certainly sounds like there’s more important post processing stuff going on besides.

          and now… i will let it go.

          • Premium User Badge

            Jekadu says:

            The initial idea was to simulate how sounds might sound if it originated from inside your skull. The end result was discovering that a human skull creates interesting resonance when connected to a microphone. Recreating the same approximate conditions using a surrogate material is not trivial, either.

            The skull might sound really weird but when you’re doing a creative project it helps if everyone is on the same wavelength, and a human skull definitely helps you get into the right mindset for a game like Inside.

        • goon buggy says:

          Well the reason people are so successful. We shag anything that moves. Sometimes that means well fu%* it, whatever. If it moves, Its a winner

    • Premium User Badge

      Jekadu says:

      I’d assume the audio designer knows what effects went into production.

      What a weird thing to say, though. Why use a charcoal pencil instead of a lead pencil when you’re just gonna clean up the lines later? Why use pastels when you can use water colours?

      • Baines says:

        The difference is that the composer is hyping the use of a human skull for recording purposes, and how important it was to the process. He specifically mentions how playing through the skull changed the music, and offers pre- and post-skull comparisons to show how the skull changed the music (and claims the differences are familiar to everyone). Except the post-skull track has also been post-processed in undisclosed ways.

        It isn’t the difference between pastels and watercolors. Rather, it is a bit like saying that watercolors resonate with humans more than pastels because they involve water. And a bit like saying that you should use watercolors to do the preliminary sketches for CG work for that reason.

        • Premium User Badge

          Jekadu says:

          If you read the original article you’ll note that the artist specifically points out that he likes to “break down” and then “reassemble” his sounds. The microphone filter — the skull — is a destructive process that significantly affects how much of the original audio can be reconstructed and that also introduces numerous quirks of its own. He could have used a banana or a piece of rock or just a muff and he would have gotten a different result, but using a skull created an interesting distortion that he could then work from.

          Not a lot of people seem to understand how audio engineers actually work.

          • TheRealHankHill says:

            Yeah, and I can still hear the majority of those “quirks.” That’s the point.

      • horsemedic says:

        I meant it’s useless comparison for our purposes, since we don’t know what effects he used.

        And I’m not arguing against experimentation. Use the skull if it sounds cool. Totally use a charcoal pencil if you like the effect.

        But don’t tell us that your fruit bowl sketch will seem oddly familiar because the charcoal line work recalls our primordial origin as carbon atoms floating through the void.

        • Premium User Badge

          Jekadu says:

          No, it’s not useless. You can very clearly hear that he likely used a really heavy filter of some kind.

          Honestly, I don’t get the complaint. He wrote the article as a way to share something he learned. You need to trust that he picked the before and after sounds for a reason.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Jekadu says:

    A lot of people seem to be missing the point of this. Trying to simulate audio originating from inside your head was just the starting point. Using a skull as a microphone filter was what turned out to be actually interesting.

  9. ThePuzzler says:

    “No one’s saying whose skull it is/was.”
    That’s my skull and I want it back! My head is all wobbly now!

  10. kael13 says:

    I remember Googling the process of acquisition for a real skull late one night.

    It’s apparently not that easy. Still want one, though. I’d call him Charon.

  11. JFS says:

    Staring Eyesockets.

  12. aircool says:

    Dummyhead recording has been around a long time now and is far more effective than mic’ing up a skull.

    People have been recording using daft stuff for ages. Every budding sound engineer has gone through the ritual of sticking a mic into a (unplumbed of course) toilet ‘for the crazy reverb man…’.

    I think the Mighty Boosh got it spot on (see top of comments).

    • grrrz says:

      sorry but it has absolutely zero relation to dummyhead recording, which is about placing two mikes inside a dummy head to record environment sounds to produce a natural stereo recording. Here sound is sent directy through the structure of the skull with a special structure-borne vibrating speaker (see my link above), and picked up with a contact mike (The skull is basically used the same way you would use a guitar amp over direct sound from your guitar). To make it clear here the whole structure of the skull becomes the speaker, that’s what makes it interesting. Also I actually experienced several sound art project involving using such speakers and using bone conduction to transmit sound through your body, and the sound I’m hearing here is very similar (bone conduction is also used for hearing aids).

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        There was a bone conduction cell phone on the market (or was it only concept?) a few years ago. You would hold it down by your chin and press it against your jaw bone. Didn’t take off it seems.

  13. kashwashwa says:

    It is a bit grim, and gimmicky, but the audio in Limbo and Inside is absolutely incredible. I find any insight into his process is interesting.

  14. TheRealHankHill says:

    I’m loving all these comments from amateur sound designers VALIANTLY defending this against people who simply think it wasn’t an interesting endeavor. We aren’t knocking the end product, we are saying this isn’t some ground breaking process lmao. This is pretty basic stuff here…

    • Nogo says:

      What is up with RPS lately? It’s like every self-important jerk has to come out of the woodwork and let everyone know how they disagree with the mere existence of some fun content.

      Been seeing a lot of “I don’t like this, how dare RPS or anyone be interested in this” lately.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jekadu says:

      Of course it’s basic. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see how so many people seem to not even read the article.

    • P.Funk says:

      I’m curious why you think people defending it as interesting are somehow inferring that its some monumental achievement.

      Seems like a bit of a forced binary — to disagree with those who call it pretentious wank must mean you think its groundbreaking.

  15. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I also loved when that one guy used photos of real corpses for textures in his DOOM mod. Sick, it’s like you’re running through dead bodies man!

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>