'A Quiet Place': The unsettling reality of the quietest place in London

Tom Butler
Senior Editor
We go inside an anechoic chamber in the name of science (Paramount/UCL)

Everyone loves the idea of a bit of peace and quiet. But for the Abbot family in John Krasinski’s stunning directorial debut A Quiet Place, it’s a matter of life or death

After the population of earth is decimated by sound-sensitive aliens who kill anything that makes a noise, the family must live in absolute silence simply to stay alive.

It’s a fraught existence for the couple, played by Krasinski and real-life wife Emily Blunt, who have three children (Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward) plus another on the way.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Emily Blunt in a scene from “A Quiet Place.” (Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures via AP)

Through the course of the film you learn how the family has survived, evading the creatures, and one of the methods includes a sound-proofed bunker the family has built for the impending arrival of the baby.

To celebrate the home entertainment release of A Quiet Place (available to download and keep now,  and available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD from August 13), Yahoo was invited to visit a real-life sound-proof chamber, and it was an experience we’ll never forget.

The quietest place in London

Just off a busy main road in the middle of London’s Fitzrovia, inside the winding corridors of University College London, there’s an anechoic chamber and it’s nearly 100% sound-proof.

The unique design of the chamber means there’s no reflection or reverberation of sound while you’re inside. If you make a noise in there, all the sound is absorbed by the glass fibre cones that cover every inch of the small room’s walls, floor, and ceiling.

Inside UCL’s anechoic chamber.

It’s also completely sound-proofed from the outside world too. So when the door was slowly closed behind us, the ambient noise of the city gradually receded until we were plunged into total silence.

It’s deeply disorienting.

“If you’re a musician, it’s a horrible space to perform in,” explained Professor John Drever,
Professor of Acoustic Ecology and Sound Art at Goldsmiths, University of London.

“It’s the least forgiving space. Even when you speak in it, your voice sounds very strange.”

He’s not wrong. Speaking in the anechoic chamber makes your voice sound strangely muffled. With no soundwaves being reflected back while you speak, it gives the impression that your ears are blocked, like you’d just surfaced from a deep swimming pool.

Why do we have anechoic chambers?

UCL’s anechoic chamber was built to accurately record phonetics for scientific analysis and language research. It’s also used for hearing experiments, measuring head related transfer functions, and equipment testing.

According to urban legend, sitting in a totally silent environment like an anechoic chamber for extended periods, can drive you insane.

And it IS really weird to be able to hear every noise your body makes.

In every day life, the sound of clothes rustling against your body, or the noise of your neck creaking when it turns, is drowned out by background noise. But, in an anechoic chamber, it becomes amplified, deafening almost.

Hearing the saliva bubble in your throat when you swallow is a sound you’re glad you don’t have to endure every day.

It’s also evident that there’s a low ringing, a sort of low-level tinnitus, that buzzes in your ears all day long that you can only be aware of when plunged into total silence.

However strange the experience may be though, it’s completely safe and the insanity myth is just that: a myth.

“While some people do find the environment truly uncomfortable,” explains Professor Drever, “It won’t send you mad.”

Back to the noisy world

After watching the supremely tense clip from the opening of A Quiet Place (keep an eye out for the only undisturbed shelf in the looted pharmacy: the crisps), we were let out of the anechoic chamber back into the real world.

As the huge door swung open, the sounds of the outside world began to creep slowly back in and it was a total assault on the senses. It’s like that moment in every Superman film where the Man of Steel begins to realise the strength of his super-hearing.

You can hear car horns blaring in the distance, the dull drone of the air conditioning unit, every footstep you take, it’s overwhelming but only for a moment, and then you’re back in the noisy everyday world. It’s quite jarring.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Millicent Simmonds, left, and John Krasinski in a scene from “A Quiet Place.” Simmonds, who is deaf, also starred in the 2017 film, “Wonderstruck.” (Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures via AP)

“As human beings, we’ve evolved in a world of noises. There was never silence. When you take it away, it’s a completely new experience for human beings, and it’s unnerving,” adds Drever.

As the expert in the auditory experience, we were keen to find out from the Professor what he made of the film.

“From my perspective [the film] is wonderful. It’s a classic horror genre piece. It’s really exploring tons of acoustical, auditory, soundscape features and issues, in a really original way. Sound design is a key aspect in horror films, and here it’s working in a much more interesting and nuanced level – a more informed level.”

“I’d hate to live in that world!”

The Professor predicted that his downfall would be unavoidable bodily noises.

“I find it annoying that, in order for me to breathe, sometimes I need to clear my throat, and so I have to make a sound, a cough. It’s a silly evolutionary thing. Why does a voice box get in the way of breathing? That’s really dumb!”

A Quiet Place is available to Download & Keep now, and is available on 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™ and DVD from 13 August from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

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