1. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    The effect of sound in movies.

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by CDRW, Jul 2, 2009.

    I've been listening to some songs from movies and tv shows and marveling on the effect that the song has on the imagery and vice versa. The creepiest opening sequence to a show that I've ever seen is a very good example of that kind of thing. Take away the music and it's not very scary, just weird. Listen to the song alone and it's actually quite formulaic and boringly repetitive.

    That got me thinking on what kinds of music could be used to create different moods, and also what I want to see soundtrack artists do differently. The thing that I most want to see is someone playing around with the full range of the instruments they are using. How often do you see someone playing a song on the piano using the far left and far right sides of the keyboard exclusively?

    The same goes for things like strings and choirs, especially choirs. Almost every time I hear a piece that's intended to bring a creepy, scary, or tense mood would benefit from having the bass part dropped by an octave, sometimes even two. (That's right, two! The choral pieces I've been familiar with always have the basses singing at the very top end of their range. It might be hard to get a large number of people who can pump out power at those notes, but it would be awesome!) What would the atmosphere be if you had an extremely high part coupled with an extremely low part and the two out of synch by half an octave or so? Would it sound bad, or would it sound wrong in a way to make the audience uneasy?

    That got me taking things to the logical extreme. Dropping the bass an octave is cooler, so then drop it two, then three, ect. Eventually you get to the area where a human can't hear it anymore. Have you ever stood in front of the subwoofers at a concert? You know how you can feel the vibration deep in your chest? Do filmmakers take advantage of that?

    What would happen if in a horror movie you had the standard scene of a character opening a door that could have something horrible behind it and the entire time it was silent, but the speakers were pumping a heartbeat through the speakers that was below the threshold for human hearing but still loud enough to feel? I think it would probably enhance the fear by a large amount.

    I've been told that some scientists believe that an effect like this is a possible reason why many people report spiritual experiences while listening to live organ performances.

    Does anyone know if filmmakers use effects like this already? I have a possible example in the first LOTR movie, where Frodo and the others fall off the cliff onto the roadway. There is a part right there with a very low rumbling where my tv speakers start spitting out static, but it's still in the audible range and not quite what I'm thinking.

    Are there any other sound tricks to manipulate the audience that you know of or can think of?
     
  2. The Freshmaker
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    The Freshmaker <insert obscure pop culture reference> Contributor

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    I think I know what you mean. The 80's remake of The Thing...wasn't all that scary, actually. But the music as you realize that the two remaining characters are trapped in the middle of the Antarctic and they've just blown up the only outpost for hundreds of miles...it's almost like a heartbeat. A very low "Bump-bump. Bump-bump." And for some reason that creeps me out so much! And I have to turn all the lights on in the house and check all the closets. Not because the movie was really that scary, but because that music as the credits roll adds such an eerie effect to it.

    What you're talking about, though, like subliminal sound effects...you're right, I would like to see that used. Though it would be more difficult in home sound systems, I think. Maybe at least for theater releases.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Actually the movie Irreversible uses ultra-low inaudible frequencies to induce nausea, dizziness and general unease in the audience...its pretty art house, but very shocking and violent, and the low frequenciesare quite effective at times, but you need good speakers to get the effect obviously (i saw it in a small cinema here, some people actually had to leave).

    And there's the infamous "brown note" that the US military are apparently trying to integrate into a "weapon"...
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Excellent example, Mal. ;)

    I feel the same with the original Alien Movie. Not a pixel of CGI to be seen, the movie has just turned 30 years old, and yet still has the power to leave me with bleeding remnants of fingernails. I think the music of the movie plays a huge roll in this. The use of spastic string sections in what is almost not even music but simply jarringly attenuated sound blasts that hit just the right psychological note.
     
  5. Hsnodgrass
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    Hsnodgrass Senior Member

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    It's actually not the "brown note" they're using because that has been proven false. The US Military is developing a "sound laser" though, which fires super low frequency, super loud, directed sound waves intended to compress lungs and organs rendering the target completely incapacitated. Non-lethal but very painful.

    As far as the original post goes, yes. Movies use an effect where they take bass tones to very low frequencies (not as low as Irreversible) to produce a loud and low buzz/hum to make things sound larger.

    LotR is a great example of this. In the third one when the elephants sound their war horns they layer low tones underneath it to make it sound huge. You need a good sound system, but you can't miss this effect in theaters.
     
  6. The Freshmaker
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    The Freshmaker <insert obscure pop culture reference> Contributor

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    That sounds terrifying.
     
  7. Hsnodgrass
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    Hsnodgrass Senior Member

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    Yeah, it is. Better than a Barret .50 Cal to the chest, though.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    Does anyone know if filmmakers use effects like this already?

    ...as a movie buff for over 6 decades, i can tell you the answer is 'yes'... all of the above have been done, both before and since the invention of the sound track...
     
  9. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't think of any examples of sound use that subtle, but it is interesting to think of how essential the choices are for those sounds and how it will effect the audience. Like the sound used when the girl turns her head around in The Exorcist.

    Exact choices in music make a use difference, too. Just think of Jaws. Using Suicide is Painless at the beginning of MASH made a huge difference.
     
  10. SA Mitchell
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    SA Mitchell Member

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    I think Kubrick used music near perfectly in all of his films, especially Eyes Wide Shut. That whole movie is just Tom Cruise talking to people and without the score all the tension is lost.
     
  11. Xeno
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    Xeno Mad and Bitey Contributor

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    Ah, *rubs hands*

    If you've ever seen Serenity, you have seen what is, for me, the greatest use of incidental music, ever. Because of the (correct) lack of sound in space, the music almost has to compensate, making a truly amazing soundtrack. Especially the Reaver Field. Wow. :)
     
  12. ValianceInEnd
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    ValianceInEnd Active Member

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    Sound (particularly music) is the most vital part of film-making. Try watching a very intense and scary sequence in a horror film with the sound off. It just becomes a sequence of bizarre pictures that are only partially disturbing. Then try watching it with more upbeat music in place. It suddenly becomes funny in an ironic way. Without those intense strings and blaring drums, a film just doesn't have the impact it should.
     
  13. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^ So true.

    In the movie The Village, there's a violin solo (by the amazing Hilary Hahn) that is a unique combo of melancholy and frightening. Without it, you'll think you're watching some whacked out girl ambling through the woods. :D
     
  14. M9A8E6S4TO
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    M9A8E6S4TO Senior Member

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    This is why I love music.
     
  15. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    That violin solo is amazing. And totally makes the scene.
     
  16. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's cool to see that somebody's used that trick, it's too bad that it's not the kind of movie I'd ever go to see though. Anybody know any other examples of that?

    On the other side of the issue, I really hate it when they use the wrong sound effects in a movie because it's supposedly more dramatic, and right at the top of that list is the "submarine moan" used anytime a ship is under stress. Also car crashes, go to you-tube and type in corvette crash and look at the first video. When was the last time you heard a crash in a movie that sounded like that, or even looked like it? I'd have to say that's more spectacular than anything I've seen recently. Of course, that makes me wonder if the sound is from the actual footage or added later.
     
  17. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just thought of something really cool. There is a scene in the 1938 version of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. In the scene that Robin and Marion fall in love, there is nothing remotely romantic about the dialogue. The only reason we can tell it's a love scene is because of a little eye-acting and the music.
     
  18. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Another (ultra-violent) example is Stanley Kubrick's version of A Clockwork Orange. Watch that, and listening to Beethoven is never the same again. Its also cool cuz it doesn't necessarily heighten the tension deliberately, like some of the music being mentioned (or create a unified mood, a la Robin Hood), but rather creates this really disturbing combination of this beautiful, sublime orchestral music, and this shocking act of violence...it changes the way you perceive the crime, and the way you feel about the criminal, in a way that gets more and more disturbing the more you think about it.
     

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