Horror film soundtracks mimic animal distress callsFilm-makers' manipulations of sound tap into our primal fears, say researcher
Ben Child 26 May 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/may/26/horror-film-soundtrack-animals-calls
[DB: its also worth clicking through and reading some of the comments, which disagree with this analysis]
The "non-linear" sounds, often created by pushing brass and wind instruments beyond their natural range by playing them too hard, exploit the human brain's natural aversion to sonics that signal fear or distress.
Reporting his findings in Royal Society journal Biology Letters, Professor Daniel Blumstein of the University of California, who led the research, said film composers used such sounds to heighten emotionally evocative moments in their movies.
"Noise is associated with horror and fear," he told the Daily Telegraph. "Abrupt frequency shifts are associated with sad dramatic scenes. Noise is associated with horror and fear.
"I would say it taps into our primal fear, which is shared with other mammals and birds. It scares us, but it also scares other animals."
The researchers examined 30-second clips from more than 100 films, including such celebrated moments as the shower scene in Psycho and the execution scene in The Green Mile. They at first studied four genres – adventure, horror, drama and war – but discovered that the rasping "non-linear" sounds were only to be found on the soundtracks of horror movies, and occasionally dramas.
"Our results suggest that film-makers manipulate sounds to create non-linear analogues in order to manipulate emotional responses," the scientists say in their paper.
Other films where non-linear sounds have been used to impressive effect include the 1933 version of King Kong, where natural animal calls were manipulated in terms of pitch and timbre to create an unnerving soundtrack, and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, from 1963, in which an electronic instrument, the trautonium, was used to create a terrifying avian "language".