scare stories

As the nights draw in, Sun­day Night Mu­sic Club host Danielle Perry’s thoughts are turn­ing to things that go bump in the night and their ac­com­pa­ny­ing sound­tracks.

Q (UK) - - Incoming -

As I sit here writ­ing this en­try dur­ing Hal­loween, the sound of street fire­works fills the air – trick-or-treaters try their luck up and down my road. Au­tumn is here in its most ma­cabre guise. In the back­ground plays the new se­ries of Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story, the lat­est tele­vi­sual thrill fix, com­ing hard on the heels of Net­flix’s pre­vi­ous big hor­ror hit, the retro roller-coaster ride of Stranger Things. These se­ries are cer­tainly tap­ping into an ap­petite for the eerie that peaks around this time of year. I’ve never been a huge fan of hor­ror as a genre. I’m just too damned scared, I think. I def­i­nitely lack the abil­ity to chill out and re­mem­ber it’s all just fic­tion. I’m the one who has to watch the shop­ping chan­nel for an hour af­ter a scary film be­fore I go to bed. The sound­track to Stranger Things – fea­tur­ing both top-notch ’ 80s- era clas­sics and orig­i­nal mu­sic by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – was mon­u­men­tally good and com­pletely made the se­ries. But mu­sic and sound­track­ing have al­ways been para­mount when it comes to the scary or sci-fi movie ex­pe­ri­ence: it adds to the emo­tions and ac­tion through­out the film, and can even al­ter our per­cep­tion of time. To take an ab­so­lute classic of the genre, let’s look at the in­fa­mous shower scene in Psy­cho. Hitch­cock brought in com­poser Bernard Her­rmann to write the score, but orig­i­nally wanted the shower scene to be with­out mu­sic. Her­rmann wasn’t hav­ing any of that and re­turned with that era-defin­ing shriek­ing strings mo­tif that has be­come as fa­mous as the film it­self. If you’ve got a spare half-hour, play back the shower scene with and then with­out sound, you’ll cer­tainly feel the dif­fer­ence in length. And here’s the sci­ence. Ac­cord­ing to a paper from Jones and Boltz ( 1989): “The ef­fect of mu­sic on time es­ti­ma­tion is due to the per­cep­tual ex­pectan­cies that lis­ten­ers de­velop when they hear a piece of mu­sic. The way mu­si­cal ac­cents are pat­terned through time leads lis­ten­ers to an­tic­i­pate the tim­ing of in­com­ing events. They thus judge time to be shorter when these events oc­cur ear­lier in the piece than ex­pected, and longer when they oc­cur later.” That’s just one way in which mu­sic al­ters per­cep­tion of time and also of­fers a pos­si­ble rea­son why some com­pa­nies use hold mu­sic to keep us on the phone. So, as I type this in the ex­tra hour we got from the clocks go­ing back it’s be­gin­ning to get dark at 5pm. We’re deep in it, kids. Let’s get the mulled wine out and play an­other record. Time flies when you’re hav­ing fun. Lis­ten to The Sun­day Night Mu­sic Club from 8pm ev­ery week on Ab­so­lute Ra­dio.

Sound af­fects: Janet Leigh takes her last shower in Psy­cho.

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