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.
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.