It’s a familiar scene: lights low, popcorn in hand, you hear something; your heart begins to race, your brow sweats, you grip into the armrest of the plush theater seat. The knife-wielding psychopath finally bursts into the scene, accompanied by a dissonant musical crescendo.
While most film composers probably do not have a clinical understanding of the human brain, the great ones have figured out how to manipulate our most primitive fight or flight responses. Paired with just the right visuals certain sounds and pitch combinations can involuntarily cause us to experience physical reactions that one would expect in moments of real life stress. In the spirit of Halloween, we thought we’d take a look at some of the musical devices that are used in scary movies to elicit the fear response.
Mastering the art of suspense is the first key to creating a scary soundtrack. When used in the right context, music can create a psychological state of dread and set the listener up for the inevitable startle effect. Avoiding melody altogether, instead relying on long tones or using short, repetitive melodic fragments can lead the listener to feel anxious. John Williams‘ theme to Jaws, with its famous two note motif is a perfect example, as is the theme to the Halloween films, which features a looping, ten note pattern that keeps listeners in a state of anticipation. (A little horror movie trivia: John Carpenter, who directed the Halloween movies, also wrote the theme)
When you think about your favorite song what characteristics stick out to you? Perhaps you notice the vocal range of the singer, the tempo or maybe the type of instruments in the song. Do you consider the vamping harmony? …wait, what?
In the course of analyzing a single piece of music, our Music Analysts will consider upwards of 400 distinct musical characteristics, some straightforward, like tempo or the gender of a vocalist, and some more esoteric. For today’s blog post, I thought it would be fun to discuss one of the slightly arcane elements of the Music Genome that Pandora uses to help build your stations: Vamping Harmony.
In the context of music, a vamp is a short sequence of chords that gets repeated for an extended period. It can be used as a verb, as in “the band vamped while the singer made her way to the stage,” or as a noun, as in “the band played a short vamp while the singer made her way to the stage.”
Vamping harmony can be a good choice if your goal is to focus attention on other elements of a song, such as lyrics, or rhythmic groove. A good vamp can lend a hypnotic quality to music, especially when combined with some infectious rhythms. James Brown was a master at this. Check out his classic “Superbad, parts 1 & 2” for a great example. In this case, the band vamps on a single chord for nearly the whole song. …
In an apparent dig at his former Beatle bandmate Paul McCartney, John Lennon sang: “The only thing you done was ‘Yesterday’… the sound you make is muzak to my ears,” that was in his 1971 song “How Do You Sleep.” It’s no secret that tension was running high between John and Paul in the years leading to The Beatles breakup in 1970. Tension continued in the years following the breakup. In the early 70s, the band endured a four-year legal battle that dissolved their contractual partnership. John and Paul never recorded together again.
Who was the musical genius behind The Beatles, John or Paul? Anyone familiar with the Beatle’s catalog will offer an opinion. I’m going to stay out of that debate but in the following entry I’ll show you what the Music Genome Project can tell us about John and Paul’s singing and songwriting styles. Let’s take a look…
For starters, Paul possesses the wider vocal range. His song “Helter Skelter” is a great place to hear him pushing the limits of his upper register. “Helter Skelter” has a hard rock approach, which is a bit of a departure for Paul because he usually sings with a smoother tone. …
Pandora has been offering comedy for over two years now and we thought it was about time we shared some of the inner workings of our Comedy Genome Project. This month we have a guest post from our esteemed Comedy Analyst, Dave Thomason. In addition to analyzing comedy bits in his day job, Dave is a fine stand up comic in his own right. Thanks for reading!
I think it’s some sort of rule that if you’re going to talk about analyzing comedy, you have to mention that E.B. White quote: “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies of it.” I’ve been analyzing comedy at Pandora for two-and-a-half years, and I thought it would be fun to explore some of the characteristics we listen for in a typical comedy track.
In our Comedy Genome, the categories of genes I find most interesting are the ones that characterize the “Comic Hook” of a particular track. These genes try to answer the question, “What’s funny about this?” We don’t have an objective measure of funniness; a joke that you find hilarious and insightful, another person may find dull and offensive. But what we try to do is keep track of some of the most common devices comedians use in pursuit of a laugh. …
In honor of International Jazz Day we have a guest posting from one of our longest-tenured music analysts who specializes in the jazz genre. Jeffrey Burr is not only a Pandora music analyst, he is also a guitarist who’s played with with Norah Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Ari Hoenig and has released several albums.
However you choose to celebrate International Jazz Day, we hope this posting sheds a little light on the genre from the perspective of a Music Genome Project specialist.
In an ancient age lost to the mists of time, the Music Genome Supermen forged the Jazz Genome, the framework that we music analysts use to characterize songs in the Jazz oeuvre. I’d like to talk a bit about what makes jazz special in the context of the music analysis work I do for Pandora. …
For thousands of years, we humans have used music to express our affections to one another. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we thought it would be amusing to mine the Music Genome Project to identify what makes a love song tick. To do this, I’ve pored over the musicological data of 100 songs from two of our most popular Valentine’s Day genre stations: “Love Songs” and its polar opposite, “Love Stinks“. If you’re a budding songwriter, I can’t give you the formula for a hit but maybe I can point you in the right direction when it comes to songs from the heart… …
Last year, a crew of music-loving British documentary filmmakers joined Tim as he hosted town hall meetings and hit open mic nights across the country. The first of these episodes…
We’ve learned a lot during Pandora’s first 6 months and, candidly, one of those lessons is that purely “musical” matches don’t get it right 100% of the time. While we…