Do you ever think about the effect soundtrack music has on your movie experience? For most people, it’s just background noise; something there to add some ambiance to the scene. For me, however, it’s just as important as the actors, script, and filming. The soundtrack makes us viewers feel—it pulls out our emotion for the film sometimes more so than any other part of the film. How? Let’s try an example. The clip below shows the same scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, but with different types of music. Watch it, and see how differently you can look at the same scene because of the music playing.
I mean, look at the difference! You feel differently about each scene with the only change being in music. Isn’t that interesting? The funny music worked just as well with the scene as the original music did, yet it gave the scene a totally different ambiance—it changed Jack’s entire character as well. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the true power of soundtrack.
Yet that isn’t the only power soundtrack music has at its disposal. So I don’t blow your minds or bore you to death by telling you the use of every key, note, and speed, I’ll instead use my favourite example of the miracle of soundtrack music from the film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest to show you exactly how soundtrack music manipulates your emotions. I want you to watch the following clip, but instead of focusing on the music, I want you to focus on the experience. Ready? (Note: Watch at least the first 2 minutes)
Did you feel yourself slowly become more and more interested in the clip? Did you feel your heart slowly start to beat faster? That’s a trick of the music! There’s a drumbeat that dominates the Kraken song that sounds nearly identical to a heartbeat, and because we only hear our hearts beat that intensely during times of physical stress, there’s a dissonance between what we hear and what we feel. Our body compensates for that dissonance by speeding up our heart rate to match the inescapable heartbeat emanating from the television so that now we aren’t just watching the movie: we’re physically invested in it.
Why is the melody an organ instead of a flute? Why do lulls affect us just as much as the crescendos? What difference does speed make in music? These are all questions that that we should be taking more seriously, considering music and its emotional influence aren’t just in movies- they’re everywhere: stores, salons, radio stations, and even in airports. Next time you’re out, think about the music you’re hearing, what kind of emotional message it could be sending you, and how tailored that message is by the sender: by recognizing the musical manipulation, you’re one step closer to seeing just how much of an emotional influence music has on our everyday lives.
Chattah, J. Semiotics, Pragmatics, and Metaphor in Film Music Analysis. [dissertation]. The Florida State University College of Music, FL.