Let’s ask any music lover about their favorite genre. In response, we could hear practically anything: rock, soundtracks, jazz, gregorian chants. From Merzbow to Wagner. But have you ever met a person in love with such soundtracks as Resident Evil 7 or Dead Space?
Let’s listen to Jessica Curry’s An Early Harvest from Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. It seduces us with masterful composition, great arrangement and a memorable leading theme. The piece is full of satisfyingly resolving intervals, and the string, harp and woodwind parts had been arranged very elegantly. It seems that this song will definitely satisfy those who seek in music classical sounds.
And now let’s indulge in Soldier Attack from the first Outlast game. It’s very kind of the composer (or, depending on the point of view, very impolite) to remember about the listener’s possible heart diseases when naming the track appropriately. Drums go crazy, brass keeps stressing out the devil’s tritone, everybody goes crazy. That’s a jumpscare. We can assume that the first piece will move the listener, and the second one will scare or exhaust him. Nobody needs a job at NASA to conclude that it’s connected to our nature – in part, to the beauty standards. And nobody needs an IQ above 150 to foresee the listener’s comeback to the first track rather than to the second one.
Time to get to the point. Based on a (very bold) hypothesis saying that it’s possible to listen to horror music (not meaning melancholic main themes only) with just as much eagerness and curiosity as we listen to the more „musical” soundtracks, I’ll try to show ways of doing that. But before we start, let me answer this very obvious question: why would anybody want to try to listen with pleasure to scores that are supposed to terrorize us? Although the clues listed in this article, below, are not the discoveries of the century and neither do they open our third eye, it’s important to have them in mind. Read on.
We have entered a new level of scoring for media.
Horror music, to fulfill it’s purposes, uses neurobiological analogies. This isn’t only the case with this subgenre, but it’s the scary scores that benefit the most from it. Through those analogies, it directly influences the body of the listener: through bass pulses it brings up the heart rate, scares through sudden percussion hits and dynamic changes, it can simulate ear ringing through sound design and drones… and so on. Many composers have taken this path throughout the years. But it developed during the last few decades. Drones and bass pulses are a relatively new thing, and the idea of introducing the connection between music and our own body is a signal that we’ve entered a new level of scoring for media. So it probably will not take long before composers start to conduct our bodies even more directly, not only in the horror terms. And right now we have the tools to prepare for that perfectly.
There are a couple of decisions that we need to make. The first one is: are we going to be listening passively, using the sounds to create a certain underlying mood for us to do something else, or are we going to be listening actively – giving the music all the attention and maybe even analysing it on the go? Both approaches have their pros and cons, but the most important is the decision itself. The least desirable outcome here would be to conjoin the two approaches into an uneffective combination, through which we have a desire to do something else besides listening, but in mind, we come back to the sounds, which might escalate the tension coming out of the headphones/speakers, but might not necessarily lead to understanding the music better. Are we not afraid of that what we do not recognize?
Point two: analysis. I’m sure that sometimes – or far more often – your mind actively deconstructs the piece you’re listening to. Instruments, structure, emotions and their causes, contexts… If there was a caveman and we showed him one of Picasso’s paintings, he would most likely just scratch his head and leave. On the other hand, if we were to mention Picasso in a conversation with somebody studying the history of art, there would be no end to their excitement. This hyperbole shows that the more we see, the more we can appreciate. With Resident Evil or The Evil Within, it’s not so easy, but horror music, although distant from other subgenres, has so much influence over them that we should pay more attention to it. Even if not for the subgenre itself, perhaps for those that benefit from it.
It probably will not take long before composers start to conduct our bodies even more directly, not only in the horror terms.
Let’s also not forget about an extremely important matter – the taste. Mr A loves the soundtracks from Cuphead and Grim Fandango, Mr B, on the other hand – Doom and Wolfenstein. Even though soundtracks can, like no other genre, broaden our horizons, nobody is expected to fall in love with each and every one of them. Nonetheless, it’s worth to stress out that despite this apparent zero-one system according to which you either like the score or you don’t (because most of the horror OSTs sound fairly similar), there are ambassadors of dreadful soundtracks that could easily pin down this binary system.
That’s why until now I purposefully omitted to mention a fundamental video game series. The talk’s about Silent Hill and its veteran composer/sound designer – Akira Yamaoka for a long time was responsible not only for the music tracks, but also for the audio effects. The Konami’s series is, musically-speaking, full of many original ideas (while being very approachable for a layman), and all the while it doesn’t let the dread escape. I’m sure that for most of you, Akira Yamaoka’s works are nothing new; they would be a great invitation to the world of horror music, more of which in the second part of the article. How about you? What are your favorite scary soundtracks?