Christopher Burton

PER320 Music Dissertation




How Does Timbre Manipulate The Emotions Of The Audience In The Horror Genre Of Film and Video Games?



This dissertation is submitted in accordance with the requirements of the award of BA (Hons) Popular Music.


I Christopher Burton confirm that, except where other sources are acknowledged, the work contained herein is my own. I am aware of Falmouth University’s regulations concerning academic integrity, and submit this work in good faith.





18th April 2016


How Does Timbre Manipulate The Emotions Of The Audience In The Horror Genre Of Film and Video Games?

Christopher Burton (2016)


This research paper discusses the role that timbre plays in visual mediums such as film and video games, focusing on the horror genre, and how it affects the audience. I will be researching how timbre can manipulate emotion, supported by biological and psychological responses. The paper uses four case studies – two video games and two films of the horror genre, chosen within two categories of indie and mainstream (Trilby’s Notes, Resident Evil Revelations 2, The Blair Witch Project and Saw). This paper uncovers certain compositional techniques used by sound designers to employ timbre as a manipulative tool and also highlight the differences between media platforms and publishing (mainstream or independent) types.




1. Introduction

2. Methodology

3.1 Case Study: Trilby’s Notes

3.2 Case Study: Resident Evil Revelations 2

3.3 Case Study: The Blair Witch Project

3.4 Case Study: Saw

4.0 Analysis

4.1 Video Game Analysis

4.2 Film Analysis

4.3 Indie Analysis

4.4 Mainstream Analysis

5. Conclusion


This dissertation would not exist without the guidance of my peers, family and lecturers.

I would like to thank Dr D. Ferrett and Dr Antti Saario alongside the other music lecturers at Falmouth University for their support throughout the writing of this research paper, and the years building towards it.

I would also like to thank my family and friends, for supporting me throughout my life, whether a musical venture or an educational one they have always been there.

1. Introduction

The study of music used as a form of emotion may help to disentangle the mysteries of its use in social communication, as well as the functional dissimilarities and  similarities. Research distinguishing between music and language, and finding a link between timbre and emotion, can help to further identify the role of the processes for music and language in the brain. This study focuses on the relationship between  timbre and emotion. There is much research regarding timbre (Koelsch, 2005), but few studies have explored the link between  timbre  and  emotion,  (see  Caclin  et  al.,  2006,  and  Hailstone  et  al.,  2009  for exceptions) to  any degree of specificity. (Bowman 2011)


Timbre is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “The character or quality of a musical sound or voice as distinct from its pitch and intensity”. Oxford Dictionary also defines Emotion as “A strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others”. The relationship between these two factors have been observed in the realm of visual media. In my own experience of consuming a lot of movies and video games throughout my life I have noticed the significance that timbre has towards these two examples in visual media. Without it the visuals become awkward and empty. Timbre, and with it sound, contribute more to these mediums than a casual audience member would perceive. Timbre’s goal is to support the visual portion of these mediums and forcibly manipulate the emotions of the audiences. Timbre affects emotion, it can aid the melody of a soundtrack and it can create atmosphere. This essay will compare and contrast the use of timbre in four case studies from the horror genre (two video games and two films) and with evidence of previous academic works I will explain in detail how, in horror, timbre is used manipulatively.

Timbre has been a musical dimension that has interested me for a few years now; it is astronomically difficult to precisely describe and is near impossible to score (a project that I have undertaken before) and yet it is the first thing we experience with music or even, with any sound or noise. It is the characteristic that distinguishes different instruments from each other. It is colour to art. I intend for this paper to be used to further the research into timbre and the relationship between timbre and emotion which can hopefully aide composers looking to create work in the horror genre.

Summer Muse of the ‘Velodyne Voice’ (2012) describes timbre as having control of the emotion associated with sound, something that pitch does not do (although major and minor key can be argued as having associations with ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ but this has been proven to be a consequence of cultural associations (Williamson 2013)). Muse asks “why is it that two singers with the same range, singing the same note, at the same volume, do not sound the same?”. This question can be remoulded to assess the timbre used in film and video games – “Why does the same melody performed on a different instrument not produce the same emotional effect on the audience?”.  At the same time, we have pre-determined assumptions of instruments and the timbre they create which could dispute this, as seen in Huron’s “You Can’t Play a Sad Song on the Banjo” which implies an instrumental timbre’s relationship to the human voice determines its association to “happy” or “sad” emotion. An experiment conducted by Teun Lucassen in his paper “Emotions of Musical Instruments” found that certain instruments had a predetermined association with happy and sad, the data of which strongly implied that attack and sustain envelope filter of the amplitude was a determining factor. Instruments like the marimba and piano seem to invoke joy (although the piano was found to also invoke as much sadness from the test subjects). The alto saxophone and cello was found to invoke sadness the most. Could the inclusion or exclusion of these instruments or timbre affect the audience so much to the degree of emotional manipulation?


2. Methodology





Trilby’s Notes (Ben Croshaw)

The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick)


Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (Yasuhiro Ampo)

Saw (James Wan)


The table above shows the four case studies that I shall be researching. They have been chosen based on the medium that they are released and if they are an ‘indie’ production (independent – made by a single person or small group of people, usually not backed by a company or publisher)  or a ‘mainstream’ production (successful franchise/brand, usually owned or created by publishing company, multiple sequels or instalments). These case studies are organised categorically only to improve the area that I can base comparisons to.

I will be reviewing the soundtrack to each of these case studies, comparing it’s intended use and how it was used within the context of the film or game. From there I will compare the use of timbre and the soundtrack with similar games and films to see how the intended emotions are manipulated through the effects of timbre in different contexts.

I will be taking points from each soundtrack of the four case studies and supporting them with research from academia, focusing on how timbre affects us emotionally through music theory, biology and psychology along with compositional techniques.

3.1 Case Study: Trilby’s Notes

Trilby, a reformed thief has become a detective of the paranormal. After finding a former companion dead in the same way as in previous instalments, he tries to hunt down a mysterious wooden idol that is sought to be the centre of the mysterious events that have posed him for the past decade. As proved in the first instalment, Trilby finds that the idol possesses whoever touches it. Leading him to a hotel in Wales, Trilby finds that his own psychological problems are transporting him to a parallel hotel that resembles a place of gore and death. By touching several artefacts, Trilby is sent through the eyes of several people throughout history which follows the story of the wood that created the idol.


There are two video games in the horror genre that I have researched for this paper: Ben Croshaw’s “Trilby’s Notes” and Yasuhiro Ampo’s “Resident Evil: Revelations 2”. Compared to film, video games offer a different journey for the audience, they interact with the medium in a more focused way – controlling the characters and exploring the narrative at their own pace. This gives timbre an easier approach to manipulating emotion as the audience is already focused on the medium, more so than in film which already creates a larger spectator focus.

The second move— acceptance of the story finds support in Ortega y Gasset's judicious remark to the effect that our ability to perceive and absorb an event profits by our emotional participation in it. (Kracauer 1997)


Just as the horror film takes the audience on an emotional arc; an emotional journey, horror video games do the same thing. This emotional journey is supported and fuelled by an array of things – visual aide, sonic aide. Colour, mise en scene. Harmony, tonality. It is also fuelled by timbre. Trilby’s Notes explains its emotional arc via the official soundtrack listing: “Remember The Days” one of the first pieces in the soundtrack is meant to allow the audience to reflect on previous instalments (as Trilby’s Notes is third of four games in the series). The audience is drawn to light hearted almost fairy tale-like instruments in a higher register. The brass sounds give a sense of completion, and the theoretical emotional arc is at a high point (where high is happy – good and low is sad/scared). The next piece “Piecing It Together” takes the emotional arc downwards with timbre from a solo horn (possibly a cor anglais), long strings, higher pitched bell sounds which invoke fear and an oboe sound which denotes sadness. There is also a subtle white noise sound which ends on a crescendo of percussive cymbals. In a study (Huron 2012) it was surveyed that the oboe and cor anglais were sixth and seventh of the saddest instruments with classical strings and the voice being the first five. A correlation could be drawn to the relation of these instrumental timbres to the human voice. Another explanation for this timbral effect on emotion, as suggested in the data from Teun Lucassen’s ‘Emotions of Musical Instruments’, is the rate of attack and sustain on an envelope filter on the amplitude of an instrument. In a survey that he carried out, it was shown that the saxophone and the cello were seen as the sadder instruments in comparison to the piano or marimba.

Flashbacks often occur to the protagonist of the game through a series of stimuli (namely historical artefacts). When this occurs, a sudden rush of white noise triggers that instantly alerts the audience giving them a ‘jump scare’, which, according to Mark Grimshaw (2011) “promotes the feeling of fear” and is used for “soliciting anxiety” by the sound designer. Croshaw uses a series of “random whispers” that are repeatedly triggered at a low volume when entering the ‘dark world’, which slowly increases in volume as the game progresses. This gives the audience an uneasy feeling.

3.2 Case Study: Resident Evil Revelations 2

Resident Evil Revelations 2 is a survival horror game about two women who are trapped on an island facility populated by the ‘Afflicted’. Eventually they reach a radio tower and call for help. Barry, one of the womens’ father reaches the island and finds a girl named Natalia whilst still searching for his daughter. The game is presented in episodic format, spanning four episodes in total with a two bonus episodes added at the end of the series.


Resident Evil Revelation 2’s soundtrack brings the audience straight into the genre of the game by using a specific assortment of instrumentation alongside a ‘high octane’ set of compositions which establishes the pace.

We will also find composers relying upon timbral contrast and indeterminacy in melodic and harmonic structure in main-title music and in other cues as well. (Scheurer 2008)


Contrasting timbre is a compositional theme that seems to occur in the majority of horror films and games. There are a couple of theories behind why it is used so often. Firstly the idea that introducing a low timbre first in the piece conditions the audience’s ears to recognise the low frequency range as the ‘norm’ which, is explained in “Hacking The Hearing System” (Robinson 2013). Robinson describes this theory relating to loudness and quietness showing that the middle ear muscles actually contract depending on the dynamics of the audio being interpreted by them. So to enhance a loud sound in film, sound designers will often build-up a large sound (such as an explosion) with silence or at least very quiet audio just prior to it.

‘Opening’ has a deep distorted bass that pedals, setting the pace. On the higher end of the ‘fear’ spectrum, Resident Evil uses several instrumental methods to create the sense of fear. In ‘Afflicted 1’ the piece uses a screeching string section (closely relating to human screams) followed by very high pitched alarm-like noise (juxtaposition increases fear) followed by several sharp percussive and brass stabs in a row. This sequence is then repeated multiple times. Hank Green of ‘SciShow’ talks about Dr Sukhbinder Kuman’s work on audiology and the relation of ‘harsh sound’ in humans.

Analysis of the acoustic features of the sounds found that anything in the frequency range of around 2,000 to 5,000 Hz was found to be unpleasant.


This range includes sounds of screaming and most alarm clocks and also a baby’s cry – sounds which are universally seen as harsh sounds. The primal instinct for humans is to be discomforted by the sound of a human scream, mostly female.

‘Theme of Barry’ takes the audience into a sadder emotion using a soft piano sound with high amounts of reverb and a very raw sounding violin to manipulate the audience. Reverb can often denote sadness when applied to instruments, especially a singular instrument. It can make a sound, sound empty in a large room giving a sense of loneliness and helplessness. Reverb also extends the sustain of a volume envelope, which, as the data seen in Teun Lucassen’s ‘Emotions of Musical Instruments’, seems to correlate with sadness.

A number of research studies support this conclusion by demonstrating that up-tempo music leads to higher arousal, and that this higher level of arousal leads to better cognitive performance. (Allen 2013)


The majority of the pieces in Resident Evil Revelations 2 appears to be ‘high-octane’, high adrenaline. Keeping the audience on an emotional high seems to be of importance in a 3D survival game such as this one, as referenced in the above quote. In comparison to a 2D game (Trilby’s Notes), we only have a limited view point in a 3D first person or third person mode. On a 2D plane we can see the whole field at once, so there are less surprises, less jumps, so the user is not required to be as emotionally ‘high’ or alert.

Resident Evil only seems to use softer sounds for character leitmotifs. In ‘Natalia’ the motif uses a heavily reverberated high drone with water droplet like bell sounds. This still instils the emotion of fear into the audience but does so in a way that gives ourselves an emotional rest. This theme uses both the characteristics of ‘sad’ timbre – the long sustain and the use of reverb, along with elements of ‘fear’ in timbre – contrasting timbre layered on top of each other. ‘Derelict Town 2’ does this exactly. Using slow low sounds and a flurry of soft cymbals, it creates an atmosphere of fear through unknown. In the high octane pieces we know there is something attacking, we know that danger is in front of us, the character. But with these soft pieces we do not know what is there. Anything could happen, the fear of not knowing when or what, is what creates the atmosphere. Beth Alder describes this in “Psychology of Health”:

The opportunity to receive stimulation acted as a reinforcer. Hebb (1966) suggested that individuals have an optimum level of stimulation and that we have ways of maintaining this. We strive to obtain a balance between boredom and over-stimulation. (Adler 1999)


3.3 Case Study: The Blair Witch Project

Three film students are lost in a forest in search of answers surrounding the mystery of the Blair Witch. Filmed entirely by them, they hope to make a documentary that details their journey in search for the witch. The footage is what was found after their mysterious disappearance.


The Blair Witch Project, as a film, uses only natural sound with almost no foley effects added and with no official soundtrack. However certain sounds are used for their timbre just as the other pieces of media use sounds (mostly this is at least one of the three actors). Blair Witch applies the use of silence to amplify sound effects in the film which is used to build tension [23 minutes into the film]. In this example the harsh sound of the tape reel during the film creates a fast ticking sound that is amplified in comparison due to the lack of ambient music. The use of the ‘scream’ is used in this film by the actors involved – mostly the female actor, which relates to the primal example of why gender specific screams are an evolutionary hindrance in particular. This again relates to Dr Sukhbinder Kuman’s work on audiology and the ‘unpleasant’ frequency range. These screams in particular however bring in another descriptive factor – gender. A consistent timbral trope used in movies is a female scream. Of course women have higher pitched voices and can therefore reach that ‘unpleasant’ frequency range with ease in comparison to men, but also, however a more social construct is also at play surrounding women as ‘victims’ in horror films. Mark Jancovich describes the overwhelming effect of a female scream in “Horror, the Film Reader”. He outlines the role women once played as plants in an audience by quoting an analysis of William Castle’s direction with ‘The Tingler’: “[a] woman was planted in the audience at each show to scream and faint, after which she was carried out to an ambulance parked in the front theatre and whisked away”  As the main source of sound in the film, speech and noise from the actors follow the same pattern as ‘fear’ is discussed in the table of categorised emotions and compositional tropes (Hargreaves 2005: 96).  It varies in pitch and tempo and the volume increases sporadically. A prime example is the dialogue between the three characters after Mike reveals he has kicked the map down the creek. This macro arc of timbre starts with cackling laughter from Mike and ends with shrieking and shouting from Heather and Josh towards Mike alongside the scuffles of the camera microphone. The use of panning and microphone placement builds atmosphere in the movie which can range from an intimate, close up experience which, timbrally, promotes sadness. This is seen in a scene [at 70 minutes into the film] which sees Heather crying and apologising for her naivety. This sound cue of crying is often mirrored by people as an empathetic evolutionary trait. Alison Aubery’s article for NPR describes this trait:

Tears can play an important role in communication, and the extraordinary thing is that tears don't just telegraph our state of mind to others — they can also evoke strong emotions in the people who witness them. (Aubrey 2010)


Visuals and sound are used in unison for this affect during the crying scene. It is important to note that this scene, at the crescendo of the movie, cascades the audiences emotions away from fear and towards sadness for only this scene before thrusting the audience back into fear. The microphone placement also promotes fear as shown in the scene [at 31 minutes] where the three characters are inside the tent at night while they hear highly reverberated, unnatural, crashing and crackling sounds from the distance – which is panned for the audience.

3.4 Case Study: Saw

Adam Stanheight and Lawrence Gordon awake in a bathroom underground. Lawrence is chained to a pipe and there is a corpse in the centre of the room which holds a revolver and a tape recorder. The recording gives them their task, Adam must escape before six o’clock and Lawrence must kill Adam or his wife and daughter will die.


The soundtrack “Hello, Adam” relies on low strings in the beginning to establish the tonality of the piece. At the end of the phrase there is the juxtaposed high timbre over low timbre which moves into the pizzicato section. This is again influenced over the idea that is made by Scheurer that composers use “timbral and motivic contrast” to create tension. The pizzicato section is highly reverberated, which creates a ‘creepy’ atmosphere with the use of a slow arpeggiated minor chord. Wil Forbis outlines arpeggiated minor, diminished, or any dissonant chord to be a major factor in writing horror music.  White noise is played underneath which could simulate breath, or human voice to an extent. Neil Lerner’s “Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear” describes white noise as a “complex of all pitches that sounds like a river or a detuned radio”. He goes on to remark that “This sonic “primal soup” might be conceived as a sonic equivalent of the unconscious, from which sounds can emerge.” Lerner is describing the nature of white noise, due to it having so much harmonic substance, it therefore has so many possibilities to what underlying ‘recognisable’ sounds are in the ‘sonic primal soup’. The piece then moves onto a synthesised instrumentation giving a sense of the fear of unknown. Halfway through the piece a screech occurs followed by a low cinematic drum which, at the crescendo of the piece, is another example of timbral contrast. After drawing the audience’s focus in, it flashes a high octane timbre at them to set their mood during the movie. The ending theme to all the Saw films is played during the concluding scenes, which usually reveals a twist or shows the protagonist(s) have ‘lost’ their fight. This theme has high tinny bells playing an arpeggiaic sequence while a string section plays loud striking notes. This gives the sense of conclusion and alongside the chorus of scream-like white noise gives the audience the feeling of failure and hopelessness in empathy with the characters. The use of the percussion sounds increase the ‘adrenaline’ fuelled nature of the piece which happens in small chunks, so to not over immerse the audience.

4.0 Analysis

Together, these four case studies have shown to use very similar timbral qualities for similar reasons. They all use timbre, either intentionally or not, to manipulate the audience’s emotions. In the horror genre this is most notably the emotion of fear, or the emotion of sadness. Each of these case studies takes the audience on an emotional journey (or arc) and that arc is supported by the timbre in its soundtrack. The labels that I have given each case study to dictate which piece to research is the label I shall give the sections of my analysis.

4.1 Video Games Analysis

Trilby’s Notes and Resident Evil Revelations 2 both employ similar timbral and compositional techniques to achieve the same kind of audience-emotional manipulation. The style and creation of work (a one/two person project vs. a multi-team project) means that the direct quality and instrumentation is vastly different.

A major tool that almost every piece that I have researched uses (even outside of the four case studies) is ‘timbral contrast’, which invokes fear to the audience. This is seen, as shown above, in ‘Piecing It Together’ in Trilby’s Notes or in ‘Deep Sea – Darkness’ of Resident Evil Revelations 2. This is used countless times in other horror video games such as Dino Crisis (1999: ‘Putting You At Ease’) and Amnesia – A Machine For Pigs (2013: ‘Tunnels Ambient’).

Video games and films are very similar mediums but they have one major difference, which involves, audience focus. An audience will always be more engaged in a video game as they are directing and controlling the pace of the story. With this, in the horror genre, video game designers seem to incorporate the sound design to fit this model. The ‘jump scare’ used in Trilby’s Notes is, for the first couple of times, a surprise to the audience. After the third time however the audience – or player, is in control of the situation. They have to follow the events that trigger the jump scare in order to progress through the game, and the player knows it is there, but Croshaw still included the jump-scare in every event. This interactivity causes increase of emotions – mostly fear in horror, when combined with sound design and timbre. Film however, uses an opposite approach which achieves the same effect.

Perspective is an important role in video games, due to the its unnatural graphical nature they can be presented on different dimensional planes. This can create limitations with the field of view of the player which is often used advantageously by designers of the horror genre. Timbre can be the fuel for adrenaline and adrenaline is used to increase our emotions and feelings. In Neil McNaughton’s ‘Biology and Emotion’ he concludes that adrenaline (and similar hormones) have been observed to increase and enhance emotion, but the presence of this hormone does not “by itself result in emotion whatever its contribution to feelings.” He also adds that when adrenaline is administered by injection it “mimics neither the normal production of that compound, nor the normal pattern of other hormones which would accompany it.” With this information, comparing Trilby’s Notes and Resident Evil Revelations 2 draws an important fact – the minimal, drawn in and calm approach to composition used by Trilby’s Notes reflects its presentation to the audience – it is set in two dimensions, so the entire field of view is visible. Resident Evil Revelations 2 is visually in three dimensions and has a high-octane, fast paced, cinematographic soundtrack. The effect of this for the audience is they have a barrage of adrenaline while playing Resident Evil Revelations 2 because of the timbre and the soundtrack which gives the audience a ‘fight or flight’ response, a long with enhanced emotional response and a heightened sense of awareness. Awareness in a game where their field of vision is limited, and, on a platform that needs audience focus. 

4.2 Film Analysis

Film is not interactive, it is a linear series of events. Therefore everything is controlled for the audience. The emotional arc of the entire narrative is dictated by the composer and director. This can give a sense of entrapment to the audience – in a video game, you are the cause of events but in a film there is nothing that can be done (aside from stopping the film) about what path the film takes. With timbre, if an event in a film triggers a loud, unpleasant scream, for example, there is nothing that can be done to stop that. And the act of the trigger instils fear in the audience. The stage production of ‘Woman In Black’ (Mallatratt) highlights this effect very accurately. On the set of the mansion there is an old door and whenever the door handle is touched a loud scream is sounded. Throughout the play, the protagonist goes towards the door which insights fear in the audience – they know what is coming if the event is triggered – and they are forced to endure that.

Both film and video games use the idea of the human voice and instrumentation that possess similar harmonic qualities of the human voice as a tool for fear. Saw uses white noise to simulate the vocal qualities of timbre (mostly breath and screaming). The Blair Witch Project literally use human voices as their main focus of timbre and sound source. The example of The Blair Witch Project – the character Heather’s scene where she cries to the camera, is an example of audience empathy, we see somebody crying and we feel empathetic towards that, sometimes mirroring it. This could be the source of relationship between the human voice and timbre. This could explain why an oboe is associated with sadness or why unnatural, distorted whispers invoke fear – we are empathetic towards human vocal timbre, we reflect the emotion it conveys.

Juxtaposition, as discussed before, is used to generate fear by combining two conflicting instruments on the opposite ends of the harmonic spectrum. This takes the form of low end strings with high end flutes or bells. It can be a non-traditional sound source such as a low drone or high pitched feedback. Another musical element can be juxtaposed, and that is dynamics and volume. Films will often use this form of juxtaposition to emphasise volume in things such as explosions or climatic tension. One of the more popular variations of this juxtaposition is known as the ‘pre-explosion build-up’ and is used in films (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (Lucas 2002), Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Jackson 2003)), video games (Star Fox) and even in popular music with dubstep ‘drops’ (Modestep – Exile) and progressive rock (An Endless Sporadic – Sun of Pearl). Pre-Explosion build-up is, more notably, silence before a massive sound triggers (for example a large explosion). This activates an acoustic reflex in the ear, causing them to retract which allows loud sound to appear louder than it actually is. Thomas H. Champney describes this in reverse in “Essential Clinical Neruoanatomy”:

“After the concert, when it is quiet, the muscles remain contracted in anticipation of loud sound and, therefore, most natural sounds appear reduced and friends may have to speak loudly in order to be heard.”

This technique is closely related to a trope used in horror. By using a silence and a single (often sharp) sound it can trigger this reflex slightly to create an uneasy atmosphere. This is shown in a scene in the Blair Witch Project where all that can be heard is the sharp rotation of a tape reel. Due to the perceived quietness of the scene, this introduced sharp timbre jars the ear somewhat, creating an uncomfortable feeling – due to the ears acoustic reflex.

4.3 Indie Analysis

The two independently made case studies I have researched (Trilby’s Notes and The Blair Witch Project) use the same techniques involving timbre so that it can manipulate the audiences emotion, however the composers for the independent products approach these techniques differently. Due to the budget of Trilby’s Notes, the composer Mark Lovegrove had to make do with certain technical limitations. Mostly he had to deal with the restriction of general MIDI playback for the instrumentation and few room for samples.

“How to make it sound disorientating & spine-chilling. Well, I'm not so sure it completely achieved that, but finally I chose out some of the weirdest instruments in MIDI (and some normal ones) and combined them with random pitch bends, timings & of course the 5DAS[5 Days a Stranger] melody - to create this random section of noises.”

In Lovegrove’s composers notes he remarks to using the ‘weirdest’ instruments alongside MIDI automation (pitch bending) to create his desired effect. Interestingly in the piece ‘Hauntsichord’ from Trilby’s Notes, the piece is described by Lovegrove as “something that I didn’t think was scary at all.” But from the players perspective, the timbre is what shifts the mood into fear and not the piece playing.

The Blair Witch Project is a non-scored film. It has no devised piece, as the filming is done entirely by the actors. Instead, the film relies entirely on diegetic sound such as the human voice, the weather and sound artefacts (bumping the camera microphone to produce a short, distorted, thumping sound). When compared to the mainstream Saw and Resident Evil Revelations 2, we can see that the emotional arc is built entirely by the actors in the Blair Witch Project rather than the soundtrack. Tension and fear increases throughout the movie as the characters start becoming louder, more angry with each other. Towards halfway through the film they start to shout at each other, using the reverb of the open space to enhance the sound and to emphasise how trapped they are in the woods. Saw does this as well, using screams and cries from actors to invoke emotion, but this is all supported by a soundtrack. Even the most subtle ambience can boost the emotion in a scene – much like adrenaline can enhance our perception of emotion in a scene.

4.4 Mainstream Analysis

Saw and Resident Evil Revelations 2 are two ‘mainstream’ pieces of media. They are part of larger franchises that spread across multiple sequels (Resident Evil – 10 games, Saw – 9 films). Due to the large reception behind these brands, both Revelations 2 and Saw benefit from a higher budget and a larger team of developers and sound designers. Not only that but due to the era they were made, there are a lot less technical limitations in comparison to The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Trilby’s Notes (2006) – Saw (2004), Resident Evil Revelations 2 (2014). As a result, Saw and Resident Evil rely heavily on sample based, cinematographic, instrumentation.  This allows for a wide variety of instrumentation to be used in unnatural ways to create the required atmosphere. This is similar to Mark Lovegrove’s method for working with MIDI limitations, this is just one example of both categories employing similar techniques but approaching them from different positions.

As part of the ‘package’ of cinematographic sampled instruments, cinematic percussion is often used in mainstream films and video games.

The Saw scores are premised upon music as provision of atmosphere, although they might be characterized as a distinct alternation of non-musical sounds and spare synthesizer tones, with kinetic mechanical drum patterns…”

 “Clouser noted that he used the sections with energetic percussion patterns “to build adrenaline.”

As evidenced from this quote of Warren Buckland in ‘Film Theory and Contemporary Hollywood Movies’, Saw had heavy use of percussive composition for the purpose of increasing energy in a scene. This proves that the use of percussion to enhance a scene is a conscious decision by the sound designer. Why does percussion increase tension and energy? There has been speculation of an evolutionary influence – unlocking a primal part of our biology, but there has been no direct scientific evidence to support this theory. Percussion is often synchronised to the second in action sequences in film, this could be why the energy increases. If a fight sequence is shown on screen supported by a heavily percussive soundtrack then we will perceive that sequence as being more powerful and energetic. This is the same psychology used in professional wrestling: making punches appear more devastating by simultaneously stomping to create a louder sound.

5. Conclusion

The purpose of this study was to find how Timbre manipulates the emotions of the audience in the horror genre of film and video games. With that I researched four case studies to compare and contrast. Through my initial research I found that the basis for emotional manipulation came from the instrumentation. An instrument can be classed as ‘sad’ or ‘happy’ or it can invoke ‘fear’ or ‘wonder’. These classifications seem to be based on an attack and sustain envelope filter on the amplitude of the signal. There has also been speculation that an instruments relation to the human voice made them more expressive and therefore had a sadder perception. This was confirmed when researching the third case study ‘The Blair Witch Project’, drawing empathy from human vocal timbre, audiences would mirror the emotions of the characters in extreme cases (reflecting sadness when a character was crying into the camera).

I found that even with different production values, sound designers will employ the same timbral and compositional techniques. This could be drawn from limitations (Mark Lovegrove having to use MIDI automation to create the effect he wanted due to technical limitation) or because of timbral experimentation (the Resident Evil soundtrack being mostly sample based uses MIDI and automation to stretch the sounds they have and to create unnatural instrumental effects).         

Juxtaposition seems to be a major factor in producing ‘manipulative’ timbre. For the emotion of fear, highly contrasting timbre has been used by composers in almost all of the case studies (The Blair Witch Project being the exception, not having a soundtrack). The discord of having two polarising figures of instrumentation is somehow jarring to the human mind, to the point that fear is often induced. Volume and dynamic contrast is also a major factor in the production of ‘manipulative’ timbre. Through the variation of volume at certain times it can emphasise certain emotions and create sonic effects perceived by the ear. This usually takes the form of ‘pre-explosion build-up’ which builds up a loud sound texture before an explosion in a film, then dropping the sound levels to near silence for a split second – allowing the ear muscles to retract, and then triggering a loud sound to represent the explosion, which now has more impact because the ear muscles have contracted to let in more sound due to the silence that came before it. This can increase fear in horror films by creating jarring effects such as the isolated tape reel in The Blair Witch Project.

My research has not focused on the morals of the sound designers for manipulating their audience. At a fundamental level this is why the audience consumes these products. I do think however that these conventions used to manipulate audience emotion will always be present in modern films and in modern video games. With these two mediums having so much audience investment – in relation to focus, sound designers, directors and game designers cannot afford to disengage their audience. No matter what emotion, emotional investment is something that all creators want for their product and timbral manipulation achieves that.










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