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How Music Effects Mood and Perception in Motion Pictures

Essay by review  •  October 31, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,813 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,559 Views

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Music is a fundamental necessity in the world that we live in today. We all implement music in our everyday lives whether it's professionally or solely for entertainment purposes. Some people build careers on music as musicians, composers, singers, or teachers while the latter of us just need music to get through the day whether we're driving or at work or just need to relax. The need for music in our contemporary society affects us in a myriad of different ways--including the undeniable effect on our moods. The sound of just one note, one chord, can send an instantaneous message to the brain that, psychologically, can make us think or act in a certain way. These reactions can positively or negatively our moods depending on the composer's intentions and our perceptions. Filmmakers implement the same idea using music to evoke a certain feeling or reaction/perception in their audience.

Music in motion pictures is an indispensable tool filmmakers utilize to effect the mood of their audience. It often gets underrated as a predominant psychological force as it is employed subliminally by filmmakers under their narrative so that their audience is unaware of its presence. Nicholas Cook, author of Analyzing Musical Multimedia, states, "words and pictures deal primarily with the specific...while music deals primarily with responses--that is, with values, emotions, and attitudes...."(22). However, there is certain music that is suppose to be heard by the audience as part of the cinematic diegesis. All

sounds that are understood by characters in the narrative are referred to as diegetic; however, those sounds that are not part of the diegesis are referred to as nondiegetic. This would suggest that diegetic music is processed on the conscious level while nondiegetic music might remain on the subconscious level (Gorbman, 75). Although many people might be unaware of these two types of sounds while screening a film, it effects their reactions, interpretations, and moods significantly.

The role of music in a motion picture is in direct relation to the level of ambiguity in a particular visual scene. The more ambiguous a scene is, the more filmmakers rely on their composers to develop a musical score that interprets the meaning of the scene for their audience. Therefore, music provides a cue for the listener to tell whether the narrative is suppose to be perceived as scary, romantic, funny, melancholy, or other-worldly--ultimately, affecting the audience's mood. Horror movies are great examples of that concept.

Hitchcock's brilliant masterpiece, Psycho (1960), is a perfect example of how a musical score can tell its audience what's about to come. The most memorable scene in the film was the brutal shower stabbing scene with Janet Leigh. The use of music in this scene allows the viewer to achieve a fear beyond total comprehension. As Leigh is showering, the audience follows a POV of Bates into her room. At this point, the music gets irksome, eerie, and scary. The audience knows the inevitable doom of Leigh's character because of the taunting music. When Bates stabbed Leigh's character to death, one of the most famous uses of diegetic sound in film history comes into play, as each stab sounds like shrieking violins--the famous "eeeh, eeeh, eeeh" that has been parodied in later horror movies.

Along with letting the audience know what's coming, music in motion pictures, according to Suzanne Langer, "creates an image of time measured by the motion of forms that seem to give it substance, yet a substance that consists entirely of sound, so it transforms itself. Music makes time audible, and its form and continuity sensible (53). Film music can cover up time discrepancies between real time and virtual time. The relative time that has passed in a movie can be expressed solely through music; through this medium, the cinema recreates our sense of reality--in essence, affecting our sense of mood.

An example of this element of time is seen in the motion picture Broken Blossoms (1919). In this picture, time becomes an important element in relation to the music in one particular scene. Lucy, daughter of an abusive alcoholic, seeks refuge in a shop owner's store while her father is fighting in a boxing tournament. The music is sweet and mournful in the shots with Lucy and the shop owner and brutal in the shots with the father. The technique of cross-cutting between Lucy and the shop owner develops the element of time as well as the music. In just a few minutes of this scene, the father fights, discovers where Lucy is, and goes to the shop to retrieve Lucy. The cross cutting technique allows the audience to know where the characters are in relation to one another, but the music is the element that distorts the audience's perception of reality. The music, especially of that interconnected with the father, heightens the audience's emotions. We are on the edge of our seats when the father discovers where Lucy is. As he makes his way to the shop, we want to scream to Lucy and the shop owner to run but we can't. Our emotions and moods allow us to be deceived by the element of time. In real life, there's no way that someone could make it across town in the span of a several minutes, but because music can transform our moods, sense of time and reality vanish.

One of the most effective ways music can affect mood and perceptions is how a score can relate or define a character. Directors choose to associate a character with a particular sound or musical theme so that music can convey the character and no other narrative is needed. This technique is mostly associated with the term leitmotif:

(A leitmotif)...is a theme, or other coherent musical idea, clearly defined so as to retain its identity if modified on subsequent appearances, whose purpose is to represent or symbolize a person, object, place, idea, state of mind, supernatural force, or any other ingredient in a dramatic work (Whittall, 17).

This technique is seen in all of the Star Wars sagas. Each character is designated with its own musical theme to alter the audience's perceptions of the characters. For example, Darth Vader clearly has his own musical theme that is easy to designate. Its commanding, superior, and even a bit frightening--just like the character himself. The character Luke Skywalker also has his own musical theme that sounds hopeful, determined, and inspiring--the epitome of Luke Skywalker. Music is such a powerful tool that directors can implement to define their characters. Instead of having more narrative and dialogue to represent

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