The Uncanny Sound Illusion That Creates Suspense In Christopher Nolan's Movies

Ever notice how Christopher Nolan’s movies (Interstellar, Inception, The Prestige) feel like an anxiety attack? Well, maybe that’s overstating things a bit. But the director does have a knack for creating an unnerving degree of tension. Turns out he’s using a little bit of musical magic to do it.

The magic is actually a science-based audio illusion called a Shepard tone. Named after psychologist Roger Shepard, a pioneer in our understanding of spatial relation, the effect sounds like an infinitely ascending or descending scale. The tones are constantly moving upwards or downwards, but they never seem to reach a pinnacle or nadir. This is accomplished by stacking scales on top of each other—typically one treble scale, one midrange, and one bass—with an octave in between, then playing them in a continuous loop.

A Shepard tone is sometimes referred to as the barber pole of sound. You can even see the similarity, when you hear it and look at the spectrum view of a Shepard tone. Don’t listen to this too long, or you might lose your mind:

Anyways, Christopher Nolan just loves this. With longtime collaborator Hans Zimmer, the acclaimed director has used a Shepard tone in almost every one of his films in the last decade. He even writes his scripts to match the effect. In a recent interview, Nolan explained how he used Shepard tones in his newest film, Dunkirk:

The screenplay had been written according to musical principals. There’s an audio illusion, if you will, in music called a “Shepard tone” and with my composer David Julyan on “The Prestige” we explored that and based a lot of the score around that. And it’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals.

Knowing this, you gain a deeper understanding of films like Interstellar, Inception, and The Prestige. It also explains why these films seem somehow inconclusive. A Shepard’s tone creates a conflict that can’t be resolved, just like Nolan’s plots. [Digg, Business Insider]


More Watch This Posts:

> >

Brilliant Augmented Reality App Lets You Star in Your Own '80s Music Video

By Andrew Liszewski on 27 Jul 2017 at 9:30AM

A-ha's Take On Me took 16 weeks to animate by hand, but Trixi Studios created an augmented reality app that can recreate the effect in real-time.

> >

Breathtaking Timelapses Turn Massive Stormfronts Into Swirling Masterpieces

By Andrew Liszewski on 26 Jul 2017 at 5:30PM

Mike Olbinski actually spent three months driving across 10 US states to capture this amazing timelapse footage, chasing storms and weather patterns for over 28,000 miles.

> >

Here Is Scientific Proof That Moustaches Could've Made Batman v Superman Better

By James Whitbrook on 26 Jul 2017 at 5:00PM

As this delightful video shows, couldn’t a movie be improved by extra moustaches?

> >

Here Is Scientific Proof That Moustaches Could've Made Batman v Superman Better

By James Whitbrook on 26 Jul 2017 at 4:30PM

A new video shows Supes is a thousand times when rocking a soup strainer.

Source : http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2017/07/the-uncanny-sound-illusion-that-creates-suspense-in-christopher-nolans-movies/

The Uncanny Sound Illusion That Creates Suspense in Christopher Nolan's Movies
The Morning Watch: ‘Baby Driver’ Opening Chase Mapped, ‘Dunkirk’ Sound Illusion & More
Christopher Nolan Movies Ranked From Worst To Best
Sound Off: Chris Nolan's Inception - So What Did You Think?
Christopher Nolan reveals title of third Batman film and that ‘it won’t be the Riddler’
Ranking: Every Christopher Nolan Movie from Worst to Best
Our second look at ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ digs into the bad and the ugly
Oscar Nominees Hint at Virtual Reality’s Future
Cinema Junkie by Beth Accomando
Peter Debruge’s Top 10 Films of 2014