Leading article: Call of the wild

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Igor Stravinsky was less than impressed with the music of the movies. To the great Russian modernist composer, Hollywood scores "have the same relationship to the drama that restaurant music has to the conversation at the individual restaurant table". He regarded film music as essentially "primitive and childish". Well, it turns out that, on that last point, he was half right.

Scientists have discovered that the abrupt frequency shifts used in Hollywood film scores to heighten the intensity of moments of horror are similar to the distress calls found throughout the animal kingdom. It turns out that film composers inadvertently discovered something that terrifies the primitive parts of our brain.

Whether this revelation ought to diminish or heighten the regard in which film composers are held by their musical peers is open to debate. But it certainly helps to explain why the shower scene in Psycho is so devastatingly effective.

Composers in the 18th century believed that the tritone was a satanic musical interval. Now, thanks to Hollywood, the diabolus in musica has a competitor. Top that, Igor.