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Topic: How to make a melody scary?

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  1. #1
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    How to make a melody scary?

    I'm working on a horror film right now. The director is insisting on a concrete defining melody for the main theme except every time I write something "melodic" it detracts from the scariness of the deep, brooding durges that I'm writing and lightens it up and makes it much more "enjoyable" which is exactly what I don't want. How do you guys write/orchestrate a melody within a piece that's supposed to be totally dark/intense? Can you think of any examples where this is done successfully in contemporary horror scores?

    TIA,
    Jamey

  2. #2
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    Re: How to make a melody scary?

    Chromaticism!! Dissonance! Pause for everyone to go, "Well, Duuuhhh!"
    If it's within the director's requirements, score it for medium-to-low range instruments as the core, with optional "scream (violins/flutes/piccolo)" octave doublings.

    I have a short mp3 I created recently which re-asserted my belief in these devices as basic building blocks of "Scary" music. I've no webspace, but if you'd like to hear it, drop me a pm.

    Good luck,
    Belbin

  3. #3

    Re: How to make a melody scary?

    One idea is perhaps to not think about the musical content of the melody in question, but how it's presented. i.e. taking the melody and juxtaposing it on top of something else that throws the "enjoyability" part out the window since it would be somewhat jarring and creepy. Just something to think about. Identify what about the movie is so frightening and apply that to your melody. I agree though, that melodies in general are somewhat difficult to make "scary" without either being enjoyable or cheesy.

  4. #4
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    Re: How to make a melody scary?

    Quote Originally Posted by IOComposer
    Can you think of any examples where this is done successfully in contemporary horror scores?
    TIA,
    Jamey
    Think Herrmann - and forget about melodies Jamey.

  5. #5

    Re: How to make a melody scary?

    Quote Originally Posted by PaulR
    Think Herrmann - and forget about melodies Jamey.
    Exactly.

    Try Vertigo, Psycho, etc. (Hitchcock)
    And the score to Psycho proves you can be scary with a rhythm, and not just broody low notes, which can 'wear off quickly' and sound very funereal in a short time. (Jaws, another good example)

    You'll only need a couple of listens to get the idea. Great musical picture painting without complicated orchestration.

    Alex.

  6. #6

    Re: How to make a melody scary?

    I was watching another "____ OF THE DEAD" movie the other day (Can't remember which one).

    There were a lot of low dissonant pads, like chromatic cello+bass tremolos and scratches with a lot of huge reverb. So, sound textures, weird ambient dissonant pads but they were staying in the background and not taking over the sound.

    Lots of high strings, non vibrato... cold strings with a thin sound. Like Sul ponticelo. Sometimes they got dissonant. The volume would go up in the scary and tense parts and perhaps some of the bass instruments would kick in when there was a climax.

    Use percussions here and there with a very fast attack. Fast attack percs are scary out of the blue. Compress, limit, put some bass and reverb. Make them biiig!

    what else........ you could change natural voice sounds with lots of effects. For example you could take a female scream and put so many effects like reverbs and delays that it won't sound like a scream no more. But the feeling will be there somehow.

    And use intervals that are the same as B to F . A tritone or something
    Theo Krueger - Composer

    www.TheoKrueger.com

    Kontakt 2 Scripts

  7. #7
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    Re: How to make a melody scary?

    IMHO, a good example of dark, forboding, scary melody that actualy has a good rhythm as well, is the theme to the original 'Halloween'.

    --edit-- another good example of the above description I gave - somewhat on the opposite end of the musical spectrum in a way, is the 'Jaws' theme.

  8. #8
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    Re: How to make a melody scary?

    Quote Originally Posted by belbin
    Chromaticism!! Dissonance! Pause for everyone to go, "Well, Duuuhhh!"
    If it's within the director's requirements, score it for medium-to-low range instruments as the core, with optional "scream (violins/flutes/piccolo)" octave doublings.
    Hmm. I couldn't think of anything possibly less scary than flutes and piccolos. Here's the trick...in this particular case, the strings are all very busy with the rhythm and background (very chromatic and dissonant) which is unanimously adored by all involved, so I don't really have strings playing melodies as an option. Right now I have a piano banging out this melody in octaves and it sounds pretty good because it makes it more of a percussive effect but still gives it a melodic flavor. There's still something about it that makes me think "isn't that lovely", which ain't cool.

    I'm more looking for cited examples of melodies in modern horror films, if anyone can think of examples.

    Thanks for the input.
    -Jamey

  9. #9

    Re: How to make a melody scary?

    .. and not to forget: Fear usually has many "stages". There's the "sudden chock" fear of course, but everything else usually starts out by creeping up on you .. sort of "monster around the corner" feeling .. then there's a climactic moment and release. Thinking from that angle usually helps me to approach a solution for it.
    I agree with many of the above. The more melodic the more harmonic, and harmonic means "in tune" .. it means things feel pretty much ok. The further away you go from harmonic, the more confusing and insecure it gets. Insecurity and confusion commands attention from the mind, just like fear does .. the minds needs a solution, it's looking for a way to solve the pattern, a way back into secure and comfortable again.

    OAAHH !!
    Kid: When I become an adult I wanna be a musician.
    Parent: Son, you cannot become both.

  10. #10

    Re: How to make a melody scary?

    It sounds like the director wants a memorable theme, not necessarily a sing-along melody. Think Tubular Bells, or the opening notes to Saint Saen's Danse Macabre.

    Then again, the theme for Young Frankenstein is melodic. It's also intensely expressive. Consider creating music from a key character's perspective. (The YF music portrayed the anguish of the monster.) And consider a live performer for the critical solo line. They may be able to show an edge that samples tend to hide.

    -JF

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