Halloween, Non-Linear Sounds, & the Source of Our Angst


I love Halloween! 

I mean, sure, it’s no Christmas, but in the pantheon of holidays it sits at the cool kids table and can rightfully make fun of its lesser counterparts like Groundhog and Talk Like a Pirate Day. 

Now I’m NOT advocating for bullying, but when a glorified mole is your mascot and your day centers around loose fitting shirts and talking like a four year old, I’m just saying that you're asking for problems. 

So yes, I like Halloween. I like the spookiness. I like the costumes. I like the communality of your kids coming to my door and my kids going to yours. I like the signaling of the start of the season of giving thanks. I like the candy! And, I love the music! Well, love might be a strong word because it incites more fear and angst than love. But there it is, music!

I know what you’re thinking, “Wait, Halloween has a soundtrack?”

Sure it does!

Think about Psycho, or The Twilight Zone . Not sold yet? What what do you feel when you hear these two chords?

In fact, it turns out that music is one of the necessary components needed to artificially create fear. Don’t believe me?

Wanna go swimming now? Me neither and research is showing us why.

It turns out that the key to having your heart race is just as much within the purview of John Williams as it is Steven Spielberg. What makes the suspense-building chords of the Jaws theme so scary? It is the density of the chords? Is it the lower register voicing? Is it his ominous scoring? Nope.

It turns out unpredictable and irregular patter in which they occur are the source of the terror? Music that has no perceptible melody, rhythm, or harmony are called non-linear sounds, and our terrified response to them is ingrained in us from birth.

Sounds without a perceptible reason for occurring (i.e. melody, tone, rhythm, & harmony) are most associated with fear. In fact, a 2012 study has found a connection between horror movie music and the screeches of young frightened animals. 

Researchers believe there are biologically-ingrained reasons why sudden, dissonant sounds and minor chords make us apprehensive. According to a study conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles such sounds, a dissonant chord, a child’s cry, an animal’s scream, trigger a biologically ingrained response by making us think we are being threatened!

This sound driven stimuli is not limited to the big screen either, it is used in pop music, television shows, and even in political attack ads. Which explains my unnerved response every time I see one of those. 

For many music is a source of beauty. For others it's a creative outlet. And for some, it's a chance to feel things on a deeper level. 

But apparently for ALL of us it is a source of consistency, predicability and comfort. Whether we realize it or not, music innately reminds us that moments of tension will be followed by a release. That dissonance will eventually be resolved and that loud can and will be balanced by quiet. It is not written in a text book but it is known within us just the same.

Music is yet another reminder that on some level, our minds and souls require some semblance of balance and blend. That darkness requires hope and that sadness will one day yield to laughter. What the study shows is that music can provide angst and imbalance when it is not serving its intended role, which is to remind us of balance.

This is among the many reasons why music matters for young people, because it provides BALANCE.

Being a young adult is a turbulent time, and whether they realize it or not, music makes it slightly more tolerable. It balances the highs with the lows and their sadness with joy. In their ever changing world, music and YOU serves as a necessary and consistent source of reason and rationality. For many young people, YOU represent someone and something that is truly dependable. 

Yes, they need music, but more over, they need you! 

See, that’s not too scary is it? 

Have a Happy Halloween!

p.s. Just so you know, later tonight I will be pillaging my son’s Halloween haul for Butterfingers. Don’t judge me, he’s my child and I changed his diapers, so I'm taking what I want.