QUESTION 1) Did you ever notice, when watching a TV show or a film, that the agent of emotion is neither the story line nor the visual effects, but the music? The musical score tells us when to cry or get really scared. Indeed, the idea that sound is the most powerful external stimulus we experience is a principal theme of this book. We are affected not so much by what we see as by what we hear.
Let’s test this assertion by viewing a portion of a classic Hollywood thriller, Psycho (1960). We all know the famous “murder in the shower” scene, so let’s move on to the next murder, the one on the stairs. Here, Norman Bates (dressed as his mother) murders investigating detective Milton Arbogast as he ascends a set of stairs that he really shouldn’t. Director Alfred Hitchcock charged composer Bernard Herrmann with creating appropriately terrifying music, and Hermann obliged, using his tried and true techniques. First, the music begins with suspenseful, quiet string tremolos and a rise in pitch to build tension. Suddenly, screeching strings cut loose again, an effect created by means of a technique Hector Berlioz had created 130 years earlier (col legno, with the wood; see Chapter 18). The violinists strike the strings, not with the horsehair of the bow, but with its wooden stick. Attacking violently and playing with the highest volume adds to the shocking effect. Watch the scene now, and tell us, does it frighten you?
QUESTION 2) Now watch the scene again, but turn down the volume to zero. What about now, are you frightened by what you see?