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Sounds Like The Shining
by Bobby Anderson

    The Shining is a movie in the horror genre. Like all movies, sound (especially music) is selected to strike the audience in certain ways. Stanley Kubrick uses the music and the lack of music to emphasize suspense, fear, and insanity of the characters.

    Suspense is a major part of any horror movie. Long tones are a way to achieve suspense; The Shining is full of such tones. Lengthy notes hold the audience to the movie. With a rhythm, the audience expects the next beat; however the audience cannot know when a long tone will end. The Torrence family first travels to the hotel and arrives at the hotel accompanied by a long, low chord. Before Halorann uses the shining to talk to Danny, the tone is drawn out, but this time high-pitched, showing how Danny himself does not know what will happen. The dialog is removed so the audience focuses on the note, not unimportant drivel. The notes played at higher pitches are more urgent than those with lower pitches. When Jack is coming up the stairs to attack Wendy, the chords start as bass chords and the pitch rises until Jack is finally hit. Afterwards, the tone drops as the audience finds that Jack is unconscious. Also, during the period when Wendy is worried about Danny's neck, a prolonged, deep note is heard under the entire dialog, emphasizing Wendy’s uneasiness. Danny's tricycle rides produce similar effects, however in this instance the audience is uneasy. Unrhythmic periods of sound and silence occur the first time Danny rides the tricycle. During his second ride (before he sees the Grady girls again) a chord plays, including high-pitched piano keys punctuating at uneven intervals; the audience is in suspense, waiting for the next note. On the day Jack is staring out the window and only his face can be seen, one continuous note is played. At another point with Jack staring at the small maze inside the house, another lengthy note is heard. This note creates extreme suspense; it foreshadows a certain event rather than a general apprehension. The chords show anxiety, and a special kind is suspense: anxiety joined with fear.

    Audio can drive dread to the heart of the audience. Music can determine when in a movie an audience is afraid, and when to listen for other important knowledge. As Halorann drives up during Jack’s rage, the music ceases. The audience receives a break from the tension. Fear is one of the most primal of emotions. Sometimes the movie’s focus is on fear, where other times the audience needs information. When Jack talking to Lloyd the bartender there is no music, the audience needs to hear and focus on what Jack is telling Lloyd. Other periods without music, such as when Jack tells Wendy to leave the typing room, let the audience contemplate what has happened rather than continuing to fear Jack's actions. Sometimes those actions alone are not enough to frighten the audience. During Halorann’s death, the silence of the house is quickly broken by loud sounds, causing the audience to be far more startled than the merely Jack’s swinging ax. Fear by association also plays a part in The Shining. Repetitive high pitched notes in a common rhythm are now a staple in the horror industry. The movies have used these musical sections in reference to stabbings, especially the stabbing in Psycho.  People have a fear of stabbing; stabbing is linked to the music, and now the music causes fear.

    Insanity flows from the house, and the visuals are startling, but would be somewhat ineffective without the musical accompaniment. The maze chase is one example. A long chord is still used for suspense, but seemingly random, high pitched, quick notes show how there are not any complete thoughts. These high pitched notes occur at key moments, such as the period where Jack is laughing and Wendy finds that the snow cat is useless, and during the "dogman" scene. The scenes all have ties to madness, either to Jack’s, or to the madness the house causes. These high pitched tones disappear after Wendy and Danny leave Jack in the icy maze, when both the volume and pitch lower. This lowering of the pitch and volume leaves the audience with a feeling of returning to normal, away from the madness in the house and in Jack. During the time Danny is yelling "redrum" no music is heard. But just as redrum is seen in the mirror, very loud, very high pitched noise blasts. This is disjointed as much as any of the other music signifying insanity, but is far louder. A semi-climax of the movie is reached when redrum is seen, the insanity foreshadowed starts to come true. Another point in the movie where random notes show psychosis occurs during the attack on Halorann. As Halorann dies, the high-pitched notes begin again. Jack returns to his madness and so too must the music. Not only do the quick notes show insanity, but the long notes eventually show insanity as well. But instead of Jack’s lunacy, these show Wendy starting to go insane. The long notes slowly become voices in the latter part of the movie. This can cause the audience to wonder, "Has the music always been voices?" This is extremely similar to Wendy’s dilemma of the hotel always seeming as sinister as it is when Jack is insane, wondering if a woman has actually been in the hotel, and if Jack has always been psychotic. The voices also have a religious aura, as if in some kind of chorus the voices are conjuring up evil. The house is not the only cause of dementia - strange music seems to cause it as well.

    Kubrick utilizes audio for the audience’s benefit. Emotions are created with the help of well placed music and sounds. The irony of the pleasant music while viewing the picture in 1921 cannot be overlooked. This music forces the spectators to remember other impressions created in The Shining. Without the spectacular sound direction, The Shining would be a rather forgettable movie, and could not possibly be the classic it is today.

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