Film Music 101: Empathetic Sound


The term I’d like to discuss today is empathetic sound

Empathetic sound occurs when the music or sound effects in a film create a mood that matches the action taking place on the screen.

So an easy example of this would be in any love scene ever created for Hollywood. You’ve probably seen the set up at least a hundred times: the guy or the girl has just said something deeply meaningful; they turn and slowly look into each others eyes; and just as they lean in to kiss…the strings in the orchestra swell up and create this deeply romantic moment as they finally kiss and acknowledge their love! (Don’t believe me? Just go to Youtube and look up famous love scenes from movies, I dare you.)

From The Adventures of Robin Hood (1937)…
to Attack of the Clones (2002) and beyond…it’s always the same!

Another good example is action sequences. For the music to be empathetic, the music needs to be fast paced, frenetic, and truthfully rather choppy to match up to the action. The Marvel movies tend to have great examples of empathetic sound in their fight scenes (and also good examples of anempathetic sound, but that’s a post for another day). A really good example comes from Marvel’s The Avengers (2012). Picture the scene during the battle in New York when all the Avengers are standing back to back in a circle and the camera pans around to look at each of them. The music is clearly projecting “hero mode” because the stars are basically in what i like to call their “heroic pose moment.”

All the heroes in one shot!


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