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Film Music / Study 3

Is good film music truly that which is not perceived by the listener, as many filmmakers believe?

Contrary to this belief, Warner Bros. had the most success with movie music simply because it was dubbed louder (Karlin, 1994). In order to test this assumption, volume levels can be adjusted.

For example, researchers could adjust the volume levels in the scene from The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader, the villain, first appears. Subjects should be divided into three groups. The first group should be exposed to the music at such a level that almost everyone notices the music.

The second group should be exposed to average levels of sound. The third group should be exposed to a volume that is barely audible. At what volume level is music most emotionally effective?

Does the perceptibility of the music actually take away from its effectiveness? Writers have simply assumed the answer to this question; it would be nice to see some experimental evidence to this effect.

What other aspects of the music make it more perceptible besides volume levels? Is incongruent music more perceptible? Is faster music in a higher register (pitch) more perceptible? In a study, the speed and pitch of the music could be altered.

Higher pitches tend to be more perceptible alone, even when they are at the same decibel level as lower pitches (sopranos are the most detectable because they usually have the melody, but the top notes appear to be more salient, at least to Western listeners). Does this translate into salience in film scores?

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