tl;dr

AGGRESSION PATTERN:

when an artist suddenly features one of five auditory cues that indicate hostility, resulting in listener chills when combined effectively with a Structural Pattern

“That growling sound on the bass guitar makes the hair on my neck stand up.”

Technique 1:

Acoustic “roughness”

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Technique 2:

Spectral non-linearities

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Technique 3:

Sub-bass resonance

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Technique 4:

Descending contours

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Technique 5:

Concentrated “bursts”

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How It Works

When artists use the Aggression pattern, they take advantage of schemas in our memory that link certain signals with danger. Roars, growls, yells, shouts, and snarls all share a set of rare, distinct acoustic features. Dangerous natural events like earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis, avalanches, and thunder also produce these features (and some researchers believe human aggression vocalizations evolved by mimicking these natural events). When we hear a cue that matches a stored schema (e.g. growling -> threat), our brain “fast tracks” this information and puts us on alert. When musicians feature danger cues, they can trigger a fear response which, when effectively integrated into the musical flow, can move listeners to the point of chills.

Aggression and Size cues share many technical features and tend to appear together.

Top Acoustic Pattern pairing:

Top Structural Pattern pairing:

Genre that most uses pattern:

Epic
Surprise
Rock/Metal

Technique 1: Low pitch with acoustic “roughness” 

Acoustic roughness – rapid fluctuations in loudness we perceive as beating or rattling – is one of the main hostility cues used by humans and animals. You know it when you hear it; it’s like a strobe light for sound. The amplitude modulations in rough sounds are fast (e.g. 30-150 Hz vs. 4 Hz for normal speech) and vary irregularly in rate and “height”. When artists suddenly introduce low-pitched rough sounds, this can often trigger a danger schema and induce listener chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are: 

— Vocal growling techniques, especially on held vowels where an open mouth helps boost modulation rates 

— Distortion on certain instruments with large resonators (e.g., bass trombone, double basses, baritone sax)

— Samples of high-roughness sounds (e.g. car engine revs, animal growls, thunder claps)

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

This Is America
Blood on the Leaves
One Number Away
Everbody Talks
Fiddler on the Green
Magnets (Hopkins Remix)
Bathroom Dance (Joker)
Also Sprach Zarathusra – Mvt. 7

Artist

Childish Gambino
Kanye West
Luke Combs
Neon Trees
Demons and Wizards
Disclosure
Hildur Guðnadóttir
Richard Strauss

Frisson Reported by Listeners

0:48
1:07
2:58
0:59
3:36
4:20
1:24
1:20

Technique 2: Low pitch with spectral non-linearities

Spectral non-linearities – “noisy” distortions between and outside the natural harmonics of a sound source – are another hostility cue used by humans and animals. Non-linearities like sidebands, warbles, broadband noise result from resonators being strained either below (Aggression) or above (Alarm) their natural range. When artists suddenly introduce low-pitched sounds with non-linearities, this can often trigger a danger schema and induce listener chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are: 

— Vocal distortions (e.g., fry screams, rasp, squeals) and aggression cries (e.g. shouting, yelling)

— Strained notes below the natural range of reed, brass, or string instruments 

— Production techniques (e.g. using modulation index to create sidebands) and samples (e.g. panther shriek)

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

Mah’s Joint (feat. Quincy Jones)
Mo Bamba
XXX
Cochise
Flying Whales
Spoiler
Sovngarde (Skyrim)
Creation of Earth

Artist

Jon Bellion
Sheck Wes
XXX
Audioslave
Gojira
Hyper
Jeremy Soule
Thomas Bergersen

Frisson Reported by Listeners

5:52
1:41
2:13
3:01
7:03
0:42
1:39
0:59

Technique 3: Sub-bass resonsance

Low-pitched notes that resonate in the upper infrasonic (15-20Hz) or sub-bass (20-60 Hz) parts of the spectrum are an indirect hostility cue. We can’t truly hear sound in infrasonic range, but rather experience it as a subtle rumbling sensation. Given that dangerous natural events like earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunami produce infrasonic vibration, it’s thought that very low notes – by mimicking these acoustic events – can trigger a danger schema and induce listener chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are: 

— Vocal techniques that produce subharmonics (karygyraa, cantu e tenore, basso profundo)

— Certain instruments with a very low natural range (e.g. tuba, double bass with extension, bass clarinet)

— Electronic sub-bass effects, which often irregularly “wobble” to make them more noticeable

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

Mi Gente
OKRA
Whipporwills and Freight Trains
XXX
Fade To Black
Never Be Like You (feat. Kai)
Coffee on the Mile (Green Mile)
We Bow Down To Your Cross

Artist

J Balvin
Tyler, the Creator
Trace Adkins
XXX
Metallica
Flume
Thomas Newman
The Orthodox Singers

Frisson Reported by Listeners

0:37
1:42
3:22
X:XX
2:00
1:09
0:40
3:41

Technique 4: Descending contours

Downward, non-linear glissandos are another indirect hostility cue. This cue involves certain prolonged notes that slide from a low to a very low register. Given that humans (animals) tend to lower their voice in a gliding way when suddenly transitioning from speaking to growling, it is thought that descending contours – by mimicking the “shape” of aggressive vocalizations – can trigger a danger schema and induce listeners chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Long, slow glides (3-4 sec) at exposed moments

— Fast glides (1-2 sec) that reinforce transitions

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

Blank Space
XXX
She’s Country
XXX
Mr. Crowley
Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites
We Need Our Army Back
The Beast

Artist

Taylor Swift
XXX
Jason Aldean
XXX
Ozzy Osborne
Skrillex
Hans Zimmer
Jóhann Jóhannsson

Frisson Reported by Listeners

0:44-0:45
From 2:00
1:45-1:46
From 2:50
2:41-2:44
0:41-0:42
3:10-3:13
0:00-0:04

Technique 5: Concentrated “bursts:

Downward shifts in pitch that concentrate acoustic energy in the 2.8-3.5 kHz range are another hostility cue used by humans (and animals). These fast-attack “bursts” focus sound in the precise spectrum range that mirrors the resonant cavity of the human ear drum. Given that predators produce burst sounds to startle and catch prey, it’s thought that when artists feature concentrated bursts in music they can trigger an underlying danger schema and induce listener chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are: 

— Pre-burst “distractions” to make a drop more surprising

— Fast-attack timbres well-suited to concentrated acoustic energy (e.g. impulse sources like percussion)

— Production tools to increase cohesion of burst (e.g. switching tracks from separate to same reverb channel)

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

The Hills
The Search
Old Town Road – Remix
Alligator
Chop Suey
Animals
With Love Great Waterfall
String Quartet No. 8 – Mvt. 2

Artist

The Weeknd
NF
Lil Nas X
Of Monsters and Men
System of a Down
Martin Garrix
John Powell
Shostakovich

Frisson Reported by Listeners

0:44
1:24
1:57
1:38
2:35
1:52
1:17
0:55

Listen to more examples in the Qbrio Library