tl;dr
ALARM PATTERN:

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

“Absolutely blood-curdling. Roger Daltrey’s scream gives me cold chills..”

Technique 1:

Acoustic “roughness”

Listen to examples

Technique 2:

Spectral non-linearities

Listen to examples

Technique 3:

High-range resonance

Listen to examples

Technique 4:

Upward, arced contours

Listen to examples

Technique 5:

Concentrated “bursts”

Listen to examples

How It Works

When artists use the Alarm pattern, they feature sounds that directly active our amygdala, a brain region that helps us respond to threats. Screams, shrieks, sirens, squeals, and yelps all share a set of rare, distinct features. These features are difficult to produce, which helps them serve as honest signals of danger and avoiding the boy-who-cried-wolf problem. Humans (and animals) have evolved to link these sounds with danger. If we hear a cue that triggers our amygdala, our brain “fast tracks” this info and puts us on alert. When effectively integrated into the musical flow, this can move listeners to the point of chills.

Alarm and Grief cues share many technical features and tend to appear together.

Top Acoustic Pattern pairing:

Top Structural Pattern pairing:

Genre that most uses pattern:

Aggression
Surprise
Film/Games

Cue #1: Acoustic roughness at high pitch

Rapid, irregular fluctuations in loudness that we perceive as beating or rattling (e.g. 30-150 Hz vs. 4 Hz for normal speech). Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Single high-modulation rate tones (e.g. vocal screams, electronic tremolo effects, flutter tongue on flute) 

— Two interfering tones (e.g., minor second, tritone, major seventh as held chord or trill between notes)

— Many staggered sound sources (e.g. random, continuous plucked high notes across string section)

Genre

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

Song

claws
Vossi Bop
Appointments
Feel To Follow
Helter Skelter
Jubel
End Titles (Predator 2)
Requiem – Dies Irae

Artist

Charli XCX
Stormzy
Julien Baker
The Maccabees
The Beatles
Klingande
Alan Silvestri
Verdi

Frisson Reported by Listeners

1:39
2:33
2:18
2:54
2:59
1:39
3:24
0:07

Cue #2: Spectral non-linearities at high pitch

“Noisy” distortions between and outside the natural harmonics of a sound source (e.g, sidebands, warbles, broadband noise). Some of the ways artists implement this technique are

— Strained vocals (e.g. screams in lead vocals, samples of real human or animal screams)

— Strained instruments (e.g. string “screeches” , “overblown” reeds, brass “squeals”, metallic percussion)

— Artificial distortion via production/recording techniques

Genre

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

Song

Gethsemane
King Kunta
Ophelia
Skyscrapers
Limousine
Puzzle
Lipstick to Void
Threnody to Hiroshima

Artist

Ted Neeley
Kendrick Lamar
The Lumineers
OK Go
Brand New
Jeremy Zuckerman
Mica Levi
Penderecki

Frisson Reported by Listeners

2:26
3:04
1:25
2:49
1:49
1:33
3:27
9:08

Cue #3: High-range resonance

Whistle-like shrieks and chirps that resonate in the upper mid-range or lower high-end parts of the frequency spectrum and are especially piercing. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are: 

— Extended vocal techniques like whistle register in pop music and coloratura sopranos in classical music

— High notes on instruments with constricted mouthpieces (e.g., whistles, fipple flutes like the recorder)

— Samples of air or steam whistles (and similar electronic instruments)

Genre

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

Song

Don’t Call Me Up
Bird Machine
Hall of Fame
Montana
Nightrain (live)
Levels
De Ushuaia a La Quiaca
Queen of the Night

Artist

Mabel
DJ Snake, Alesia
Gabby Barrett
Youth Lagoon
Slash, Myles Kennedy
Avicii
Gustavo Santaolalla
Mozart

Frisson Reported by Listeners

2:34
1:36
1:12
0:44
2:44
2:40
2:42
1:07

Cue #4: Upward, arced contours

Siren-like gliding notes that rise in pitch (and usually loudness) into a pronounced peak that grabs listener attention. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are: 

— Fast, high sirens with acoustic energy concentrated in the peak  (like a police siren)

— Slow, lower sirens with acoustic energy spend in the longer rise and fall (like an air raid siren)

Genre

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

Song

Take On Me
Boss B**ch
I Hope
How To Disappear Completely
Kashmir
Cavity
Sea Wall (Blade Runner 2049)
Afro Blue

Artist

a-ha
Doja Cat
Gabby Barrett
Radiohead
Led Zeppelin
Hundred Waters
Hans Zimmer
John Coltrane

Frisson Reported by Listeners

1:59
1:44
2:08
5:07
4:18
2:14
3:15
4:50

Cue #5: Concentrated “bursts” at high pitch

Fast-attack, staccato notes that concentrate energy in the 2.8-3.5 kHz range (the precise range that mirrors the resonant cavity of the human ear drum). Some of the ways artists implement this technique are: 

— Singing and production techniques that bring out key formants (e.g., squillo singing, formant-shifter plugins)

— Certain high-brightness timbres (e.g., bagpipes, piccolo, bugle)

— Embellishment with leaps and phrasing (e.g., use burst after quiet, sparse section to make more jarring)

Genre

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

Song

Seasons of Love
Duckworth
Sirens
Snookered
Highway Tune
Edge
Imhotep (The Mummy)
Di Quella Pira

Artist

Tracie Thomas
Kendrick Lamar
Lee Brice
Dan Deacon
Greta Van Fleet
Rezz
Jerry Goldsmith
Pavarotti

Frisson Reported by Listeners

2:41
3:37
1:11
4:15
0:15
2:33
2:50
2:03

Listen to more examples in the Qbrio Library