tl;dr
PARADOX PATTERN:

when an artist introduces a strange yet somehow familiar musical contradiction, resulting in listener chills when combined effectively with an Acoustic Pattern

“Hearing the theme come back in minor on those horns is just goosebump-y.”

Technique 1:

Sonic paradox

Listen to examples

Technique 2:

Harmonic paradox

Listen to examples

Technique 3:

Tonal paradox

Listen to examples

Technique 4:

Rhythmic paradox

Listen to examples

Technique 5:

Melodic paradox

Listen to examples

How It Works

When artists use the Paradox pattern, they take advantage of our brain’s tendency to avoid uncertainty. Ambiguous situations require us to spend more energy preparing for each possible interpretation. When we suddenly encounter contradictory information (in life or in music), our brain can sometimes elicit a fear response to motivate us to escape the situation. Artists create these situations in music by sounding elements that are inherently contradictory (e.g. simultaneous close and distant versions of one sound) or by making an element introduced earlier in a piece sound strange (e,g., a theme previously in major now sounded in minor). Listeners tend to use terms like “uncanny”, “familiar-unfamiliar”, and “hauntingly beautiful” to describe these musical paradoxes.

Technique 1: Sonic paradox

Strange combinations of sounds that contradict each other. To create these paradoxes, artists bring together inverse versions of one sound (e.g. close and far at same time) or feature frequency content that does not occur in nature (e.g. “perfect” oscillators). Sonic paradoxes typically need an exposed moment, often the first note of a piece or a prominent pause, for listeners to take notice and for the contradiction to be fully effective. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Simultaneous close and distant sounds (e.g. close-miked vs. off-stage, unmuted vs. muted instruments)

— Simultaneous very high and very low sounds with no mid-range

— Unnatural frequency resonance (e.g. “perfect” oscillators like thermin, “chopped and screwed” vocals)

Genre

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

Song

Traicionera
Drop It Low
Hard to Forget
Alaska
Aqueous Transmission
Take U There
Moon Walk (First Man)
Scene D’Amour

Artist

Sebastian Yatra
Ester Dean, Chris Brown
Sam Hunt
Maggie Rogers
Incubus
Skrillex
Justin Hurwitz
Bernard Herrman

Frisson Reported by Listeners

3:23
2:25
0:16
0:01
4:32
1:22
0:01
3:06

Technique 2: Harmonic paradox

Strange inversions of functional harmony that confuse listeners. To create these paradoxes, artists manipulate a familiar element of diatonic music (e.g. chords, resolutions, counterpoint) to make it unfamiliar but still recognizable. Harmonic paradoxes need a tonal center and some of form of chordal progression off of which to deviate; listeners have to be confused but not fully disoriented to make the contradiction chills-inducing. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— “Changes” between chords made of the same notes but different voicings (e.g. Cmaj7-Emb6)

— Progressions that create contrary half-step motion between chords (e.g. I-III, I-bvi)

— Chromatically-modulation resolutions at the end of conventional cadences (e.g. V-bIII, V-#I)

Genre

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

Song

Air
IV. Sweatpants
XXX
The Apocalypse Song
Eleventh Earl of Mar
Invincible
The Axiom (Wall-E)
Sleep

Artist

Talking Heads
Childish Gambino
XXX
St. Vincent
Genesis
Big Wild, iDA HAWK
Thomas Newman
Eric Whitacre

Frisson Reported by Listeners

1:07
0:48
XXX
0:26
0:36
0:38
0:41
0:58

Technique 3: Tonal paradox

Unusual textures or scales that confuse (but don’t fully undermine) the tonal center of a piece. To create these paradoxes, artists have to keep making it seem as if the music is tonal, but hide or contradict the “home” key. Tonal paradoxes are delicate; if an artist simply shifts to atonal motion listeners may disengage with the musical flow. When these paradoxes convince listeners there is a tonal center but prevent us from locating it, that is when chills can occur. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Two simultaneous tonal centers (e.g., outright bitonality, harmony vs. melody hinting at different keys)

— “Exotic” tonal centers (e.g., Bulgarian diaphone) or unusual modes (e.g. Lydian augmented) 

— “Non-centric” motion that seems tonal but isn’t (e.g. “non-functional” cycles, symmetric scales)

Genre

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

Song

Head Over Heels
Skyfall
The Rubber Room
Found You
How To Disappear Completely
Happy Cycling
Main Title (The Matrix)
L’Histoire du soldat – Part 1.1

Artist

Tears for Fears
Travis Scott, Young Thug
Porter Wagoner
Django, Django
Radiohead
Boards of Canada
Don Davis
Stravinsky

Frisson Reported by Listeners

0:05
0:21
2:17
1:23
5:03
5:07
0:07
0:50

Technique 4: Rhythmic paradox

Contradictory rhythms and unusual meters that confuse (but don’t fully undermine) the beat. To create these paradoxes, artists temporarily undermine rhythmic consistency and symmetry, making it feel unbalanced or “off-kilter”. Rhythmic paradoxes have to be fleeting; too much inconsistency will cause listeners to disengage. When these paradoxes convince listeners there is a beat but prevent us from finding it, that is when chills can occur. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— The onset of contradictory rhythms (e.g., clashing polyrhythms, oblique motion across lines)

— The onset of asymmetric meters (e.g., 5/8, 7/16) after a section with a consistent, symmetric beat

— Constantly shifting rhythmic emphasis (e.g., alter pace of chord changes, continuously vary meter)

Genre

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

Song

Solsbury Hill
Numbers on the Boards
The Git Up
Pyramid Song
Lateralus
Strobe
Imhotep (The Mummy)
Short Ride In A Fast Machine

Artist

Peter Gabriel
Pusha T
Blanco Brown
Radiohead
Tool
deadmau5
Jerry Goldsmith
John Adams

Frisson Reported by Listeners

0:59
0:06
0:19
0:03
5:38
5:34
0:33
0:15

Technique 5: Melodic paradox

Transformative covers or variations of a familiar song or theme that are strangely different – but still recognizable. To create these paradoxes, artists alter as much as possible around a melody (e.g., tempo, harmony, rhythm, arrangement/genre) so that the same notes convey new emotional content. (Note: Qbrio cannot yet recognize this technique because it requires context outside of an individual audio file).

Genre

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

Song

All I Want for Christmas Is You
I Got 5 On It (Tethered Mix)
The Scientist
Halo
The Sound of Silence
Adagio for Strings
Once Upon A Dream
Goldberg Variation 1

Artist

Chase Holfelder
Michael Abels
Willie Nelson
L.P.
Disturbed
Tiësto
Lana Del Rey
Bach

Frisson Reported by Listeners

1:58
0:29
0:29
1:45
3:04
1:25
0:19
0:01

Listens to more examples in the Qbrio Library