Seasonal Music, Anyone?

Baltimore, with all of its unabashed quirkiness, is a truly excellent place to spend Halloween. Last weekend included lots of Halloween activities, including the Patterson Park Lantern Parade, a Halloween-themed birthday gathering, and the all-important placement of our newest family member, Shel the Skeleton.

Shel the Skeleton

During the party as we all chatted over pumpkin cake, I suddenly noticed that the music playing sounded familiar. It was a small chamber ensemble including strings, clarinet, and accordion with a slightly tango-ish feeling. I asked the hostess if it was Piazzolla, and she said, “Yes! I spent all morning digging through the CDs to find some music that sounded spooky!”

Wait, what? Piazzolla sounds spooky? I have always thought of Piazzolla as the ultimately joyful and decidedly not spooky music!

We took a poll and, in the end, about half the party agreed with the spooky moniker, while half did not. I wonder what made it sound spooky to people—was it the presence of accordion in the mix? The harmonic language? The angular melodic lines of nuevo tango? No one could pinpoint exactly why they experienced it that way, or for that matter, why they didn’t.

Clearly some other creative, quirky minds have put a lot of thought into such things. Turns out that along with Penderecki and Lutoslawski, Hildegard and Fauré (!) are perfect for those final moments before the Zombies get you.

Music for the Zombie Apocalypse

And we mustn’t forget about the creepy factor in the music of Wagner. Vegetarians, avert your eyes.

Bleeding Chunks of Wagner

Jaw, meet floor. I don’t know what on earth they are slipping into the water cooler over there at Naxos, but I think I might want to try some.

4 thoughts on “Seasonal Music, Anyone?

  1. dB

    I think people hear Piazzolla as creepy precisely because it is so joyful; that is, they hear it as so joyful that something is a little off. In the same way, a music box can be heard as unadulterated innocence or creepy as hell, depending on who’s listening to it. People rely heavily on context (or in the absence of an explicit context, their own baggage) to determine how they hear it. Depending on their exposure to Piazzolla, people may also associate his music with the kind of creepy opening credits to Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys.”

    To me, what really defines “spookiness” (specifically when the artists/producers are trying to invoke spookiness) is a spareness of texture and a lot of reverb. Usually, intentionally spooky music lays it on pretty thick with sound effects and occasional Vincent Price cameos.

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  2. Pingback: happy halloween! « quiet.quiet.quiet.

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