Music for Horror Art : Just as music informs the horror film, so can music make a scary painting scarier. Generally speaking, music can deepen the experience of visual art by setting the mood, suggesting a narrative, or defining the space in which the artwork resides. In the monster art genre, our understanding of the story behind the image can contribute a lot to our connection and response to the work. An image inspired by the classic wolf-man legend serves as an example. The wolf-man story is that of a man helplessly transformed into a monster at the waxing of the full moon. When we are familiar with the background, our response to the painting is more complex and troubling. Feelings of pity mingle with those of repugnance and fear. A musical cue, such as a wolf howl, can trigger the background associations which deepen our experience of the visual piece. A less obvious but perhaps more powerful approach to using music to enrich the experience of the wolf-man painting might be to develop sonically the underlying theme of tragic transformation. If this theme is at the root of our horror, then the horror may be amplified by music exploring the same idea.
Monster art is essentially portrait art, and as such the singular subject is central to the presentation. Consider a vampire painting. Even as we appreciate the richly detailed subject, which usually includes prominent fangs and some blood dripping from the corners of the mouth, we may feel some deficit of contextual information. Vampire lore is replete with associations which might be developed sonically to offer contextual background or narrative for the visual presentation of a monstrous blood drinker. A baby’s cry might suggest that a terrible ritual of human sacrifice is underway. Organ music, with its allusions to Church, might offer the troubling sub-narrative of destructive evil occupying a holy place.
The horror genre sometimes utilizes paradigm shifts to achieve the terrifying effect. Paintings of evil clowns, for example, are extremely powerful and troubling because of a paradigm shift which occurs. An evil clown is creepy because we associate clowns with laughter and love of children. We are drawn even to the evil clown, despite his monstrous intent, because of deeply rooted expectations. The music accompanying the painting of an evil clown can also play to the theme of paradigms turned upside down. A familiar carnival melody and the laughter of children might give way to low, brooding tones and evil chuckles. A girl’s laughter might turn to nervous screams, suggesting her discovery that the clown means her some harm. As with the wolf-man example, the music may amplify an underlying theme in the painting. Here that theme is horrific paradigm shifts. Similar to the vampire illustration, the music can suggest a narrative which expands on the somewhat limited information available to us in the portrait painting. Here, the music suggests a hideous aggression against an innocent girl.
In the monster art genre, which shares some of the limitations of portrait art, it can be seen that music may provide additional contextual information or remind us about the legends associated with the paintings. But is may be that the most powerful contribution music can make is to explore in sound the underlying themes, such as horrific transformation or troubling paradigm shift, which operate under the surface to create the terrifying effect.