I am presenting a paper on experimental sound design in film and it's relationship with frequency and emotional response. I have a fair amount of material that I am researching (sadly there is very little in frequency and emotional response in relation to sound) and I have a few examples (Lynch. Aronofsky, Jadorowsky) but I am looking for a few more examples both from the commercial and experimental arena. I am also looking for information regarding any research I am not be aware of linking sound and emotion- there is lots on music and emotion but for sound- no.

Hope you can all help.

Thank you

  • How do you define "experimental"?
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 13:14
  • That is a tough one because our jobs are to "experiment". I think in this case it is how frequency causes an emotional response but what is it about the frequency that makes us happy, sad, scared etc. There are the sonic formulaic norms which are used by commercial films to cause predetermined responses but I am think of more interesting, innovative ones that are not as well know but as effective.
    – oinkaudio
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 12:21
  • I hope you understand how complicated thing sound induced emotions are, unless their perception is close to being about primitive reactions (e.g. a sudden loud sound scares people) or they're studied only inside a particular culture. It's relative to the entire cultural background that an individual has. A Japanese person may feel differently than an American by the same cause, because a Japanese has been grown to a different culture where some things have different meanings. For example, we don't usually understand eastern music very well, because we've grown to western traditions.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 12:35
  • I totally agree with you 0.5piRC. Sound is culturally subjective and what makes some people happy within an environment may make another culture melancoly. Music is the best example and different cultures apply different scales to make music. To the western ear it is "out of tune" but to the culture in question, it is perfectly normal.
    – oinkaudio
    Commented Sep 25, 2013 at 12:24

3 Answers 3


Pick up the book Audio-Vision by Michel Chion.

It describes one version of the foundations of "using sound to evoke emotions in motion pictures". And draws examples and example film scenes to argue them.

Arguing how frequency content "defines" emotion is not straightforward. Acoustically we can say that certain frequencies have certain qualities (e.g. soft, harsh, piercing, honky, dark, bright). But in soundtracks there aren't individual frequencies, not necessarily even individual instruments or sounds. Thus you'd need to argue starting from the grounding of "what makes a certain sound sound in a particular way (e.g. soft, harsh, piercing, honky, dark, bright ...)" and generalize that to how the same properties may be used in any sound, which can be e.g. in a film scene and which has similar properties than the "pure" example sounds that you drew earlier. Additionally you may want to test it on subjects. At the same time the conclusion is trivial, we all know that sounds with certain properties make us feel in a particular way, but we may not specifically know and cannot know, why it happens (i.e. is it really deducible from some particular frequency content or whether there's much more to it, or whether the results vary from person to person and how much, or if the properties are context-dependent like they are in a soundtrack mix). Thus arguing from the point of "frequency content" might be too much of a simplification. A sound quality or property does not necessarily translate to "emotion" (or a particular type of emotion).


Try this link; why certain food-names sound delicate or heavy.


Not a whole lot there, but may be worth digging into to find something closer to what you're after.


I really like this subject, I have not seen much research covering this field but i really would like more research to be done in this area. And i think it is of importance, just like knowing what different parts of our brain do. To know how people react to dynamic range and frequency content could change the way much in the business of sound is being done. It could change how consumer headphones are made, how records are mastered, how acoustic spaces are being designed. And still not much research is being done in this area from what i know.

If you are interested in emotions in various frequency content then i would recommend you to look into how Ben Burtt designed the sound to the movie Wall-E. I really love his work and i think he through sound design did a great work in adding emotions through sound to the different robots and other sound sources in this movie.

This little documentary might not cover the frequency:emotion area but it is a bit interesting i think if you do like how sound design could affect our emotions.

Good luck with your paper


  • Note, acoustical and electrical engineers know very well how audio physics work, even in psychoacoustics. There is scientific/technical information out there, which has been mostly produced by scientists and engineers. But there's much less artistic information and art research, because it's more difficult to quantify or formalize (art perception, taste and emotions tend to be fairly subjective). The mentioned book Audio-Vision is a foundational work regarding the emotional use of sound in motion pictures.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 23:23

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