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This is a fairly informal -and maybe speculative- question, but I was recently browsing Youtube, when I happened upon the Spongebob Squarepants Outro. Quickly overcome with nostalgia, I clicked on the video and listened to the song, but when I looked at the comments on the video, countless people were writing about how the song creepes them out. Personally, I thought that the song seemed like the ending song to a melancholy movie, but that's just me.

I was thinking about it more, when I rembered another song that I had listened to a while ago called, Two Weeks, by Grizzly Bear. In the comments section for that video, someone had written that the song was "eerie" and, as a reply to the comment, another user said that that was attributed to the music being played in the Lydian mode.

Is there a "mode," which the above Spongebob song was played in that can generally be attributed to people finding it creepy?

If so, is there a range or some way that "modes" are related that makes people generally find them creepy, happy, sad, etc...?

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    In the case of the Spongebob theme I don't think it's music theory as much as production. It sounds like at least one instrument is repeatedly going in and out of tuning, which is probably intentional to make it sound like the music is coming from underwater. But that is a weird sound that could make listeners find it strange and unsettling, since normally we expect solid tuning when we listen to professional music. – Todd Wilcox Aug 1 '16 at 2:26
  • There are scales, chords and intervals which one could point to as being creepy (or sad or happy etc) in one context, but there will always be counterexamples. Are minor songs always sad? Of course not. You mention the Lydian mode. It has that sharpened 4th which makes it sound odd, a bit out of kilter, and yes possibly creepy, but there are melodies which use it which are anything but creepy. A most apt example springs to mind - The Simpsons theme tune. – Bacs Aug 1 '16 at 13:19
  • This episode of the 99% Invisible podcast is fascinating and quite a propos the subject of this question. – José David Aug 2 '16 at 17:28
  • Creepy like atonal Boulez stuff creepy? – General Nuisance Dec 13 '16 at 2:59
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The comments already given are very good. There are a couple things I'd like to add:

First, the issue of instrument tuning is a very popular way of creating this effect. Indeed, in the second movement of Mahler's fourth symphony he calls for a solo violin tuned a major second higher to give it this otherworldly effect. (This is officially called "scordatura" tuning.)

Second, I think in a lot of cases an "aspect" of music like it being "creepy" or "heroic" are cultural conditionings. Thus there's not always one single aspect that makes something sound creepy, but it might actually be some hidden cultural connection that makes the listener equate it with some creepy experience, thereby making it sound creepy.

Lastly, I remembered seeing a list of creepy video game music a few years back. I checked out some of the pieces, and most of them used extended slow glissandi in various instruments (typically strings). To me that can easily be equated to human screams or even something like scratching one's fingers down a chalkboard. (One piece I listened to actually has outright sobbing in the music.) In any event, both of these are cultural connections, and I think that's probably what really makes something sound creepy.

It's true that octatonic music, especially to the uninitiated, sounds really "off-kilter" and as if there's always one note just slightly off. But it terms of "creepy," I think these are really cultural issues.

  • Are there any particular aspects of music which have universal connotations to your knowledge? – Morella Almånd Aug 1 '16 at 14:19
  • Interesting question. I'm not really certain; the only ones I'll suggest for sure are traits that play on our evolutionary history. A group of deep, loud male voices tend to get us excited, likely because it's evolutionarily connected to the hunt. – Richard Aug 1 '16 at 14:22
  • Whether or not there are "universal connotations" regarding the effects of sounds on humans is really a question about anthropology, not music. – user19146 Aug 1 '16 at 17:12
  • Greetings from Freund Hein! – pr1268 Aug 3 '16 at 0:28
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My 2 cents.....you can combine the chords that fit any particular mode and indeed make some really "creepy" music. I listened to the OP's links. The Spongebob tune was pretty stupid and not creepy at all....the Grizzly bear tune was just crappy pop music. If you want a good example of "creepy" then listen to what I composed using the "Prometheus scale". Alexander Scriabin, a Russian composer created this synthetic scale for his "Poem of fire".......I was intrigued by this and made my own composition....it's just an unsettling and "creepy" ominous tune. But I think this has to be in the top 100 creepy tunes......click the link>>>>
Pleroma II

  • Hey, welcome to the site. To me, this answer comes across as quite self-promoting; in fact, it might verge on spam. I think you could have an interesting point regarding Scriabin. It might be worth making this the main focus of your answer, and adding some more detail? Be sure to answer the question, as well. As it reads now, it seems to just point people to your composition. – endorph Dec 13 '16 at 5:30

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