Why Christopher Nolan is obsessed with Shepard tones.
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Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is a nerve-wracking movie. Three separate storylines tell the tale of the famed World War II evacuation in a intense two hours of film. A lot of that feeling has to do with how the film's score uses Shepard tones — layered sound waves that simulate a constant ascent in tone — to create a sensation of building tension. They're a personal favorite trick of Nolan's: he's based sound effects and entire soundtracks with other composers on the auditory illusion. In Dunkirk, composer Hans Zimmer crafted his soundtrack around the effect — and it's an auditory masterpiece.
Read Nolan's interview with Business Insider on the music of Dunkirk: [external link]
Shepard tone imagery from EnjoyPA on freesound.org: [external link]
Shepard tone sound effect from Alexander on orangefreesounds.com: [external link]
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