Inside the Auditory Illusion That Makes Hans Zimmer’s Movie Scores So Anxiety-Producing

© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC
© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC

You may not know what a Shepard tone is, but you’d definitely recognize one if you heard it. This is especially true if you’ve seen any movie by Christopher Nolan and his longtime collaborator Hans Zimmer, the Hollywood composer whose style is imitated in just about every blockbuster action movie you’ve seen in the past two decades.

A Shepard tone is an illusion that makes the audio sound like a musical scale that’s infinitely rising. The explainer below from Vox goes into how Zimmer’s passion for Shepard tones achieves the tense feelings Nolan wants to evoke in his audience. You can hear it in the recently released Dunkirk, but whether or not you’ve seen the World War II film, you’ll recognize the effect. It could also be familiar to you from Super Mario 64’s endless stairs sequence or from the end of The Beatles song “I Am the Walrus.”

A Shepard tone works by layering multiple different tones that are separated by an octave each. The highest tone gets quieter as it goes up. The lowest tone gets louder as it goes up and the tone in the middle stays at the same volume. You always hear at least two of the tones rising, so to your brain it sounds like it’s one constant ascending tone. (Or descending.) As Vox’s Christophe Haubursin explains, “It’s like a barber’s pole, constantly seeming to rise without actually going anywhere. Put that in a soundtrack, and it creates the sound of rising tension that carries the screenplay forward.”

And it isn’t just used in scores. In the 2008 movie The Dark Knight—another Nolan/Zimmer film—a Shepard tone was used to create the acceleration sound effects for the Batpod. According to Richard King, the movie’s sound designer, “When played on a keyboard, it gives the illusion of greater and greater speed; the pod appears unstoppable.” As is your anxiety while listening.

This may be the one explainer video that will truly keep you on the edge of your seat.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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Larry David Shared His Favorite Episode of Seinfeld

Larry David at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009.
Larry David at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009.
David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Last week, Seth Meyers hosted a virtual Seinfeld reunion with Larry David, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Jason Alexander to benefit Texas Democrats. Amid all the other reminiscing, the sitcom veterans got to talking about their favorite episodes of the show.

Louis-Dreyfus answered with “The Soup Nazi,” in which her character Elaine inadvertently causes the greatest (and most high-strung) soup chef in town to shut down his shop. For Alexander, it was “The Marine Biologist,” where his character George masquerades as a marine biologist on a date and ends up rescuing a beached whale.

Larry David’s response, “The Contest,” generated almost as much conversation as the episode itself did when it aired during season 4. In it, the show’s four main characters compete to see who can abstain from self-pleasure the longest, proving themselves to be the “master of their domain.” Though the actors managed to skirt around the word masturbation for the entire episode, the concept was still pretty provocative for network television.

“This one, I didn’t even put on the board because I didn’t want them asking. I just wanted them to come and see the read-through,” David said, as InsideHook reports. “[When they did] I had worked myself up into a lather because the read-through really went great. I was watching [the network executives] and I couldn’t tell how much they liked it. But I was ready to pack the whole thing in if they didn’t let us do this show: ‘I’m quitting. I’m quitting. I’m gonna quit.’ Fortunately, they didn’t say a word. I was shocked.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Louis-Dreyfus’s trepidation about the episode lasted through the shoot. “When we were making this episode, I was convinced we were going to be shut down. I was convinced that the network was going to come in and say, ‘This is not going to work out,’” she said. Needless to say, they never did, and Louis-Dreyfus now looks back on Elaine’s participation in the contest as “a very important cultural moment for women.”

David went on to explain that “The Contest” not only helped popularize Seinfeld among viewers, but it also helped its creators carry more clout in the industry. “That show changed something about how we were perceived in television land,” he said. “It really catapulted us to another place. It moved us to another level, I think.”

[h/t InsideHook]