A Brief History of the Devil's Tritone

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Music is a powerful thing: It can raise our spirits, carry us through athletic challenges, and make us weep. Its very fabric is a source of power and intrigue, too, since just a measly few tones might do anything from shatter glass to manifest the Devil’s Tritone.

The Devil's Interval, and diabolus in musica, this combination of tones has led to some of the most chilling melodies in music history, from classical compositions to heavy metal riffs, and even has a reputation for being banned by religious authority in centuries past. As much as it’s inspired composers to explore the dark side in music, however, the Devil’s Tritone—a.k.a. the diminished fifth—also has a stirring effect on audiences for some very technical reasons (no black magic required).

THE RESTLESS, DISSONANT, DEPENDENT TRIAD (SAY WHAT?)

For those of us without conservatory backgrounds, a break-down of the musical terms used to define the Devil’s Tritone can go a long way in helping unravel its eerie mystery.

According to Carl E. Gardner’s 1912 text Essentials of Music Theory, a “triad” in music is composed of three tones—specifically, one starting note plus the third and fifth tones found along its scale (e.g. C, E, G)—that can get together to form either a “dependent” or an “independent” chord. According to Gardner, an independent chord is one that can happily conclude a composition. Meanwhile, a dependent chord contains “dissonant” or tense intervals—such as the tritone.

One example of a dependent chord containing a tritone would be the diminished chord (e.g. C, Eb, Gb). According to Gardner, a chord containing this kind of dissonance is "restless" and shouldn’t be given the last word in a composition lest the audience—and any traditional music theorists among them—are left feeling uncomfortable.

WHAT GIVES THE TRITONE ITS POWER?

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Music listeners’ almost instinctive desire to hear a song through to its rhythmic and harmonic conclusion can be an effective (if torturous) tool throughout the fields of music composition and scoring. The last moments of The Sopranos’ series finale are likely extra-irksome to many, for example, not just because of unresolved plot points, but also the unresolved chorus in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is left hanging when the screen has gone black.

John Sloboda, a professor of music psychology at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, explained to NPR in 2012 that the dissonant intervals of the Devil’s Tritone are particularly affecting because of this listener’s instinct to find resolution in music, and the fact that we’re used to getting it:

"Our brains are wired to pick up the music that we expect, [and] generally music is consonant rather than dissonant, so we expect a nice chord. So when that chord is not quite what we expect, it gives you a little bit of an emotional frisson, because it's strange and unexpected.

The emotional result of dissonant sounds, then, might not be too different from the one experienced at the bottom of a staircase that failed to mention it’s missing its last step. "[Music] taps into this very primitive system that we have which identifies emotion on the basis of a violation of expectancy," Deathridge said. "It's like a little upset which then gets resolved or made better in the chord that follows."

WHERE CAN I FIND THIS DIABOLUS IN MUSICA?

Some say that the devil’s in the details, and if you listen closely, you’ll indeed spot the Devil’s Tritone giving a certain edge to many popular tunes from different genres. It heats up Busta Rhymes’s “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check,” the theme songs to The Simpsons and South Park, and West Side Story’s “Maria.” It also gives Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” its signature sting. It’s a favorite among metal bands, too, and can be found in any number of Black Sabbath songs (though guitarist Tony Iommi told BBC News that he simply used “something that sounded right … really evil and very doomy,” and that he “didn’t think [he] was going to make it Devil music”). Prog-rocking Rush even manages to shred its way through both ascending and descending tritones multiple times in its four-and-a-half minute, decidedly epic song "YYZ."

But the Devil's Tritone's deepest roots are in classical music, where it has often served as a leitmotif to signal the presence of something sinister. Professor John Deathridge of King's College London told BBC News that medieval arrangements employed the tritone to represent the devil, Roman Catholic composers sometimes used it for referencing the crucifixion, and by the 19th century "you have got lots of presentations of evil built around the tritone" in classical pieces, as in Beethoven’s 1805 opera Fidelio. When it comes to metal’s cred with tritones, there’s “a big connection between heavy rock music and Wagner,” Deathridge said, and generally such tunes “have cribbed quite a lot from 19th Century music."

Overall, the Devil’s Tritone “can sound very spooky [depending] on how you orchestrate [and] also quite exciting," Deathridge said. "[Wagner's] Gotterdammerung has one of the most exciting scenes—a 'pagan,' evil scene, the drums and the timpani. It is absolutely terrifying … like a black mass.” Musicologist Anthony Pryer pointed out that the leitmotif lives on as an arrow toward evil on-screen, too: "[a] lot of films have what musicians call Captain Tritone in them,” he told BBC News, or moments wherein an enemy officer or such shows up and “out comes the Tritone [as] a sort of badge—here's Mr. Nasty. What's going to happen?"

WAS THE DEVIL’S TRITONE REALLY BANNED BY THE CHURCH?

Over the years, there have been rumors that the diminished fifth tritone was banned by religious authorities, or even that composers were punished for sneaking it into their work. Given that various Christian faiths and organizations have either produced or influenced much of the classical Western canon, though, experts seem to think it’s more likely that musical monks and other religious composers discouraged its use in keeping with “strict musical rules,” Deathridge said. “This particular dissonance … simply won't work technically, [so] you are taught not to write that interval. But you [could] read into that a theological ban in the guise of a technical ban." Pryer notes, too, that the tritone “was recognized to be a problem in music right back to the 9th Century [and] a natural consequence, and so they banned it [and] had rules for getting around it ... I don't think they ever thought of it as the Devil dwelling in music.”

According to Pryer, there are a number of non-accursed ways this tritone could’ve gotten its name. “It was called Diabolus in Musica by two or three writers in the medieval or renaissance [because it] was 'false music,'” he explained, since “the intervals weren't natural.” On the other hand, composers and conductors may have found it “devilishly hard to teach the singers not to sing it,” he said.

In the case of Giuseppe Tartini’s “The Devil's Trill Sonata”—one of the absolute toughest pieces a violin virtuoso can take on—the mark of the beast might be twofold. According to Pryer, "He did this incredibly difficult [piece] and claimed in a dream he had heard the devil giving him instructions how to do it … Two centuries later, he would probably have been in a heavy metal band."

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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11 Facts About Coyote Ugly On Its 20th Anniversary

Tyra Banks, Maria Bello, Bridget Moynahan, Izabella Miko, and Piper Perabo star in Coyote Ugly (2000).
Tyra Banks, Maria Bello, Bridget Moynahan, Izabella Miko, and Piper Perabo star in Coyote Ugly (2000).
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Coyote Ugly, the cult classic that launched the careers of Piper Perabo and Adam Garcia, is celebrating its 20th birthday. Though still shy of legal drinking age, the film belongs to a group of early 2000s chick flicks with varying degrees of girl power, including: Bring It On, Charlie’s Angels, Josie & The Pussycats, and Legally Blonde.

"There was a real kind of stiletto feminism that was happening in the women's movement in the late ’90s," Perabo has said of her star-making vehicle. It's that same feminism that informed the sexy, inebriated veneer of Coyote Ugly. In celebration of the movie's 20th anniversary, grab a drink (just not water) and read up on these behind-the-scenes facts about the 2000 guilty pleasure.

1. Coyote Ugly is named for a famous Manhattan dive bar.

Piper Perabo stars in Coyote Ugly (2000).Frank Masi/Touchstone Pictures & Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc./Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Coyote Ugly takes its name from the Coyote Ugly Saloon, the iconic New York City dive bar which, in turn, is inspired by the slang term for waking up after a one-night stand and realizing that, in the harsh light of day, that temporary paramour isn’t as attractive as they were the night before. Also, they’re sleeping on your arm—which you feel the overwhelming urge to gnaw off, like a coyote, in order to escape. Ouch!

2. Coyote Ugly was based on an article by the author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Coyote Ugly was based on a GQ article written by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, about her experience working as a bartender at the Coyote Ugly Saloon. “We were expected to be a little bit larger than life, or to pretend to be, or—at the very least—to want to be,” Gilbert wrote of the Coyote Ugly way. “We were the good-time girls. We were a cross between Old West dancehall hookers and gangsters' gun molls. Crack that gum, swing that ass, drink that shot, keep that change.”

3. Britney Spears and other major music stars of the time were approached about starring in Coyote Ugly.

Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, and Jewel were all approached about playing Coyote Ugly's Violet Sanford, the New Jersey singer-songwriter aptly nicknamed "New Jersey" during the character’s shifts at the raunchy bar.

4. LeAnn Rimes benefited from Coyote Ugly's growing cult status.

LeAnn Rimes sang "Can’t Fight the Moonlight," the blockbuster lead single from Coyote Ugly, which went four times platinum in 2008—eight years after the movie's original release, signifying the film's cult status.

5. Piper Perabo's singing voice in Coyote Ugly was dubbed, even though she can actually sing.

Though Piper Perabo, whos character Violet writes the song for LeAnn Rimes in the movie, could really sing and even learned guitar for the movie, Rimes’s voice was dubbed in during Perabo’s singing scenes. In 2015, Perabo—who originally sang and recorded all of the songs herself—told The Hollywood Reporter that she was disappointed when she learned her voice was going to be replaced. "[Director David McNally] said, 'We're going to dub the songs,' and I was like, 'Uh, OK,'" Perabo recalled. "What can I say? I'm like 21. What am I going to say, no?"

6. Kevin Smith did some work on the script.

Actor, writer, and filmmaker Kevin Smith, of Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Jay and Silent Bob fame, did some uncredited rewrites on the script. The credited screenwriter, Gina Wendkos, also wrote The Princess Diaries 1 and 2 and the mid-2000s Hilary Duff-starrer, The Perfect Man.

7. Coyote Ugly's leading man helped create the role of Fiyero in Broadway's Wicked around the same time the movie was released.

Adam Garcia attends the after-party for the musical Wicked celebrating 10 years in the West End on September 27, 2016 in London, England.David M. Benett/Dave Benett / Getty Images for Wicked UK

Adam Garcia, who played Violet’s love interest Kevin, helped originate the role of Fiyero in Wicked in Broadway workshops around the same time that Coyote Ugly came out. He also portrayed Fiyero in the West End production of the musical, alongside original star Idina Menzel.

8. Coyote Ugly's bar had to be redesigned to accommodate Bridget Moynahan.

Bartender Rachel, played by Bridget Moynahan—who worked as a model before transitioning to acting—was too tall to dance on the bar that had been created for Coyote Ugly, so the set had to be redesigned to accommodate her height. "[W]hen we had the first rehearsal they didn’t make the ceiling high enough for me and Tyra [Banks] to be able to stand on the bar," Moynahan told The Ringer. "We had to sit that one out."

9. One of Coyote Ugly's stars has a connection to Center Stage—another 2000 cult hit.

Izabella Miko, the Polish actress who plays Cammie, was formerly a ballet dancer at the National Ballet School in Warsaw and the American School of Ballet, which famously served as the inspiration for the American Ballet Academy in Center Stage.

10. Tyra Banks is desperate to see a Coyote Ugly sequel, starring some pretty major names.

Tyra Banks plays former bartender Zoe, who goes off to law school, enabling Violet to take her place. Banks has long been lobbying for a sequel to Coyote Ugly, and has some pretty big names in mind to star in it, including Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez and … Meryl Streep? "But, like, [Streep] would be the bar," Banks clarified. "She should be the bar! Method actor."

11. Piper Perabo is curious to see how different Coyote Ugly might look in 2020.

Perabo, too, has said she would entertain the idea of a sequel, but “it would need to be looked at in a different lens.” Perabo, who was arrested in 2018 for protesting the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, told News.com.au, “I would be excited to look at it again in 2020, because I think we’ve evolved and it would be cool to see what it would be like now."