Associations of time and space

Music conveys different types of cultural, semantic and genre associations, as well as codified information.

Orchestral music with Western late XIXth century «romantic» style is considered not to convey any associations of space and time, and can be used for any period and place.

Contemporary music and electronic/electroacoustic music can be used for different places, but are associated to modernity or futurism.

Folk music is associated with the corresponding place, often in an «atemporal» non-urban setting.

Music prior to XIXth century is associated with the time period (in Europe).

Associations of genre and style

Large orchestra: large production style.  The «Bratislava syndrome»: using a large orchestra for everything because it is readily available and not expensive.

Small orchestration: intimate style

Contemporary music/electroacoustic: terror, schizophrenia, madness, dehumanization

Comedy: light and melodic music, few low pitches, tempo allegro

Drama: darker orchestration, low pitches, tempo lento

Children: a dramatic scene aimed at children cannot use electroacoustic music (too terrific)


Semantic congruence

The genre/style of the music and its associations of space and time match the image. The music «fits» the image.

Opposite: incongruence.

Temporal congruence

The changes in the music match the changes in the image: coarticulation music-image.

Tempo congruence

The general tempo of the music matches the general tempo of the image. Important for action scenes, chase scenes…


Music can be empathetic with the image, when it follows and enhances the general psychological mood of the image (happy/sad, tension/relaxation…)

Music can be used with an anempathetic effect when the mood of the music contradicts the image.

«45. EMPATHETIC (MUSIC OR EFFECT): The effect created by music that is or seems to be in harmony with the emotional climate of a scene: dramatic, tragic, melancholic, etc. The opposite of the anempathetic effect.

The empathetic effect might not arise from the music considered on its own, but may arise entirely from the particular relation created between the music and the rest of the scene.» (Chion 2012)

«46. ANEMPATHY or ANEMPATHETIC EFFECT: The effect of a diegetic music cue’s (or sound’s) ostensible indifference to the pathetic or tragic quality of the scene in which it occurs. Examples include player pianos, insouciant waltzes, light music, music played on a record player or tape recorder, street singing, the rhythmic noise of an electric fan or a mill, or the regular rhythm of waves–heard during a scene of murder, rape, torture, or other grave and terrible action. What all anempathic music and sounds have in common is that they’re present before the dramatic event occurs, and they continue during and afterward without being affected by it, as if nothing has happened.» (Chion 2012)

  • Dramatic events with happy music: terrifying discordance
  • Action scene with slow dramatic music: detachment, reflexion on the events
  • Happy scene with dramatic music: detachment, increased sadness


A study on music-color associations