What instrument did Giacchino use here?
October 23, 2021 7:08 AM   Subscribe

In the Lost soundtrack, Michael Giacchino uses a recurring motif of a solo plucked(?) low string note (example) to generate tension & suspense. What instrument is this, a harp? I always assumed it was one note but now I think it's an octave, C2+C3 in this clip. Is that the case?
posted by Otto Franz Joseph Leopold von Soxen-Puppetten to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by SPrintF at 7:17 AM on October 23, 2021

Sounds like a synthesizer to me, specifically one that uses physical modeling synthesis. Something about the long decay and modulation just sounds like an LFO to me, but I'll be curious to see what others thing.

It is a cool sound, I remember it pretty clearly even after all these years!
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:20 AM on October 23, 2021

It sounds to me more like a hit string than a plucked string. Maybe a piano, or more like a dulcimer?
posted by hydropsyche at 7:43 AM on October 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hammered Dulcimer or related instrument.
posted by Lucky Bobo at 7:48 AM on October 23, 2021

Definitely not a cello. Sounds to me like pair of piano strings struck with something firmer than the usual felt hammer.
posted by spitbull at 7:52 AM on October 23, 2021

Sounds to me like pair of piano strings struck with something firmer than the usual felt hammer.

Tack piano?
posted by LionIndex at 8:04 AM on October 23, 2021

I agree with those who say this sounds like a struck metal string rather than a plucked nylon or gut string.
posted by mskyle at 8:06 AM on October 23, 2021

If I turn that right up, it's pretty clear that the note ends by being damped rather than just ringing out, immediately after which I can hear what sounds like somebody breathing in through their nose. So I don't think it's a synth.

To me the tone sounds more like a harp's low C string plucked hard than anything else I can think of. The way the overtones develop as it fades is also consistent with sympathetic resonances from higher strings. So I'm on Team Harp.
posted by flabdablet at 8:26 AM on October 23, 2021

theorbo? nah, I'm on team harp too, but I think that it has been processed. It might even be a sampled harp sound.
posted by umbú at 8:33 AM on October 23, 2021

posted by gregoreo at 9:00 AM on October 23, 2021

To me it sounds a bit less toppy than a guqin and has more sympathetic resonances going on as well, which suggests a larger instrument with more open strings. Still on Team Harp.

Hard to tell whether the second harmonic is due to C2 being plucked off-centre and activating C3 sympathetically or whether C3 gets plucked as well, but after many repeats I think I can hear two separate attacks and it takes much less time for the C3 harmonic to become audible than the F3 one, so this probably is a C2+C3 octave.
posted by flabdablet at 9:50 AM on October 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question about another mystery string instrument used by Giacchino. I eventually asked the composer himself on Twitter to get the answer, so you might have success doing that.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:58 AM on October 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I vote harp, based on this Interview with Giacchino:
Giacchino turned to me and said, “I always feel guilty. Gayle is one of the greatest harp players on the planet, but when she comes to ‘Lost’ she has to sit here for three hours going boiiiiing, boiiiiing.” He said to Levant, “I try to think of new material for you, Gayle, but I keep coming back to that note.”
“No, no, no, I love it,” Levant said. “It’s great. It’s different from the usual thing.”

Source The New Yorker.
If i had not read that, i would say piano.
posted by 15L06 at 1:09 PM on October 23, 2021 [8 favorites]

That’s pretty close to a smoking gun interview!
posted by umbú at 2:48 PM on October 23, 2021

Best answer: “And the nail,” Giacchino said. Levant plucked a string with the tip of her fingernail, giving it a cruel snap. Although harpists generally need to keep their nails as short as possible, Levant lets a couple of her nails grow longer in the week before a “Lost” session.

That's not close, that is a smoking gun.

Also, given a nonstandard pluck, that might not be an octave; what I thought was two attacks could easily be the sound of a fingernail plucking a single string. That, plus a decent piezo soundboard pickup, would probably need very little post-processing to get the sound we're hearing here.
posted by flabdablet at 7:16 PM on October 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

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