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Tech Inspired — The Shepard Tone

The sound of the endless staircase in Super Mario ‘64, the accelerating Batpod in ‘The Dark Knight’ and most recently in the Hans Zimmer soundtrack for the movie ‘Dunkirk’, the Shepard tone is an audio trick that creates the illusion of continuously swelling sound.

As you can always hear two tones rising in pitch, your brain skips the loop and believes the tone is infinitely ascending. Named after American scientist Roger Shepard, the sound is created by stacking sine waves that are an octave apart and moving the bass note upward or downward. The result is a sonic loop that appears to rise or fall in pitch, but never
actually does — an endless scale that has been proven to cause headaches and nausea.

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