A Sound of Epic Proportions

We’ve all been there. Sitting in a movie theatre (or more recently on our couch at home) watching the trailers for an upcoming action blockbuster that claims to be the next “best movie of the year”. As we watch the trailer, our hearts start pumping. Our excitement grows. Suddenly, it happens. We hear the iconic blast of distorted low brass that signals to our brains that this will be an epic movie.

That sound is called a “braam” (or sometimes “BRAAM”) and is used today in nearly every big action movie trailer, whether that be for a superhero film, an apocalyptic movie, or a sci-fi movie about battling aliens. It makes sense, using a big sound to let the audience know that this will be a big movie. But how did this come about? And why does it successfully make us, the audience, excited?

Low brass instruments have been utilized for centuries for their dramatic flair in music. In every genre from orchestral, to marching band, to hip hop. Early examples include symphonies by Anton Bruckner, who helped pioneer the way for trombones to join the symphonic scene via the church. In his Symphony no. 8, you can hear a perfect example of this sound which serves as dramatic interjection between softer chorale moments.

An excerpt from Brucker Symphony №8 played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra low brass section.

As orchestral writing became more dramatized, other composers such as Gustav Mahler also utilized a punchy low brass sound in their writing. A good example of this is in his Symphony №2.

An excerpt from Mahler Symphony №2 played by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra low brass section.

With this kind of sound adding so much drama and flair into the symphonic sound, it only makes sense that it would make its way into film scoring. And with the rise of electronic and synthesized music, a natural evolution occurred that formed what we know today as a braam.

The origin of the braam is one of contention for some composers, with each laying claim to the true founding of the big brassy boom. However, to own such a vague musical device such as that would be quite a hard battle to fight so we must look at a few different film composers to discuss the evolution of braams. Examples of this dramatic music-based sound effect can be found as early as 2007 in the trailer for “Transformers” by Michael Bay and music by Steve Jablonsky. The early iterations of the noise are more explosive than tonal in nature and are used to accent important scene changes in the trailer.

2007 Trailer for “Tranformers” by Michael Bay

Two years later, a new version of the braam emerged that is more akin to what we expect to hear today. This further shaping occurred in the trailer for Neill Blomkamps’s “District 9”.

The Official Trailer for “District 9” which pioneered the braam sound.

Carrie Gormley and Michael Trice were the creative team responsible for this trailer, and at the time they knew that this sound design was something bringing something fresh into the movie scene. According to Hollywood Reporter however, they never thought it would become a trend. But even these two creative masterminds acknowledge that bringing the braam into the spotlight was not their doing. They refer that credit to a trailer that came out a year later: “Inception”.

The trailers for inception brought this narrative device to a new level as the musical giant Hans Zimmer and sound design professional Richard King combined their skillsets to create a sound of epic proportions to match the mind-boggling concepts being presented in the movie. Zimmer has been quoted calling himself the “godfather of braams”. He says that the sound was described in the screenplay for the film as “massive, low-end musical tones, sounding like distant horns.” This was a sound he created by very unorthodox means. He placed a piano in the middle of a church, put a book on the sustain pedal, and has brass players play into the resonance of the piano. The sound was then further distorted via “electronic nonsense”.

This trend has grown and grown, and today is still being utilized by most mainstream action blockbuster trailers. Composers and creative directors are constantly trying to find new ways of tweaking the sound to create their own unique braam. A good example of this can be heard in the “Jurassic World” films which combines a braam with the iconic roar of the T-Rex.

The trailer for “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” which combines a braam with the roar of a t-rex.

Why does this trend continue to happen in so many trailers? Why has it become a staple of action movies? Because it works on the audience psychologically. Bobby Gumm, head of music for Trailer Park movie trailer company, says that “there’s literally not a bigger sound out there.” The psychological impact is almost primal. Horns have been used as a warning sign or a call to arms during war for centuries and throughout various cultures around the world. Even today we use car horns to signal oncoming danger on the road. This type of sound is hardwired in our brains to grab our attention for something important. Add the large distortions and electronics which are utilized in film music, and you have a sound that audiences simply cannot ignore. That’s why this trend will continue to be successful in movie trailers and impactful to audiences around the world.

Professional music instructor focused on analyzing musical concepts and trends in popular music.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Fantastic Fest 2021: LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, a Beguiling Sojourn to the ‘60s

They Live… Realities or Lies?

Watch This Man v Grizzly Movie While You Wait For ‘Cocaine Bear’

A grizzly bear in the woods.

My Dudes, ‘Cats’ Is Good

25 Unanswered Questions from “A Quiet Place”

150 Word Review: ‘Red Rocket’ (2021)

How much is the cost of sneakers worn by KGF hero Rocking star YASH.

Oh, Denis Villeneuve, the messiah of modern-day cinema.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Austin Testerman

Austin Testerman

Professional music instructor focused on analyzing musical concepts and trends in popular music.

More from Medium

My Literature Professor

“House of Gucci” is Getting More Hate Than It Deserves

Close outrages of a different kind

Ancient Egyptians Visited Australia with Laviras Intikana — Spontaneous Conversations 14