The Read or DieOVA revolves around a symphony that cause anyone who listen to it to become suicidally depressed. The villains' plan is to broadcast it around the world and wipe out the weak-minded. To spare the viewers of such a fate, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" is played.
This is possibly based on the myth of the Hungarian song "Gloomy Sunday" (see Real Life below). It was so sad that it was dubbed the "Hungarian suicide song", and caused depressed people to kill themselves when they listened to it. This, however, was all a marketing ploy (while the original lyrics were thought to cause people to become depressed, they were almost completely changed when it was released outside Hungary), and no suicides were actually linked to the song.
The manga also contains a scene where two captives are tortured with the audio version of The Dark Abyss, a book bound in human flesh and printed by five different people, one page at a time, so they wouldn't succumb to it. The pair withstood the audiobook for some 4 minutes before caving in.
An interesting plot from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (the episode "escape from"); a cybernetic puzzle box is discovered that traps the mind of anyone who cybernetically links to it. The intruder is placed in a virtual environment of an old fashioned theater, along with the trapped minds of those that came before. Playing is a certain obscure director's last film, which he never shot, which contains images so profoundly emotional, that intruders never want to leave, only remain and watch the film. Notoriously unemotional Major Kusanagi is trapped by the device, and at the climax of the film, she actually cries. As for what the image was, the show viewer can't see it, but Take Our Word for It. The device turns out to be the director's own brain, encased in the GITS universe's cybernetic equivalent to a drive enclosure for gray matter. The interesting part was that the director had no evil ulterior motive or anything...the movie was just that good that anyone who watched it would want to keep watching it forever; the perfect movie. Motoko ultimately tells him that she admits its very good, but even the best of TV and film is no substitute for Real Life.
This incidentally may be a subtle demonstration of psychic powers at play, since the idea of a brain-case abducting Ghosts of other people contradicts the internal logic of the series at many levels.
This also turned out to be how the terrorist group The Individual Eleven recruited in 2nd Gig. A series of documents that contain the group's manifesto are scattered across the Net. If a person of suitable personality and physical qualifications reads all eleven in order, a cybernetic meme is unleashed that turns them into a fanatical soldier for the Eleven. People who don't fit in the mold demonstrate different kinds of personality shifts, like the reporter who became obsessed with the refugee issue, but never acted on his own right, until the virus drove him to commit suicide, or the old professor, who simply took interest in the literary value of the imaginary manuscript, without getting a single radical idea out of it.
The Chapter Black tape from YuYu Hakusho reportedly contains hours upon hours of humanity's worst deeds, and just watching it for five minutes can turn anyone into a Nietzsche Wannabe as their respect for humanity drops to rock bottom. It's mentioned that the tape is part of a set with Chapter White, which contains all the greatest acts of human kindness and compassion. Koenma even says Chapter Black is a "One sided argument", and both tapes are apparently about the same length. In fact, neither one is really meant to be watched without the viewer watching the other one simultaneously.
Kyon and Haruhi of Haruhi Suzumiya uploaded a symbol made by Haruhi onto their website... which just happened to magnify data in such a way to bring into our reality a long-dormant "digital cave cricket" that infects the minds of those who looked at the image file. He disarms it by changing the "SOS" logo into a "ZOZ".
In the Drama CD, Haruhi creates the musical equivalent, which had to be defeated by The Power of Rock. At the end of the CD, while the Ear Worm properties of the tune had been excised, Haruhi goes on to come up with the dance version of this. Kyon warns the audience to avert their eyes if they see it, even though he thinks it's already too late.
In Madlax, the words "Elda Taluta" and others bring to life parts of a person's psyche that are buried within; only a handful can hear these and not go insane. And god help you if you read the books that these words come from.
Played with in Tantei Gakuen Q. The "Banquet of Evil" violin solo drives a violinist into increasing insanity as soon as he hears it, and it's mentioned that a mysterious person is forcing three other people to hear it as well through cellphone calls. The reason? It was the favorite musical piece of a brilliant player who was incapacitated and killed herself... after an horrible trap staged by the other four. Who end up murdered by the girl's fellow violinist and boyfriend. And had he not done it, they would've died at the hands of the girl's vengeful half-sister.
Lucy Monostone's songs in MPD Psycho can either make people bonkers or allow him (or other lunatics) to transfer his personality, depending on the interpretation. Either way, it will end with at the very least one bloody, mangled corpse (the listener's).
One antagonist/vessel for Lucy planned a massive concert with such songs.
More accurately, it only affects "barcoders", killers who are created by a shadowy government agency seeking to produce the ultimate corps of "sleeper" assassins; and "activates" them or transfers/replicates the control personality (based on musician-turned-terrorist Lucy Monostone) between them. The concert was intended to active them en masse.
In Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, one story was about our Five-Man Band investigating a certain railway crossing with an unusually high suicide rate. It seems to have to do with a suicide song played near the tracks, until they go there and discover that the music is an accidental combination of the railroad warning signal, the school chime and the tune played by the recycling truck, which makes people want to die.
Hunter × Hunter briefly mentions the Sonata of Darkness, said to have been written by Satan himself and includes parts for different instruments. Just listening to a few notes of the flute solo was enough to horribly deform the Music Hunter Melody (it also gave her music based powers though). Her friend that actually played it died horribly.
In Fullmetal Alchemist (anime and manga), although not really a bad thing, Ed sees "truth" after attempting to perform a human transmutation on his mother at the very beginning of the series and, along with learning a good deal of alchemic knowledge, is able to perform alchemy without a circle, something only those who have also seen the "truth" can do. In the manga only, Al also ends up seeing the "truth" and gains this ability as well.
That happens in the anime too, he just forgot for most of the series. After remembering, he could transmute without a circle, but refrains from doing any transmutation for other reasons.
It happens in the newer series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as well and after it Al does use transmutations without a circle.
A Certain Scientific Railgun has a primary plotline which revolves around this trope. The "Level Upper" is a sound that connects the espers through a neural network simulating a very powerful supercomputer. The "Level Upper" has the positive side effect of temporarily increasing an esper's powers, but later causes them to universally lapse into a coma, and then go berserk when they awaken.
Similarly, Capacity Down is a sound that shuts down esper powers. And it is quite headache-inducing to those who have sensitive ears.
The second season of A Certain Magical Index has Index getting surrounded by armed nuns. She responds with a song that subconsciously exposes all the supposed contradictions of Christianity to every believer in range, instantly incapacitating all of her attackers, who writhe on the ground screaming in agony. The second wave responds by everyone taking out a pair of fountain pens and stabbing themselves in the ears to deafen themselves so that the song won't effect them.
Hakko from Canaan has the ability to kill people with her voice, but whenever she speaks or sings it sounds perfectly normal. The audience only hears how she perceives her voice herself, rather than the people affected by it.
Harukanaru Toki no Naka de - Hachiyou Shou at one point has the heroine put into a coma by the cursed kin; due to the extra string, the music produced by said instrument caused disorder in the souls of whoever heard it, killing them. Exorcising the ghost of the first victim who continued playing and causing deaths still required a specific person to play the kin and die in the process. Eisen finds a way around it by playing the kin under water, reducing the sound to a non-lethal strength — and he still gets injured by it.
The powerful human and crow tengu of Japan Tengu Party Illustrated have only one real weakness: seeing a "real" tengu, a large seemingly flightless bird causes instant DePowering. This is due to the tengu's view that they are unique supernatural beings, and discovering that their legend is based on a real animal completely shatters their powers.
In Naruto, the character Tayuya has one of these: Her weapon of choice is a flute, with which she can control these three creepy puppet corpses. Specific notes cause them to move in certain ways, one in particular causes the corpses to emit chakra devouring soul.. mouth worm things. However, her real kicker comes in the form of a melody, which simply hearing causes the victim to fall into an illusion in which they appear to be strung up by wires as the skin melts off their bones. The fun part is that while the flute's song is so complicated that the sounds used to command the puppets can't be comprehended by a listener... the opponent can still just watch for Tayuya's finger movements instead which are much easier to read.
Also, it's revealed Kururu can use his headphones to generate a sonic attack that broadcasts the target's least favorite sound (nails on a chalkboard, pieces of styrofoam being rubbed together, etc.) right into their brain.
The titular RahXephon and the D-1 Dolems that appear throughout the series can sing in such horrific ways that things around them explode, disintegrate, or cease to exist. It gets worse when they start doing harmonies or descants with more than one in the area.
Wunder X's music in Weiß Kreuz causes people to go insane and kill themselves.
Gintama: In episode 50, Sougo's pitch on how to improve the show comes as an extended guttural noise that drives everyone crazy.
Dimitri from Kurobara Alice is a tenor who acquires this power after being turned into a vampire. He accidentally kills his own audience, to start.
In Soul Eater, Crona wrote a poem that causes anyone who reads it to wish they'd never been born, or in the zombie's case to wish he'd never been brought back to life
In Guilty Crown, there is a sound that causes dormant stages of the Apocalypse Virus to grow rapidly, crystallizing and killing the victim in less than five seconds. While Inori describes it as a song, it sounds like anything but.
In the second, anime-only season of Black Butler, there is an episode where all the main characters attend a ball hosted by Alois Trancy. At the party, one of Alois' demons Hannah plays an instrument much like an armonica that possesses those who hear its song. Sebastian counteracts the music with an accompaniment on some water-filled wineglasses.
In Fairy Tail, the Death Magic of the flute Lullaby kills any who hear its song.
In The Case Files of Yakushiji Ryoko, the Ultrasonic Bug case involves an insect whose cry drives humans to suicide when heard through a cell phone. And they seem to be a natural Japanese species, not some genetically engineered weapon.
In Toriko, one of Zebra's most dangerous and draining voice-based attacks has him modulating the frequency of his voice to instantly kill anyone who hears it. The art depicts this as a massive Grim Reaper like entity implied to be the embodiment of his Gourmet Cells' sleeping power.
The Invisibles must be the chief proponent of the trope, filled with "superdimensional" sounds and words with both positive and negative effects. There's sounds that cause rapid cancer, sounds that opens your consciousness similarly to an explosive, permanent LSD trip, sounds that make you throw up but only if you're a secret agent with multiple cover stories and at one point a hyperdimensional villain is defeated by the word "POP". (It makes him go pop.)
The Invisibles even posits that the alphabet itself is a Brown Note, the true name of a powerful demon that the Conspiracy uses to restrict human minds by inculcating the name as a sort of mantra in children.
The comic book Transmetropolitan has a literal brown note in the form of the bowel disruptor gun, which has settings including "loose", "watery" and "prolapse".
And more creative later settings like "Intestinal Maelstrom", "Unspeakable Gut Horror", "Rectal Volcano", and everyone's favorite, "Shat Into Unconsciousness".
Warren Ellis used this trope again, but with more grounding in reality, in the fifth issue of Global Frequency. Disturbing subaudible frequencies are a major element of the mystery explored in this issue, and one character mentions the original Brown Note myth.
Also used in Global Frequency #3 with an alien invasion in the form of a signal that contains an alien society in it's entirety. Exposure is dangerous even in the form of programming code on a computer screen. Merely reading the code makes an agent's eyes bleed as she struggles to keep the information from reprogramming her mind.
This also occurred in Ellis' City of Silence, where a hacker overrides every TV channel so demons can "relate all the secrets of hell on live TV". Hearing these secrets drives viewers insane... except for the protagonists, who "knew it all already" on account of being natives of hell.
In one issue of The Authority, there's an idea so disturbing that anyone who hears it has to tell someone else, and then kill themselves. It's stopped by having the last victim tell it to a film producer, then be restrained. The producer declares it "too downbeat" and promptly rewrites it to be more cheerful.
Enigma features "The Interior League", a supervillain team who sneaks into peoples homes and... rearranges their furniture. In such a way that when viewing it, the owner goes stark raving mad and murders their whole family.
In Jack Kirby's New Gods mythos (and consequently The DCU), there is the Anti-Life Equation. This is a fundamental mathematical proof that life is not worth living, thus allowing the wielder to destroy the wills of any being by simply exposing them to it. Most recently a major plot point in the Final Crisis event.
There also exists the Life Equation, which is the fundamental proof that life isworth living. The heroes use the Life Equation to counter the Anti-Life near the end of Final Crisis.
Pied Piper, usually a mostly harmless reformed villain in The DCU, turns out to be able to cause a Brown Note effect with his flute, as demonstrated in Countdown to Final Crisis. Not only does he kill Desaad with it, he takes out Apokolips. And he does it using the music ofQueen. Pied Piper could do this because he was one of the rare humans who possessed the entire Anti-Life Equation inside his mind.
In that same event, Superman destroyed Darkseid by creating a sound that disrupted his energy form.
An old Casper the Friendly Ghost comic had a story about a scarecrow so un-scary that the Ghostly Trio gave it the scariest face in existence: a photo of the Ogre of the Black Pool. It was so scary it even scared ghosts! In fact, the only thing it couldn't scare was a sweet little old lady who painted over the scarecrow's face with a friendly one when it came to life and went berserk. (Those old Harvey comics could get weird.)
Speaking of Harvey, ghost boos. They frighten practically everything, even gods and demons! (To be fair, though, demons in the Harvey-verse aren't exactly terrifying.) Subverted when Fatso claimed to be scary enough to cause the sun to go out. He took his skeptical brothers out on a sunny day and very quietlywhispered "Boo" - and the sun turned black! The two other brothers panicked ("He's scared the sun dark!") until Fatso assured them that the sun would be bright again when it no longer felt frightened. He then went back into the house and admitted to the reader that he had known the exact moment when a solar eclipse would occur.
DCU villain Johnny Sorrow's face instantly kills anyone who sees it.
From Bone, Fone Bone's reading voice causes mild drowsiness for human listeners, and debilitating pain for rat creatures. This is probably mostly because he always reads Moby-Dick.
In Mike Carey's Lucifer, a primordial Jin En Mok creature in human guise punishes a janitor, who disturbed his train of thought, by giving him a gold coin bearing "the sigil Calx." As the janitor stares transfixed at the sigil, the Jin En Mok tells him that he will look at it more often each day, with a corresponding increase in pain and pleasure, until he dies within a year.
When Marvel Comics had the Star Trek license, they did a Deep Space Nine Dominion War crossover where the bad guys decided to incapacitate all the good guy telepaths with what amounted to an earworm. It flipped your brain, so friends were enemies and enemies friends. When the Marty Stu original character figured it out, he fought back with another earworm. (TNG telepaths liked sharing thoughts on the aether.)
Li'l Abner featured "Lena the Hyena", who was supposed to be so ugly that the sight of her face would cause insanity in Dogpatch residents and the reader, so her face wasn't shown at first. Eventually there was a contest to decide what she looked like.Basil Wolverton won.◊
In The Sandman #45, Ishtar is a goddess in human form working as an exotic dancer, and apparently she's been holding back the full extent of her dancing talents. After a visit from Dream and Delirium, she stops holding back. Her last dance kills the audience and burns the strip club to the ground.
In The Umbrella Academy story arc "The Apocalypse Suite", the antagonist has constructed an orchestra of the sadistic and suicidal to play a symphony that will end the world. Similarly, The White Violin is capable of making heads explode and bodies tear themselves apart by just barely scraping her strings.
In Phil Foglio's Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire: The Gallimaufry, there is a game called "Martian Charades", in which a human performs a series of ritualized gestures at an audience of aliens. The gestures have all been clinically proven to be hysterically funny to almost every race in the cosmos except humans themselves. The alien who can keep a straight face the longest is the winner. Moreover, the sight of an audience of multivariate aliens falling all over itself in laughter tends to make the performing human sick. Making the human sick is considered an important secondary goal of the game. (All of this was suggested in a fan letter after Foglio mentioned "Martian Charades" in an issue of Buck Godot, and Foglio embraced it as canon.)
Marvel Comics villain Angar the Screamer had the power to cause nightmarish hallucinations by screaming. He would then rob his victims while they were paralyzed with horror. Amnesia would set in after the effect faded, leaving the victims wondering where they'd left their wallets.
Mark Waid's Irredeemable had a sonic virus that melted off its child victims' skin right down to their bones and animated their skeletons. It spread through the screams of the adult witnesses.
Orian, a demonic hunter, is summoned by merely reading (not aloud) a mystic sigil. He arrives in our world by ripping his way out through the victim's mouth.
A Hellblazer story seemed to be about this when people celebrating a revived pagan festival became many interesting shades of crazy while some scientists were conducting mysterious tests at a nearby facility it turns out that the festival itself was the cause, since the scientists' equipment was not only unplugged but never worked to begin with.
In the one-shot Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum, the Hamburger Lady believes that her face is so deformed that anyone not already insane can't look upon it. Dr Arkham tries to prove her wrong by looking at her face... and is later implied to have gone insane because of it. Except that she was a figment of his imagination.
Lars Bengtsson's novel, "The Long Ships", had an appearance by two Irish jesters/dwarfs who said they were careful to tone down their performance because they'd killed one patron by being so funny that he laughed himself to death.The Viking crew who'd picked them up decided not to tempt the fates/Norns by calling the jesters on their claim.
One of Tharg's Future Shocks from 2000 AD written by Alan Moore gave a spin on the alien parasite, Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type tale by suggesting that an alien life form could even be as abstract as an idea. One such "idea" takes over the mind of a person once he/she is told the "idea" by someone already possessed by it.
In Scott Pilgrim, the rival band "Crash and the Boys" has a song that is so epic, it knocks the audience unconscious for twenty to thirty minutes. (Its title is "Last Song Kills Audience".)
National Lampoon once ran a comic about Ugly Deirdre, a little girl who was so hideous that the sight of her face caused people to lose bowel control. A kind plastic surgeon tried to fix Deirdre's face... and the results were so horrible that anyone who looked at her would violently blind or kill themselves. The cartoonist spared us the sight of the after-surgery face by covering it with a black box labeled "TOO HIDEOUS FOR PUBLICATION".
Again in the DC Comics world, the Accomplished Perfect Physician of the Great Ten (the Chinese Justice League) is capable of both healing diseases and CREATING EARTHQUAKES, among several other things, by making special vocal sounds he learned in his training.
The Mike Allred comic, Red Rocket 7, featured a secret note of existence that if played, signaled the destruction of evil and the dawn of paradise. He used it to destroy an evil alien empire that was invading Earth (after it had taken over most of the universe) and signal the second coming of God.
One issue of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man gave Kraven the Hunter a girlfriend named Calypso, who could play the drums in such a way that it interfered with Peter's spider-sense.
Venus of the Agents of Atlas can affect minds with her song. Usually she puts them in a state of pleasure, but when she found out that she wasn't a goddess, but actually a Siren, her wail created a massive depression field.
In Beetle Bailey, swearing forcefully (usually but not always when done by Sergeant Snorkel) can have effects such as stunning people or killing flowers. Not to be confused with the times when Sarge shouts so loudly the sheer volume or wind of it has a physical effect.
Judge Fear (one of a group of undead Evil Counterparts) in Judge Dredd has the ability to kill anyone who looks at his face through sheer terror, typically by lifting his helmet while delivering his catchphrase. The titular character is sufficently badass to shrug it off and cave his face in with his bare hands.
In the first story of Conan the Barbarian (The Phoenix on the Blade), Toth Amon avoids looking at the fiend he summoned. Later, said demon destroys the soul of a poor victim by forcing him to look at his demonic yellow eyes.
Jeannette of Secret Six is a centuries old banshee who can make people relive her botched execution with her song. Wonder Woman, of all people, experienced it firsthand, and the fact that it didn't cause any permanent damage is itself a miracle.
In Fallout: Equestria, contact with the Pink Cloud transforms anything capable of emitting sound (radios, loudspeakers, etc.) into 'corrupted broadcasters' that emit literal ear-piercing noises. Prolonged exposure to their signal can cause heads to explode.
In Flight has Jinki act like this for Shirou, as they completely confound his Structural Grasp.
In a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, Twilight Sparkle in Pages Of Harmony uses infrasound on Fluttershy as part of the procedures to break Kindness from her. The process causes Fluttershy to feal disoriented, a nearly tangible fear that completely overwhelms her as she experiences horrifying visions.
Films — Live Action
The Signal features an audio/video signal that has a psychological effect on anyone who hears/sees it, causing people to go insane, or become obsessed with the signal, and trying to make others experience the signal.
The videotape from Ringu (and its American adaptation, The Ring) which causes anyone who watches it to die seven days later unless they made a copy of the tape and gave it to someone else. In the American version, the short film Rings and the website "She Is Here" expand on the concept; Samara's videotape is treated almost like a mind-expanding drug.
In the original novels, it eventually becomes clear that the tape is not, in a traditional sense, haunted. The tape causes physical changes to the viewer's body, eventually resulting in their death. The film adaptation differs from this.
David Cronenberg's Videodrome, about a TV signal that causes brain tumors and hallucinations. The discoverers of the signal attach it to a violent gorn show in order to clean up society by killing everyone who watches violent television.
In Mystery Men, Casanova Frankenstein built a machine that could warp reality itself. Apparently the equations underlying it were so complex that anybody who studied them would go insane. Fortunately for Frankenstein, he was already insane and had spent a decade in the asylum with several of those scientists.
Which is itself likely a call back to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, where the title tomatoes are pacified by a song called "Puberty Love". The last tomato, wearing earmuffs, was defeated by showing it a copy of the sheet music.
The James Bond film Live and Let Die opens with an assassination carried out through sound piped through a diplomat's translation earpiece.
"... human beings have neither the aural nor the psychological capacity to withstand the awesome power of God's true voice. Were you to hear it, your mind would cave in and your heart would explode within your chest. We went through five Adams before we figured that out."
At the end of the film, God kills a now-mortal Bartleby by speaking a single word in his ear. His head blows up. The viewer hears only a deep, loud thrumming noise.
PI was about a number sequence that helped define the universe. However, the process of determining this number was fatally destructive to a computer, be it machine or human.
The film Pontypool is about a memetic virus that is spread through human speech, leading to confusion and murder.
"For your safety, please avoid contact with close family members, and refrain from the following: all terms of endearment, such as 'honey' or 'sweetheart'; babytalk with young children; and rhetorical discourse. For greater safety, please avoid the English language. Do not... translate... this message."
The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz features the Tuning Fork of Annihilation. When played back over the emergency broadcast system, it causes the destruction of all TV sets and kills all children who hear it.
In Steve Sullivan's A Heap of Trouble, any man who hears the naked men singing about walking down the road has an irresistible urge to join them.
In Iron Man 1, one of the weapons Stark Industries had developed was an auditory paralysis device. It caused anyone who heard the noise to be temporarily paralyzed. The government didn't ok production because it violated the Geneva convention. Obadiah, however, had no qualms about using it for his own gain more than once.
In High Anxiety Dr. Wentworth gets trapped in his car and killed from an ear hemorrhage caused by the loud rock music blaring from the car radio.
The David Lynch film version of Dune shows Atrades advanced weaponry is sonic in nature, using ultra and/or infrasound to shatter structures, inflict pain in enemy soldiers, etc. When Paul becomes The Chosen One he acquires the ability to imitate the effects of this sonic weaponry with just his voice
Soldier: And his word shall bring death eternal for all those who stand against the righteous!
In the Rocky and Bullwinkle movie, the villains use a television program that causes the viewers to become zombies and attempt to broadcast it across the United States so Fearless Leader can become president.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, whatever's inside the Ark of the Covenant will melt your face off if you look at it when the cover comes off.
The Piano Tuner features a minor character who, according to his story, was deafened after hearing a mysterious woman-deer-deity sing during a sandstorm.
The word "fnord!", from the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea; at a young age, everybody is trained to unconsciously ignore the word, but feel unspecified fear and anxiety when they see it.
The play The King in Yellow, from a collection of horror stories by Robert W. Chambers, caused anyone who read it — no actual performances are ever suggested — to either go mad or meet a horrible death. Often in that order. Rightly censored by governments, it was, effectively, a civilization-destroying Forbidden Fruit.
The King In Yellow is later used by August Derleth for the Cthulhu Mythos, with a performance of the play acting as a summoning ritual for Hastur. Anyone who wasn't driven insane by reading or viewing the play can say goodbye to their sanity once he shows up.
In the novel Infinite Jest, a movie known only as "The Entertainment" was described as so fascinating, anyone who watched it became obsessed with it.
SF author David Langford invented the Langford fractal basilisk or blit (see here◊), a fictional type of computer-generated image that acts as a Logic Bomb to the human brain. In the story, it is explained that logical paradoxes like THIS SENTENCE IS FALSE aren't normally dangerous to our sanity or our health because we filter them through three or more levels of cognitive understanding; basilisks, as theorized by Langford, cut right past cognition and infect you directly through the visual cortex. One of the stories. According to Langford, death is not immediate, because You Cannot Grasp the True Form.
Some Post-Cyberpunk writers who've used the concept have acknowledged Langford as inspiration: Greg Egan calls it the "Langford Mind-Erasing Fractal Basilisk"; Ken Mac Leod's Fall Revolution series has the "Langford Visual Hack"; and Charles Stross has "neural wetware-crashing Langford fractals" and the "Langford Death Parrot". (MacLeod also has his narrator claim it's completely impossible, but now the idea of it is out there people feel they have to take precautions, concluding "What kind of twisted mind starts these things?")
An image similar to Langford's "basilisk" was used in the Star Trek novel Before Dishonor.
The short story Von Goom's Gambit featured a mathematician who became the world champion chess player "by default" when he discovered a certain arrangement of pieces on the board which formed an image that would short out the brain of anyone who saw it from the opposing player's perspective. Effects of the gambit included: causing some to go blind, driving others insane, and in one instance even causing all of those who saw the gambit at one tournament to turn to stone.
H.P. Lovecraft created the fictional black magic tome, the Necronomicon (aka the Al Azif) by the "mad poet" Abdul Alhazred. It was written under the influence of some pretty heavy, although unspecified, drugs, among other things. It is supposed to cause or trigger madness in the careless reader.
Almost everything in Lovecraft's stories is described as being just a little bit harmful to sanity. He must have been fascinated by the idea of things so horrifying and/or alien they're inherently upsetting. Besides of all the Eldritch Abominations and other Ultimate Evils you really don't want to look at too closely, there are things such as Pickman's paintings, of which the tamer ones caused an uproar when displayed, while the ones he didn't show everyone were enough to make a jaded and prepared onlooker scream in terror.
Played utterly straight in the story Out of the Aeons (co-written with Hazel Heald). The Eldritch Abomination featured there is so horrible and/or accursed that not just its appearance, but even any sufficiently-accurate image thereof will cause a human onlooker to soon afterwards grow stiff and be transformed into their own mummy — while their brain remains alive and helplessly trapped inside their skull.
In The Music of Erich Zann, the eponymous character's music apparently acts as this for whatever the hell is on the other side of his apartment's "window", and keeps it/them from trying to enter our world.
One of Ramsey Campbell's more notable additions to the Cthulhu Mythos was Y'Golonac. Part of the reason why was how easily Y'Golonac could be summoned: if you just read his name — not even aloud, but on the printed page — there was a chance you could end up possessed by him. Which you've already done twice. Seeing as he's a god that represents every act that could be viewed as depraved by all individuals sane or mad, this is not a pleasant fate.
The Dragon Below trilogy has a Daelkyr whose telepathic voice gives sane people horrendous headaches and insane people orgasms.
The plot of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash revolves around the titular Snow Crash virus which resets a person to speaking and understanding only ancient Sumerian, which is described as a programming language for human beings. It allows people to be programmed directly, but leaves them gibbering crazy people spouting glossolalia until then, and shows up in the form of a bitmap image. All hackers are vulnerable, because they can understand the embedded binary code in this bitmap, which causes their unconscious to be able to pick up and mentally "run" the virus. Any hacker who sees the bitmap, whether in cyberspace or in real life, becomes infected with the virus and instantly turns into a wandering bag-lady (or, erm... bag-lord?).
Logic Bombs were used in the Discworld novel Thief of Time to slow down (or destroy) the logical and obedient Auditors, in the form of signs saying things like "Ignore this sign (by order)", and an arrow pointing right that said "Keep Left".
The Discworld also features the gonagles of the Nac Mac Feegle, who fight by reciting atrocious poetry and by playing music on their painfully high-pitched mousepipes. They can make it rain.
On a less-rarified level, the 128-foot "Earthquake" pipe on the UU's pipe organ is said to have caused acute bowel discomfort across a quarter of the city when sounded. Which was only attempted once, as the same subterranean-depth note also got the six students who'd worked the bellows to power the organ sucked into the ductwork, plus the university's Great Hall shifted an inch to one side.
In a less-than-lethal example, the species of bird called "geas" (mentioned in Sourcery) uses this trope defensively, by being so monumentally silly-looking that any potential predator will laugh itself sick at the sight.
The Patrician's waiting room has a clock designed so that the ticking is irregular, the sounds coming a tiny bit before or after you're expecting it, or sometimes not happening at all. After it has tried to make sense of this for about ten minutes, one's mental state is reduced to mush.
One of the best known examples of a Brown Note in Hispanic literature is in The Zahir, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. In the story, the Zahir is a random, unique object, picked by Allah himself, which drives anyone who takes even a tiny little peek to obsession with that thing, to the point of becoming unable to feed himself out of pure detachment. The list includes a navigation device, a tiger, a vein of marble in a mosque, and an Argentinian coin with a "2N" scratched on one side. The story itself tells how the character became increasingly obsessed with the Zahir.
This trope was a favorite of Borges' actually (especially the obsession version). In The Book of Sand the protagonist becomes obsessed with a book which has no beginning and no end. In Blue Tigers the protagonist becomes obsessed with a collection of stones which defy all laws of mathematics.
Ubbo-Sathla, a story from the Cthulhu Mythos by Clark Ashton Smith, is about a British archeologist, called Paul Tregardis, who found a strange gem that causes anyone who looks into it long enough to have all his mind and consciousness transferred to all the ones who looked at the gem before, until his body disappears and his mind is transferred to the "original chaos"—the eponymous Ubbo-Sathla, primordial font of the original organic life-forms (think Gnostic Demiurge with no mentality at all beyond reflex). He might not have even considered doing so... except for the legends about an Evil Sorcerer who tried to use the thing to get a peek at the spell-holding tablets Ubbo-Sathla had been situated upon. The legends, of course, only knew that he had disappeared—not that it had happened via backwards reincarnation. And the beginning of the story suggests that the gem will ultimately shuttle all life back to be one of Ubbo-Sathla's mindless brood...
In the Cordwainer Smith short story The Fife of Bodhidharma, the fife can cause either serenity or madness, depending on how it is played.
Necromancers' bells in the Old Kingdom trilogy by Garth Nix. Different bells give different effects, and the effect also depends on how the bell is played. One of the bells kills everyone who hears it, including the player.
A variation of this occurs in A Clockwork Orange. After Alex's psychological conditioning, he is unable to listen to classical music without feeling sick and weak (in the film, only Beethoven's Ninth has this effect). At one point, one of Alex's former victims uses this knowledge in an attempt to drive him insane.
Vogon poetry is the third worst poetry in the universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Gruthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning", four of his audience died of internal hemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Gruthos was said to be "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to recite his masterpiece, "Some of My Favorite Bathtub Gurgles", when his small intestine, in an attempt to save galactic civilization, leapt into his skull and throttled his brain.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: The "Total Perspective Vortex" (a machine that displays a map of the entire universe with a tiny beyond microscopic dot that says "You are here") causes anyone run through it to feel so insignificant that they go mad (except Zaphod, and that was under special circumstances).
Arthur Dent isn't terribly bothered by Vogon poetry since humans are capable of writing and listening to worse poetry. The very worst poet in the universe was a human being who perished when Earth was destroyed.
The Father Brown story "The Blast of the Book" has a book that supposedly causes anyone who tries to read it to vanish into thin air and never be seen again. It's actually all just an elaborate practical joke.Robert Anton Wilson brazenly plagiarizes this in Masks Of The Illuminati
The Fritz Leiber short story "Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee" is about the discovery of a waltz rhythm that causes anyone who hears it to become maniacally obsessed with it, listen for other examples of it, and recreate it at every opportunity.
Palahniuk also included a box in Haunted 2005 with an eyepiece. Looking inside had some horrible effects such as madness and consequent suicide.
In the Magic the Gathering novel for the Apocalypse set, Lord Windgrace uses a thought which kills the thinker against a dragon engine, starting the thought in his head and sending it to the dragon engine before it becomes fully formed within his own mind.
Passing references to books that burn out the reader's eyeballs. And also books that can't physically be put down — readers are cursed to go around reading those books for the rest of their lives.
A more harmless example is the occasionally-mentioned Sonnets of a Sorcerer, which makes you speak in limericks for the rest of your life.
The big threat of the book is a basilisk — a gigantic one, at that.
The legend of the Mandrake (see below). The students have to wear hearing protection when pulling them out of the ground. Immature mandrakes just cause fainting. One can even tell their level of maturity by what they do—when they start trying to move into each other's pots, they're mature.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has, along with the basilisk, the Fwooper. Prolonged exposure to Fwooper call is said to make listeners go insane. One wizard who tried to prove that Fwooper call was beneficial to health came back wearing nothing but a dead badger on his head. Granted, this was Uric the Oddball, who, as the name implies, wasn't all that sound to start.
Subverted with the Augurey, a bird whose cry was once said to predict death. As it turned out, the Augurey merely cries out at the coming of bad weather. (Uric the Oddball, mentioned above, once heard an Augurey cry and was convinced he was dead; he ended up with a concussion after trying to walk through a wall.) Some wizards keep Augureys as weather forecasters, but their constant moaning in winter makes them hard to put up with.
The protagonist of Ian Mc Donald's novella Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone has discovered visual patterns with various effects on human neurology — and has two of them, one that blanks memory and one that kills, tattooed onto his own palms as self-defense.
The Euphio Question by Kurt Vonnegut was about a device which picked up the "music of the spheres" (though it wasn't called that.) Anyone who heard it experienced pure happiness and, because they had no desire to fulfill their needs, stopped whatever they were doing to listen to it.
Will Ferguson's novel Happiness™ is about a self-help book which tells you how to lose weight, make million of dollars, have great sex and be happy — and actually works. Somehow, reading the book acts on your mind to make you happy and content. This brings about the collapse of the economy, the death of culture and the end of history. Or, more simply, the end of the world.
A China Miéville short story features a disease which causes the victim to slowly go insane while constantly repeating a phrase referred to only as the "worm-word." The disease is caused by pronouncing the word properly; it is theorized that the sufferer repeats it so that the listeners will repeat it in confusion, risking infection through proper pronunciation. (There is mention of young Victorians who would live dangerously and take turns reading the word aloud, each time gambling with accidentally getting the pronunciation right.) This story first appeared in The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases as "Buscard's Murrain" and was reprinted in his collection Looking for Jake. For those who like to live dangerously, the word is yGudluh.
That story isn't the only one in the Lambshead Guide, either. There's actually a warning marker for diseases which can be contracted by reading the descriptions - and it gets used several times.
A seemingly harmless bard in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series at one point plays a song with massively nasty effects on the listeners. Subverted eventually, with the revelation that he's the telepathic Big Bad and the music just enhanced powers he already had. And his performances have been the undoing of worlds.
Cell has people reset to a primitive state by a signal they receive over their cell phones. It's even a literal reference to the Trope Namer, since afterward they don't seem to notice or care about soiling their clothes.
Everything's Eventual revolves around a man who can make people kill themselves by sending them a seemingly random pattern of symbols and a word that is significant to their life over email.
In IT, the sight of the title monster's true form causes whoever views it to go completely insane.
The scrimshaw Turtle in Song of Susannah, a Clingy Artifact which possesses whoever sees it in a good way, hypnotizing them and leaving a chain of forgetful, happy people in its wake. The turtle is possibly a Shout-Out to Borges above, given its presumably divine origins.
Mark Twain's witty essay/short story Punch, Brothers, Punch! (also known as "A Literary Nightmare") concerns a tune which the narrator is unable to force from his head, and is unusual in that the killer verse is presented for us in full — and the nature of the silly little ditty is such that just reading the lyrics really is enough to get the damn tune stuck in the reader's head! He finally banishes it from his mind by tricking a friend into getting it stuck in his head.
Conductor, when you receive a fare, Punch in the presence of the passenjare! A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare, A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare, A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare, Punch in the presence of the passenjare! CHORUS Punch brothers! Punch with care! Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price by Robert McCloskey has a story where someone puts a horrible song on the jukebox in the lunch counter. Anyone who hears the song— whether the original jukebox tune or someone else's rendition— can't get it out of their head. Ultimately the main character gets it out of his head by using Punch, Brothers (above), then gives it to the rest of the town. Now he's cleared but they have it. So, he tells them to sing it to the one person who hadn't been in town. Now everyone is cleared except that person, who now has to be smuggled out of town to keep from reinfecting the whole town.
The flip side of the same record causes the listener to get hiccups at the thought of the words "pie" or "Mississippi".
The Deplorable Word from The Chronicles of Narnia was used by Jadis to destroy Charn, her homeworld. We don't learn what the word is—only that it kills every living thing except the one who speaks it. We do learn that, whatever it is, it does not work on Earth.note Magic isn't the same from world to world. So the White Witch had to spend ages learning how to use Narnian magic.
Aslan: While mankind has not yet reached the levels of corruption that Charn has, there is the possibility that man could learn the Deplorable Word.
Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy introduces a mind-destroying version as a weapon. This is a universe where the soul is immortal, and the souls of the dead are coming back to possess the living, gaining "energistic" powers in the process. The "Anti-memory device" is humanity's response: a laser beam that carries a mind-virus. When viewed by human eyes, the virus is processed into the cortex, where it proceeds to destroy the "mind" (i.e. thought processes), thus killing both the possessing soul and the soul of the body's owner, leaving the body in a vegetative state. The resident Sufficiently Advanced Aliens are unsurprised by the fact that humanity was the first to perfect such a terrible weapon. They theorize that the virus might even transmit back into the afterlife (with which the possessing souls still have a connection), kill every lost soul in there, and go past the "human spectrum" and attack alien souls as well. It's that bad. What's more: QuinnDexter gets the weapon at one point. He's very happy when he finds out what it does. Turns out it facilitates possession when the body is soul-less.
The Xanth novel Night Mare. Looking into a hypnogourd caused a person's consciousness to enter the gourd, leaving them catatonic.
In Macroscope there is a sort of video that will destroy the intelligence of anyone above a certain IQ who hasn't evolved beyond violent tendencies.
Paul Robinson's short story It Can't Be That Bad tells how Clark Rosecrans discovered something terrible that bothered him. He goes to visit a psychiatrist. This is when the police show up as the psychiatrist, upon hearing what Clark knows, used a chair to bash a hole in the window of his 20th story office, and jumped out, screaming. His secretary calls the police, and at first it's thought Clark has killed the psychiatrist. So he's taken down to the station to be interviewed. A police officer and a deputy district attorney interview him before his lawyer show up. When they hear his story, the police officer draws his revolver and eats a bullet. The Deputy DA runs out, runs across the street, and jumps off a bridge. The tape recording of the interview is transcribed. After the transcriber finishes, she walks out of the office, walks into the ladies' room and drowns herself in a toilet. Her supervisor picks up the transcript, reads it, then walks down to the motor pool, douses himself with gasoline, and lights a match. The DA has decided not to prosecute, because first, nobody knows if he's done anything illegal, and second, because no judge will touch the case, for fear of hearing what Clark has to say. The joke is, every time Clark tells his story, he's worried, and the response is always, "Oh, it can't be that bad."
In The Idol of Cyclades by Julio Cortazar the main character is driven mad by a statuette he had found while exploring an island. He spends months making replicas of it until his replicas are identical to the original. In the end he attempts to sacrifice his friend to anoint it with blood.
John Varley's short story Press Enter starts with an investigation into the suicide, possible murder, of a computer hacker and reveals that somebody roaming the young Internet (or perhaps the Internet itself) defends against persistent probing with a signal that compels the intruder to commit suicide.
Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy books feature the "Name of God", a powerful word that contains within it the secrets of the nature of the entire world... or something like that. Carey resorts to some very clumsy cheats in order to avoid printing the Name. Whenever it is spoken, it appears as "____________".
She uses these "clumsy" cheats because when Phedre speaks the Name of God, everyone later says that the word they heard was "love" in their mother tongue.
Ted Chiang's short story Understand features two super-intelligent people duelling by trying to implant deadly Brown Notes in each other. The one that succeeds had been subconsciously planted in its victim in the previous few days; it is then triggered when his enemy tells him to "Understand"
One of Bentley Little's perverse stories involves a numerical code that causes anyone who looks at it to suffer a crippling orgasm. The military considers using it to end all wars.
The hero of one of Mercedes Lackey's SERRAted Edge novels uses the entire discography of They Might Be Giants to do this to a group of psychics sicced on him by the Big Bad; the theory was that the nonsensical nature of the band's lyrics made it impossible to sing along to without devoting a considerable amount of conscious thought to them, meaning his (and their) minds would be too preoccupied with thinking about the lyrics to do much of anything else. (It helped that the psychics trying to pick his brain were culturally stuck in the Middle Ages and had no possible context by which to even begin to grasp what was going on in his head; one of them was led off wailing helplessly about alchemical formulae.) Also, they were Ear Worms, so every pyschic who didn't have them stuck in their head yet would hear it from the ones who are already affected, thus infecting them too.
However, one of the hobgoblin servants found the tunes quite catchy and was also singing them before being bitch-slapped by his boss.
In Animorphs, at one point they fight a race of aliens called Howlers, who have a screaming cry that has very nasty effects on any sentient creature who hears it.
Interestingly, morphing into something with a simpler brain can apparently protect you from it. There's a scene where everybody in different shapes hears the Howlers' cry. Ax, who is not morphed and has a highly-developed brain, is most affected, and starts bleeding from the eyes/nose/etc., while everybody else has different reactions according to what they've morphed into.
Andre Norton's novel Lord of Thunder mentioned that subsonic noise could be used to control animals or drive them into madness.
The Dance of the Gods quadrilogy by Mayer Alan Brenner has a character named Jurtan Mont who has a mental illness that causes him to hear a soundtrack to his life, to the point that hearing music outside of his mind made his brain jealous and knocked him out. Later on he finds that playing (or in some cases just shouting) the music in his head knocks out or puts others to sleep.
In Dream Park, an industrial spy steals samples of 'neutral scent', an odor that causes a person's pre-existing emotions to become hyperintense. Too strong an exposure can make people lose all control of their fear, anger, lust, etc.
It's actually odd that more examples of smell don't exist, since it's been suggested that smell is the fundamental sense, and is crucial to memory-retention in most creatures.
The "Ultimate Perfume" crafted by the protagonist in Perfume, a deformed man with a heightened sense of smell. It's a pheromone made from the dead bodies of women he's killed, capable of seducing anyone. When he finally puts it on, it causes all the random passerby around him to love him so much that they tear him apart limb from limb and devour him.
Anne McCaffrey's Talents are susceptible to a "sting-pzzt" sensation whenever they're near Hivers or anything built by Hivers. Not really harmful, but as it's described as a constant metallic, acidic "smell" (for want of a better term; it's actually a psychic sensation), it tends to make them very irritable.
Johnnie Rico's first encounter with a Bug from Starship Troopers drives him into a panicked state that he doesn't snap out of until well after he's overkilled it. The neodogs deployed in the first encounter with the Bugs apparently are also driven nuts, as they reflexively suicide-bomb the Bugs as soon as they come into contact with them. Johnnie gets used to it, though, and mentions that later batches of neodogs are trained to overcome this instinct.
A Wrinkle in Time does this. IT pulses with a deep rhythm that causes people around to experience altered heartbeats and breathing to fall in line with the rhythm. It goes on from there to total control.
Stephen Dedman's novel The Art of Arrow Cutting features a mujina (shapeshifting creature from Japanese mythology) whose true face is a blank gray void that causes humans who see it to become mindless vegetables.
A short story called "Hypnoglyph" features a tactile example; a small carved object that acts on the sensory nerves in such a way that a person who touches it becomes obsessed with holding and stroking it, to the extent that they lose all interest in their surroundings (at which point they become prey for the alien creators of the objects).
In Henry Kuttner's short story "Nothing But Gingerbread Left" a semantics professor develops a German-language ditty so catchy that a person hearing it will be able to do nothing but think about it. Broadcast in occupied Europe, the song drives The Nazis so insane, they lose the war.
The short story/long sentence "The Fulcrum" features the discovery of a punctuation mark that will destroy your understanding of language, which in turn leaves you incapable of comprehending reality. This was presumably an attempt on the part of the social sciences to dispel the popular notion that it's incapable of creating a world-ending monstrosity in defiance of God's will. Take that, the hard sciences.
In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath, the cry of a rathorn (a vicious, carnivorous unicorn-like creature) induces terror in those who hear it. The Kencyr house of Knorth adopted the rathorn as its banner and its cry as their Battle Cry; members of the House appear to be immune to the sound.
The Ravenor series of Warhammer 40,000 novels contains the arch-villains quest to learn Enuncia, the language of the gods. A single, out-of-context syllable read aloud causes the speakers mouth to bleed, a nearby servitor's head to explode, and drives another berserk enough to smash its head to itty-bitty little pieces against a stone wall.
In Orson Scott Card's Songmaster, the protagonist, Ansset, can manipulate people psychologically with his singing. At one time, he causes a sadistic man to disembowel himself by showing the sadist the depth of his own evil through a song.
In Wheel of Darkness, an Agent Pendergast novel, the Agoyzen is a type of this - the mere sight of it unhinges something in the viewer's brain, making them become a sociopath. Pendergast is one of those who suffers from Agoyzen sociopathy, but he gets better.
German sci-fi pulp series Perry Rhodan has Alaska Saedelaere, a man who had an alien fragment fused to his face in a transporter accident which made everyone go insane and die just from looking at it. He had to wear a mask to disguise it. Being one of the series' main characters who had received cell activators to make them immortal, he had to wear that mask for a very long time. He got better after a couple of centuries, but had his condition reverted again.
The short story The Riddle of the Universe and its Solution by philosopher Christopher Cherniak provides an example where comprehension of a certain fact induces a coma. Often, the last word uttered by a victim is "Aha!".
Some of the magical tricks Garrett keeps up his sleeves in the Garrett, P.I. series would qualify, as they impair anyone who's looking at the flashy F/X when he activates them.
In Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, we have Du Svardenvyrd, the Wyrd of the Swords. The man who wrote it was insane, and the first person to encounter it immediately committed suicide. Only one other person's response is shown, and he went from being the best and brightest of a circle of wise, learned men to being a wandering thief and alcoholic, unable to commit suicide, but unable to live with what he'd read.
In Into the Looking Glass, one of the results of the creation of the Chen Anomaly is a bubble covering Boca Raton, Florida. Any attempt at recording what's inside the bubble fails, and anyone who sees it goes incurably insane. A technician assisting Weaver's investigation of the anomalies caused by the explosion at the University of Florida suggests the result is like that from a human in the Lovecraft mythos looking upon one of the Old Ones, by seeing something that's completely beyond human comprehension.
In Stephen Tunney's One Hundred Percent Lunar Boy, people with a certain genetic condition have the ability to see the fourth primary color all around them, and this color happens to be in their irises as well. This color does not bother them, but normal people who see the color of their eyes fall into a temporary catatonic state, in which they are extremely suggestible and can have their thoughts manipulated.
E. E. “Doc” Smith's Second Stage Lensmen, features near the end a scene in which the Thralian Prime Minister Fossten is revealed as an Eddorian, specifically the Dragon Gharlane. For various reasons, his true form is hidden from Kim Kinnison, but everyone else on the enemy flagship's bridge can see it and falls into a paralytic, near-braindead stupor.
The full length film following it, Everything That Ever Wasn't, was apparently such a Brown Note that it completely destroyed itself, as well as the theater and anyone watching it.
In A Fire Upon the Deep, high-protocol networks use supersentient packets. These are dangerous. Reading them can assimilate you into the blight (a fate that may be worse than the death of your entire civilization). There exist defenses, but they aren't fullproof. After discovering they have been subverted, a security firm offers the following advice:
If during the last thousand seconds you have received any High-Beyond-protocol packets from "Arbitration Arts," discard them at once. If they have been processed, then the processing site and all locally netted sites must be physically destroyed at once. We realize that this means the destruction of solar systems, but consider the alternative. You are under Transcendent attack.
A lesser example than some of these, but nonetheless: in Tales of Kolmar, the Rakshasa lords must have their true names spoken for them to be summoned. Demon summoners are practiced in this and manage, but a non-summoner overhearing is driven to vomit. Late in the series, we see that the sound of the Demonlord's laughter has the same effect.
The Dresden Files: Wizard's Sight basically lets yougrasp the true form of whatever you're looking at. Harry, being the unlucky person that he is, turned it on a skinwalker. He then spent an hour curled up in a ball, whimpering and shaking.
Try to imagine the stench of rotten meat. Imagine the languid, arrhythmic pulsing of a corpse filled with maggots. Imagine the scent of stale body odor mixed with mildew, the sound of nails screeching across a chalkboard, the taste of rotten milk, and the flavor of spoiled fruit. Now imagine that your eyes can experience those things, all at once, in excruciating detail.
Even without the Sight, looking at He Who Walks Behind was hard enough on sixteen-year-old Harry that he still has psychic scars from it ten years later, and the closest he could get to comprehending His name was a feeling of overwhelmingly powerful malevolence.
Fraternity of the Stone by David Morrell. The protagonist (a former US govt assassin) thinks he's being set up for this when he's asked to make a phone call at a particular time. He sets up a tape recording of his voice and a pet mouse in a cage, and after making the connection, watches from a distance to see what will happen. When blood suddenly spurts from the mouse's ears, he yanks the tape recorder off the table, causing the men at the other end of the line to think he's been killed.
In H. Beam Piper's story "Naudsonce", an alien race is discovered that experiences sound as physical sensation. The sound of the water pump set up by a human expedition gets the aliens blissed out (a long-term problem, since they live at a subsistence-agriculture level and will starve if they don't work); the sound of one expedition member's voice horrifies and disgusts them.
In Aristoi, Captain Yuan developed a whole range of postures, gestures, words and phrases that he determined, based on his research into kinesics and metalinguistics, had a psychological or even physiological impact on both the individual performing them and anyone observing. Since Yuan's time, the Aristoi have initiated a program to condition all citizens from birth to make them especially sensitive to them, such that, by the time of the novel, a Mudra of Domination can actually physically stagger anyone who beholds it.
And then there was this short story where hearing the unholy word "Älämä" turned everyone into a purple cone. (Author? Title? You probably tried out the word already and don't need them anymore...The German audioplay version was dubbed Die violetten Kegel.)
Live Action TV
Monty Python's Flying Circus had a classic Brown Note in the form of the "Funniest Joke Ever Written", so funny that anyone who heard it would die laughing, used to parody documentaries on World War 2 (more specifically, those about the atomic bomb). We could tell you more about it, but instead, why don't you see for yourself? (At your own peril.)
The premise is that a British humorist writes a joke so unimaginably funny that anyone who reads or hears it quickly dies from fatal hilarity. The British army then translate the joke word-by-word to German using different translators (some of them fall into a coma after translating more than two words) and use it as a weapon against the Germans in WWII.
The British Mythbusters knockoff Brainiac also "tested" the Brown Note, but they claimed it worked. On the other hand, Brainiac's unprofessionalism stems not from a preference for showing the two goofiest personalities injuring themselves to showing their scientific scrupulosity, but from their not testing anything more than once and faking results if reality proves less than accommodating. In this case, they stuffed their victim in the porta-john with a speaker; when the test was over, the host (but not the camera) looked into the john and said, "We're going to need a bucket." Take that as you will.
The comedy series Upright Citizens Brigade featured sketches involving the "Bucket of Truth", a plastic bucket which would supposedly force anyone who looked into it to face some undefined, horrifying truth, driving them to the Despair Event Horizon (and thus lowering the price of a home that included it); the only one immune to its insanity-creating effect was a detective who was already far past the horizon, and his reaction was "Don't you think I know that!?!"
The Master was forced to stare into the time vortex as a child and was driven mad by the sound of drums calling him to war. This sound has been running through his head without a break for close to a millennium now. It preys on him so much that the last time he died, his last words were "Will it stop, Doctor? The drumming, will it stop?"
The Outer Limits: In "Music of the Spheres", the titular music is a signal from space which, in addition to being extremely addictive, ends up causing a series of dramatic physical transformations in listeners. Notably, unlike most examples of the Brown Note, the changes the music causes ultimately turn out to be beneficial - it transforms humans into a form that is resistant to a high-UV environment, which is what the Earth is about to become due to the sun undergoing a "shift".
In Torchwood: Children of Earth, when the frequency emitted from Jack's grandson makes the 456 explode in a shower of blood (and then somehow teleport away in their flaming pillar) and also kills Stephen.
Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Is There In Truth No Beauty". Anyone seeing the true form of a Medusan becomes dangerously insane. An example of the surreal, Twilight Zoney, Space Is Magic philosophy that Star Trek started out with. The old writers didn't feel any need to "explain" everything, much less with the same Techno Babble every week. The Medusans don't emit dangerous radiation or anything, they're just supposed to look so weird that you'll lose your mind if you see one. (When traveling among mundanes they hide in little coffins like vampires.) Ironically, despite the madness they induce, the one Medusan we meet is actually pretty friendly and only exposes himself to a guy trying to kill him, and to telepaths, their minds are stated to be some of the most sublime in the galaxy.
One episode features an alien who uses this to distract Deanna Troi from probing his mind, by sticking a song permanently in her head. Apparently, Troi is allergic to ethereal, tinkly music-box music, because while it's mildly annoying to the viewer Troi reacts not like she's going mad, so much as she's in intense, head-exploding pain. Brown Note indeed.
Troi's example doesn't really count, as there is nothing compulsive about the music. It is simply that the alien forces Troi to hear it, constantly, day and night, 24/7. No matter how innocuous the music, after a while anyone would start to crack up, begging for it to stop, especially if it was in your head. And he keeps turning up the volume. Since nobody other than Troi can hear the music, this is more of a case of Terrible Ticking.
There's was also the episode "The Game," which features an addictive video game which stimulated the brain's pleasure centers.
Starfleet developed one of these with the intent of using it against the Borg: a computer graphic of a shape that cannot exist in reality. The theory was that it would spread throughout the Collective as they attempted (and failed) to "solve" it. Picard eventually rejected the plan to inject it into the Collective via a disconnected drone, instead deciding to help "Hugh" gain individuality. In the relaunch series of novels, however, he was directly ordered to use it and all other available weapons against the resurgent, now much more dangerous and aggressive Borg.
The short-lived show Threshold has this as the central plot, with an alien audio signal rewriting the DNA of people encountering it. In most cases it lead to those people dying horribly, but others became stronger and tougher, and most of all homicidal.
The music-related episode of Look Around You features the boîte diabolique, an extension to the piano keyboard containing the nineteen forbidden notes. These notes cause listeners' ears to bleed upon hearing them. Naturally, the sound in the recording is muted during the demonstration to save the viewers' own ears.
The Food episode of series two featured an image so frightening◊ that it causes users of the Slimby diet shakes to sweat all of the fat out of their bodies.
One episode of The Middleman involves a cursed tuba from the Titanic that causes anyone who hears it to "drown in the icy waters of the North Atlantic". Including people who are on dry land at the time.
The Green Clarinet sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look ends with a put-upon waiter countering the Clarinet's forced-truth effect with a literal Brown Note from a red tuba. The clarinet itself may not be a literal example, but it does have the effect of compelling the listener to reveal "an embarrassing truth... that they'll be unable to deny." Call it emotional harm if you must.
In the Heroes online comic, a man with sound control powers ("Echo DeMille") makes use of the Brown Note. As he puts it, instead of killing the men following him, he lays waste to them.
An episode of Seinfeld had to do with Elaine going out with a man who would go into near-catatonic states of bliss when he heard the Eagles song "Desperado". Irritated, she tried to get him to make a song "their song", suggesting "Witchy Woman", which he doesn't seem to particularly care for. At the end of the episode, he gets into a car accident, but unfortunately the surgeon goes into a similar state of lapse when he hears, irony of ironies, "Witchy Woman", which is playing on the speakers for some reason. It's implied the man dies as a result.
Kramer's hilarious reaction to Mary Hart's voice. It's apparently Truth in Television. See the real life examples.
On the Lockdown episode of The 4400, there was a fairly literal example of a brown note. In the episode, T.J. Kim, one of the 4400, had the ability to send out a frequency that caused extreme violence, paranoia and aggression... however, it only affected men. It was to the point where completely ordinary, even meek men were scrambling to kill anything that moved out of fear it would kill them first.
An early Saturday Night Live sketch, "Bad Opera", featured Dan Ackroyd as an arts presenter introducing the Bad Opera "The Golden Note". In this opera parody, the lead soprano is chosen by the Norse Gods to receive and sing the Golden Note, but the hero knows that the power of that note would kill her if she ever sang it. As Ackroyd's character explains during the performance, the Golden Note is a sustained high C of such tone, volume and length that the soprano singing the note suffers from "larynx lock", making her unable to stop singing that note.
More recently, an episode of Fringe involved a virus that downloads itself onto computers (and it's 666 megabytes in size, go figure). Once it successfully downloads, a popup ad appears on the screen called "What's That Noise?" Clicking on it produces a series of seizure-inducing images that place the viewer in a hypnotic state due to audio waves stimulating the brain. The viewer then hallucinates a ghastly hand coming out of the computer screen, and when it touches them, their brains melt into liquid due to overstimulation and flow out of every orifice.
A later episode had a frequency broadcast over the radio that completely wiped the memories of everyone who heard it. The backstory alluded to a radio broadcast that existed before the existence of radios. The broadcast itself was composed of a random series of numbers spoken in every different language.
As it turned out, the radio broadcast gave the co-ordinates to the pieces of the Machine that could bridge/break/destroy universes. Who built the machine? Walter Bishop did. Then he travelled back in time to a prehistoric age, broke the Machine into pieces, buried them across the world and set up the radio broadcast that led to their eventual discovery. Gnarly. The memory-wiping part was put there by agents from the Alternate Universe to capture the attention of the Fringe Division. It wasn't a part of the original broadcast.
An episode of The X-Files ("Drive") involved a secret Navy communication device which generated radio waves that supposedly vibrated at a frequency that matched that of a human skull, filling listeners' head with increasing pressure that would blow out of their ears fatally unless the pressure was relieved surgically.
In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush", the Gentlemen could only be killed by hearing a human voice. In this case though it's non specific, any human voice will do as long as it's a live person and not a recording.
In Angel in the demon dimension of Pylea music does not exist. When Lorne, exile from this dimension begins to sing, the locals react with pain and terror, taking it for malevolent sorcery.
Then there was Jasmine. People fell under her mind control just by looking at her face.
The Twilight Zone TOS "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby". Frisby encounters aliens who are harmed by musical notes from a harmonica.
Another Twilight Zone example: in the 1980s revival episode "Need to Know", anyone who hears a short phrase that reveals the meaning of life goes insane.
In Firefly, "The Hands of Blue" pursuing Simon and River Tam would kill anyone that got in their way or came in contact with the two fugitives by pulling out a small device that emitted a noise causing anyone to hear it to bleed from, well, everywhere. "The Hands of Blue" were not affected by the device, presumably due to protective body armor under their suits (the blue armor extends to their hands, hence their name).
It's implied that this will not kill River either, so it's probably something the Academy does in the brain.
An episode of Masters Of Horror titled "Cigarette Burns" revolved around a certain film, La Fin absolue du Monde, all copies of which were thought to have been destroyed after its first screening sparked a homicidal riot amongst the audience. It is revealed at the end that the reason for this is that La Fin absolue du Monde was a video of an angel being mutilated, and the evil of that horror affects all who view the film.
The Lost Room featured a number of objects with Brown Note effects, including a pack of cards that would cause the viewer to suffer startling visions, a nail file which induces sleep in anyone who sees light reflected from it and an umbrella which causes people to find the holder familiar.
The Sarah Jane Adventures has the painting known only as "the abomination" in the story "Mona Lisa's Revenge". Then somebody tries to animate it.
Chuck has this as its core trope, in the form of the Intersect, a pattern-recognition and confidential storage computer designed to be installed into human brains through a long, high-speed sequence of seemingly random images. Watching the Intersect installation program run paralyzes you temporarily and makes you nauseous at best, and has been shown to kill people at worst.
This theme also becomes an important plot point in Dollhouse. In the first season, we see an example of a "remote wipe", which removes the imprinted personality of the doll and restores him or her to their doll state. In the second season, Topher develops a device that can wipe anyone you point it at, even normal humans.
MTV's FurTV features an episode where Fat Ed's Heavy Metal band Stinkhole discovers the literal Brown Note. Many innocents shit themselves to death listening to the song.
On Supernatural, seeing Castiel's true face (and presumably the true faces of all other angels) causes one's eyes to burn out of their sockets, as seen in the fourth season premiere, and his true voice causes windows to shatter and ears to bleed. In vessel form, however, they can be heard and seen normally.
Warehouse 13 contains tons of objects that are capable of this, without even going into the really dangerous things in The Dark Vault, like Sylvia Plath's typewriter, which sucks the will to live out of a person just by looking at it. In fact, all of the artifacts in the Dark Vault are activated by some human sense.
Other artifacts include a song that causes a state of euphoric bliss in anyone who hears it, leaving them helpless, a bell that makes people laugh until they asphyxiate, another bell (owned by Ivan Pavlov) that makes a person drool excessively for 24 hours, and Lizzy Borden's Compact, causing whoever looks into the mirror to want to kill the person they love.
On The Colbert Report, due to the massive size of his balls, Stephen has a very, very low speaking voice. So low, in fact, that he is constantly in danger of hitting the brown note, so his doctor gave him a prescription for helium in order to maintain the pitch we normally hear him speaking in.
"My apologies to Doris Kearns Goodwin."
On Pixelface, Romford claims to be able to play a tone that will make someone wet themselves.
In Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters, Hiromu's Weakpoint is chickens. Seeing one, or even a picture of one, causes him to stop dead in his tracks, and even hearing the word "chicken" causes his movement to become stunted.
Tony Blackburn attempts to escape from The Slammer by playing a record of his own creation that puts anyone who hears it to sleep.
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon did a sketch, "Joking Bad", which parodied Breaking Bad. In it, Jimmy Fallon ends up trading "the purest joke he ever wrote - it'll make you laugh your ass off" - in order to get all of his other jokes back. The guy he gives it to reads it and starts laughing. The camera pans away and the sound of an explosion is heard. The man walks out of the room and turns around to reveal that he has a hole in his pants and no ass.
In the Haven episode "When The Bough Breaks", whenever a member of the Harker family cries, a random person in town hears it and dies. If the person continues to cry, more and more people will be killed. It normally manifests at puberty, so the family keeps it in check by teaching their kids to never cry. Unfortunately, William triggers the ability in Aaron Harker, a baby.
The music video for the Radiohead song "Just" begins with a man lying down in the middle of the street and refusing to budge. As people gather, they ask him (all the dialogue being in subtitles) why he's lying there, and after refusing over and over again, he finally caves in. The camera zooms in on his mouth as he's speaking, but with the subtitles suddenly removed, the audience has no idea what he's saying. The final scene of the video is of all the people around him lying on the ground in the same posture, his words presumably having had the exact same effect on them as on him.
The closeup has him repeating "God help me, I'll tell you." and it's implied that he's actually saying it during the shot of Radiohead looking out the mirror.
The Kate Bush song Experiment IV: "But they told us All they wanted Was a sound that Could kill someone from a distance."
And in the video, the scientists deliver; although the sound does not manifest anything like what might have been expected. (The video is also notable these days for featuring the then-virtually-unknown Hugh Laurie in a cameo role!)
The Beach Boys song "Good Vibrations" features an electro-theremin. At one point it plays a note so high that it's outside the range of human hearing, but it drives animals NUTS.
It's a piercing dog whistle and many humans can hear it, too: see the so-called "teen repellent", below.
Brian Wilson suppressed the song Fire for allegedly causing fires; see "Real Life" below for details.
"The Sermon II", the opening, spoken-word track on The Creepshow's album "Run For Your Life", is about a radio signal that causes a Zombie Apocalypse.
According to Urban Legend, the original Hungarian language-version of "Gloomy Sunday" was linked to a (varying) number of suicides. In some versions of the story "the authorities" banned the song for its allegedly triggering qualities.
Hawkwind's song "Sonic Attack" (actually more spoken-word with a few musical undertones) features a public service announcer giving advice on what to do "In case of Sonic Attack on your region," and describing symptoms of "imminent sonic destruction," which include dizziness, vomiting, an ache in the pelvic region, and fits of hysterical shouting or laughter (at which the announcer starts laughing hysterically, revealing that the Sonic Attack has hit his region).
The video for Kanye West's "All of the Lights" actually caused seizures in some epileptics, so a warning was put on the video and a version was posted with the seizure-causing parts removed. The beginning and end of the song feature brightly colored words flashing quickly, which can be kind of dizzying.
The Indian classical pieces of music known as "Raga" are supposed to produce strange effects when played in certain conditions. A story tells of the 16th century musician Tansen who, singing before the skeptical emperor Akbar, put himself (and the surrounding palace) in fire by merely singing the Raga "Deepak". His daughter came to the rescue by singing the rain raga called "Megh Malhar" to extinguish the flames. One researcher noted that the musicians still avoid performing the raga Deepak.
Averted by Van Halen; Eddie Van Halen's "Brown Sound" apparently didn't have any adverse effects on its listeners, other than hearing loss.
Devo performed a live cover of "In Heaven" from Eraserhead in 1979, with Mark Mothersbaugh as Booji Boy on vocals. In the middle of the song Booji would give a speech about future "holographic" Devo concerts, which would include the following feature: "And we'll pass out diapers at the door for everyone, so that when you all get in here, we'll turn on the sub-sonic frequencies, and we'll all sh*t our pants together!"
The root of the mandrake plant looks a bit like a tiny person. Naturally, people were afraid it would scream if cut, then that it would scream if ever dug up, and finally that if anyone heard it scream, they would die. In same cases, violently.
There's the Irish legend of the harp of Daghda, which could cause pain, laughter, or peace through music.
The Basilisk and/or Cockatrice. Depending on who you ask, they are either the same monster or two entirely different monsters that always get confused with one-another. If they are different, then they also look different: the Basilisk is either a lowly lizardy thing or a snakelike thing and the Cockatrice is essentially half rooster, half demonic monster.
The main points about these creatures are the same: they are small and can easily hide and sneak about and pop up anywhere, they are pure evil, they must come into this world by unnatural means (often by a rooster laying an egg), and to meet their gaze is to drop dead on the spot. Or to turn into stone. Or they kill/petrify you just by looking at them. Or by touching you or breathing on you. Or they leave a path of desolation ("creating a desert") wherever they walk. Or... it may be easier at this point to say that the Reptiles Are Abhorrent trope is very old, and has much to do with the wildly exaggerated dangerousness of poisonous snakes.
One other thing about basilisks must be mentioned, though, because it's just wicked awesome: they're so deadly that even trying to stab them transmits their Brown Note to you. As Lucan wrote, "What though the Moor the Basilisk hath slain, and pinned him lifeless to the sandy plain, up through the spear the subtle venom flies; the hand imbibes it, and the victor dies."note (Weall knowthey were really called the Moops.)
Of course, while the above could be argued as to whether or not it contains any Brown Note material, there is one definite Brown Note connected to the basilisk legends: the crow of a rooster will kill it.
Older Than Feudalism: The sight of Medusa and her Gorgon sisters either kills you instantly or turns you into stone depending on what version of the legend you read. In most versions, this power remains with her hideous visage even after she's been beheaded, and it ends up mounted on Athena's shield or breastplate for exactly that reason. Medusa was killed by the hero Perseus who had (along with various god-given tools) a mirrored shield — not to reflect her gaze back NetHack style, but to look into, so he could aim his sword to kill her without looking directly at her.
The Sirens are like an auditory version of the Gorgons, as they lure sailors to their death with their song.
They say that Bluebell flowers will make a sound when there is wind. They say that the bells toll your death, after you hear it, you die on the spot.
The cobra was long believed to be able to hypnotize its prey with its gaze and movements.
The Pied Piper could lure victims anywhere with his music, including to their own certain deaths. Yeah, using it on rats was hailed as a public service, but: he used it on children when their parents wouldn't pay him as agreed.
There are oodles of urban legends about a house of horrors exhibit which pays you back part of the admission price for every floor of the building's unimaginable contents you clear. The typical version of the legend has it that no one so far has ever fully managed the task, though some people have been found dead of fright on the fifth and final floor. According to Snopes, there is no known evidence for any real life basis for this legend.
The eyes of cemetery statue "Black Aggie" are said to glow bright red in the middle of the night, either blinding or killing anyone who looks into them. (source)
An article in Dragon Magazine, the late official magazine of the game, described a sage who delved into the study of the Lords of the Nine, the nine arch-devils who rule the Nine Hells of Baator. He went missing; all that turned up of him were a few spots of blood on his floor. It's speculated that either he attracted the attention of the devils, who spirited him away; or that that the sheer evil of the tomes he was reading caused him to spontaneously implode. This is also similar to the legend of Faust, who gave rise to the term "Faustian bargain" and was ultimately found splattered all over the floor...and the walls...and the ceiling.
In D&D, it's possible to place spell traps on objects, which are triggered by looking at, or reading them.
Urban Arcana takes this trope to the 21st century, by including rules on how to send spells over the Internet. Be careful next time you open that email attachment...
Bards can charm other creatures using singing and music.
Waaaaay back in the 1E era, there was a Dragon Magazine article about a high-level bard ability called the 'Last Jest'. Properly delivered, this joke could make villains laugh themselves to death.
This ability was brought to 3.5 as a Gnome PrC ability. Took three rounds to finish the target off and the second round had another effect.
There are a number of monsters that can harm with sound: Wolfweres (singing = sleep), androsphinx (roar = deafness), cloaker (moaning), tyrg (howling) and so on. And banshee.
Up to the 3rd Edition, nymphs were so beautiful, looking at one could blind or even kill humans. As a rule, looking at a clothed nymph could blind you, while looking at a nude nymph could kill you. In the 3rd Edition, clothing didn't matter, they could focus their beauty as a sort of overwhelming aura, and in the 4th Edition, they could not harm humans with their beauty at all. (Seduction and trickery, on the other hand...)
Many magical musical instruments can affect targets as well, such as a satyr's pipes.
There are a plethora of spells which create harmful sounds as well.
Also colours: Colour Spray, Prismatic Wall, etc.
Anyone who sees the true face of Pale Night, the Obyrith precursor of Tanar'ri (Elaborated upon below)
The Obyriths in 3.5 are a species of demons modeled universally on Lovecraftian concepts: to look on them is to invite madness and insane terror, even in those otherwise magically immune to such emotions. Dagon evokes terror of the sea, Ugudenk the Squirming King causes any viewer to realize he can burst from the ground at any time and thus to be terrified of the ground, etc. The most powerful of the Obyriths was supposed to be Obox-Ob, the first of the species who has a shape that could be very roughly analogued to something like a titanic scorpion, but with the head and tails (yes, plural) switched around, and horrible tentacle-tongues and worse. But the deadliest of the Obyriths, insomuch as their ability to cause madness, is Pale Night. She takes the shape of a softly curvaceous humanoid female, wrapped in a billowing shroud. Attempting to pull the shroud aside and see her true form is difficult, but if you do manage it, you must immediately make a saving throw. Success means you failed to understand what you saw beyond the veil. Failure means you understand what you see: a shape so alien, horrifically indescribable and anathematic to all existence that you are instantly slain. What's more, if a victim of this effect is brought back to life or magic is used to communicate with his spirit, he is unable to describe what he saw. As it happens, the shroud is something reality itself imposes on her to cloak her true shape as a way of protecting the rest of existence. Even the Far Realm, home to true Lovecraftian horrors in the D&D mythos, is not as innately lethal to witness (though entering it can do worse than just kill you... )
And the Devils have their own example, from second edition up to 3.5 in the form of Asmodeus and the tale of the Serpent's Coil. Supposedly, the Asmodeus all creatures understand to exist isn't the real thing, but rather a highly advanced illusion, or an avatar. The King of Hell's true form was hurled down into Hell from the Celestial Realms long ago. Asmodeus' impact into Baator is what split the plane into nine layers. Asmodeus' true body came to rest in a tunnel of rock hundreds of miles long created by his landing, called The Serpent's Coil. And it rests there still, slowly recovering its strength. Hearing this story didn't harm the listener at all, but anyone who told the tale of Asmodeus' "True Form" died within 24 hours. Anyone.
Cyric of the Forgotten Realms created a tome called the Cyrinishad that would brainwash anyone who read it into being a devoted worshipper of Cyric. Things got bad when he accidentally read it himself. As a result he became even crazier and came to believe his own hype. He eventually got better.
Symbols of Chaos in Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 are capable of making men nauseous at best to insane at worst, and that's saying nothing of actually gazing upon daemons.
This a rather favorite tactic of Chaos. There was an old story about the forces of Chaos capturing a Janitor or somesuch, and then returning him back home... after telling him a word. Cue the inquisition purging the planet continuously for a thousand years, before finally resorting to Exterminatus.
In addition the Imperium have their own Brown Note in the form of the Culexus Assassin. These rare mutants are like psychic black holes, whose bizarre non-presence seriously puts the wind up anyone (including their own allies) within a few feet.
There's a good example of this in the Ciaphas Cain novel Traitor's Hand, in which Cain witnesses an Imperial Guard trooper bleed from the eyes after staring at the symbols on the walls of a shrine to Slaanesh.
And the worshippers of Slaanesh in Warhammer have a word that, when whispered into your ear, can kill you.
Anything involving Slaanesh would result in this. His champion, Lucius, has a set of armor that turns youINTO him if you kill him and feel even the slightest sense of accomplishment. Then there's also the ability to make yourself so irresistable that the enemy will lose the will to shoot at you.
The new Jabberslythe unit for Warhammer Beastmen apparently drives enemy units insane. Understandably, it's the only unit without a picture in its entry. Good luck modeling it.
Actually, Games Workshop did release a model for it about a year ago. Calling it horrifying is something of an understatement.
Earthdawn. Simply reading about the Horrors can cause psychological problems and attract their attention upon the reader.
Call of Cthulhu. Reading Cthulhu Mythos books or seeing Mythos monsters can cause a loss of sanity and eventual insanity.
It's quite possible for Malkavians with high Dementation and Auspex in Vampire: The Masquerade to booby-trap books, paintings or songs with their discipline's powers. It's even possible to modify your aura in that way, to punish curious Auspex users.
And the Daughters of Cacophony have many ways to screw you over with their singing.
In 7th Sea, there is a red jewel known as "Legion's Spike". While not everyone has been affected by it, some unfortunate cases who have stared into its depths have suffered from catatonia, madness and homicidal rampages. And there's apparently more than one such gem.
In GURPS the Terror advantage (caused by whatever aspect of yourself you wish) can terrify victims beyond all reason. At its worst Terror can cause permanent insanity and actually make someone so horrified by the effect that he becomes stupider.
GURPS: Ultra-Tech has a more literal brown note. Sonic nauseators make people void their bowels as side effect of knocking them out. Just don't mix one up with a Sonic Screamer, which produces a sound that melts the target.
Shadowrun had the Flash Pak, a device that fired light bulbs in a random stroboscopic sequence that caused disorientation in anyone who viewed it.
Exalted features a spell called Rune of Singular Hate. It's described as a single word full of such vile and complete hatred that, when uttered at someone, curses them to debility at best, and outright death at worst. It's such a powerful word that it even affects the caster in a similar way, and can only be cast once in a lifetime.
Similarly, the Deathlord known as the Bishop of the Chalcedony Thurible is working on a mammoth collection of books about the theology of death. Some are used as holy books for ancestor cults, some are gibberish he keeps in his own personal library...and some describe Oblivion so seductively the reader goes insane.
And when it comes to damnable books in Creation, there's none better than The Broken-Winged Crane, which often instills madness in those who read it and compels them to try demon summoning and Yozi worship for fun and profit.
In other Deathlord wonkiness, there's the Monstrance of Celestial Portion, the cages used by the Deathlords to put Solar Exaltations through the spin cycle of evil so they come out as Abyssal shards. Solars can't even look at the Monstrances without feeling violently ill.
There is also the Yozi called She Who Lives In Her Name - her true name traps lesser beings into endlessly repeating it should they ever hear more than a few words of it.
Deadlands has the Whateley family tree shrub. Looking at it is more than enough to drive someone insane. Then there's what the Whateleys are actually doing...
Eclipse Phase has weaponized the brown note, in the form of "basilisk hacks", combinations of sensory input which essentially crash the human brain. Also, low exposures only cause seizures, but longer doses can cause Exurgent infection.
Pandora gates are also noted to be odd enough that they hurt your head and cause some asyncs to wig out. Most of the solar system bases that contain gates keep them covered at all times...just to be on the safe side.
In the World of Warcraft tabletop RPG, Eredun, the language of demons, is said to be inherently evil and has a will of its own; it slowly rots the brain of any nondemon who speaks it, driving them mad and corrupting them towards evil. It's one of the reasons that warlock magic is considered so taboo, as it's required for the casting of spells.
Second and Third Edition Nobilis both have flavour text describing a book on the true nature of beauty. Because the book is a sacrosant object not meant for mortals, it kills the first to read any word within. The vignette wraps up with "It is a statement on the nature of beauty, and the nature of scholars, that [...] over half of its text had been read, understood, and transcribed."
Any picture of Ananda, Lord of Murder, the Infinite, and the Fourth Age, induces physical and/or psychological damage in those who see it, due to his incredible beauty. Actually seeing him in the flesh is worse.
The Book of Vile Darkness sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons introduced "Dark Speech", a language so evil that hearing a single word spoken in it can potentially drive people away screaming in terror, as it's simply that awful. (Trying to speak even a single word of it without the proper training is lethal, and only evil entities like Archdevils can manage more than a short phrase.)
Mage: The Awakening deals with vastly alien concepts that can confuse and bewilder mortal minds, but that's just from trying to grasp extraordinarily complex ideas. Intruders: Encounters with the Abyss suggests that Abyssal intrusions can take forms such as a poem or work of art. Banishing such intrusions is extremely difficult when merely perceiving them is deleterious.
The Klakk's scream, which can cure Shadow Matoran of their corruption.
Pokémon: Any sonic-based attack counts as this. The most potent of these would be Perish Song, a song that will make all listeners faint in three turns if they don't switch or have an immunity to sound attacks.
Demonica in Stretch Panic, a horror movie fanatic who was mystically transformed into a monster so horrifying that seeing her is fatal.
A DoomRickroll mod features a boombox playing "Never Gonna Give You Up" that is deadly to enemies (it is actually a DeHackEd-patched executable that replaces the chainsaw sprite, and vastly increases its range and damage).
The Winter Windster in Wario World has an attack where its eyes turn red. The only way to avoid it is to keep Wario facing away from it while it flies around you. Fail to do so and it flies into Wario's mouth and inflates him like a balloon, then proceeds to hover him toward the spikes.
The InfocomInteractive Fiction game Hollywood Hijinx features an unfinished film called A Corpse Line; the reason it's unfinished is that it's so horrific, anyone who watches it, even its creator, dies of a massive heart attack.
The Condemned series makes use of this in the second game. In fact, it's the main plot point of the whole series — the conspiracy responsible for the homeless population of the City going insane relies on sounds that, when heard/felt, have effects ranging from minor cranial hemorrhaging, causing omnicidal psychosis which just happens to coincide with protecting the conspiracy — and did I mention they're only omnicidal to people who are not Influenced? — to causing heads to explode — for emitters and your average conspirator, just birds, while the main character can generate sounds that explode human heads.
In one of the first Visual Novels, Shizuku, people in a certain Japanese city were driven insane by "doku denpa", "poisonous radio waves". Because of the game's popularity, the word "denpa" entered the otaku lexicon, and is now used to refer to a particular genre of Moe electro-pop songs. The connection to the game - and to this trope - is fairly obvious to anyone who's actually heard one of those songs.
Mystia Lorelei from the Touhou series has an unusual variation on this trope: her singing can cause night-blindness.
The game Rez was purposefully designed to confuse the player's neural processing of sensory input.
The (possibly) fictional game Polybius is attributed with the power to mess up the brain causing amnesia, nightmares and death.
This is the implied way Harps kill in Final Fantasy — in the earlier versions, visible music notes stream towards the enemy and cause damage.
In Loom, the Big Bad mentions a legend that says that anyone who looks under the hood of a member of the Weaver's Guild will die instantly. The main character (a Weaver himself) is uncertain as to the veracity of this legend, but late in the game, one of the Big Bad's henchmen succumbs to curiosity...
In fact, the basic premise of most of this game could be considered a Brown Note. Singing or playing certain sequences of notes (called "drafts") can have a wide variety of effects on reality, from the innocuous (Dyeing) to the beneficial (Healing) to the horrific (Unmaking).
In Tales of the Abyss, Tear's Fonic Hymns are songs that have a myriad of effects, ranging from putting everyone that hears it to sleep (Nightmare) to a mass healer (Revitalize) to summoning beams offirey death (Judgment).
It's also implied that all magic in that game is some sound- "Oh Admonishing Melody,...".
The seventh fonon which allows fonist such as Tear to use healing spells is the fonon for sound and can cause healing, most magic and a hyperresonance which can teleport people into new locations and destroy countries.
Similarly, in the Tales of Symphonia OVA, Colette begins singing some creepy song that kills an army of Mooks in the second episode. (Given it knocks her unconscious its likely her spell, "Sacrifice".)
Ys I and II has a corridor in Darm Tower where evil organ music is played that damages Adol. You must break the pillar on the balcony that is piping in the music to advance.
The MOTHER series has a lot of these. Examples include singing Giegue into submission in the first game, Frank saying something nasty in the second, or Lucky's bass in Mother 3.
At one point in Forum Warz, you're hit by a Brown Note through your speakers which causes you to shit yourself into unconsciousness, although the intended effect was death. Later on in Episode 3, you get the chance to beat down the rogue hacker/Light Yagami wannabe who used it on you and return the favor, giving you the powerful Death Note attack.
Quest for Glory IV has the Ultimate Joke (apparently about the wizard and the farmer's daughter, that John Rhys-Davies calls "a killer"). Telling it will make anyone laugh, no matter the situation. It's just that funny. The catch is that you can only use it once, under the principle that a joke is less funny the more often you hear it. You use it against Ad Avis in the final battle, to distract him long enough to prepare and unleash your killing blow.
The Correspondence — a mysterious ancient alphabet whose purpose nobody knows for surenote And you hear of it long before you find out it's an alphabet at all; it's mentioned in the sidebars with various wild stories attributed to it — in Fallen London can drive you insane, or even cause your eyes to bleed or your hair to catch fire.
In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, when Link reaches the source of the river in Ikana Valley, he is attacked by a ghost who plays an evil melody that drains his hearts. The only way to get past is by playing the Song of Storms to counter it. This will restore the river, giving power to a giant sound system on a nearby house, and the song it plays will kill the mummies outside.
Near the entrance of the Bonus Dungeon of Baldur's Gate, there is a skeleton just standing there. The tour guide you're with explains that there was once an enchanted picture on one of the walls that caused whomever looked at it to continue gazing at for all time. That skeleton was one of its victims.
The Graybeards warn the Dragonborn against learning Dragonrend because it was a weapon forged by hatred and fury directed at Dragonkind. According to them, to learn a Word of Power is to take in everything about it into your soul. Since their leader is a Dragon, the Graybeards understandably don't want anything to do with a Shout created by hatred directed at Dragons.
Some other Dragonshouts can count as well, such as "RII VAAZ ZOL" (Rips a soul from a person), "GOL HA DOV" (Mind controls an enemy).
In Exile III: Ruined World, the dragon Khoth has a book of puzzles so complicated that reading them will cause the PCs to become dumbfounded.
In Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly: The horror of looking into the Hellish Abyss causes the viewer to become blind.
In Mass Effect, this is why only strong willed individuals such as Shepard are able to withstand experiencing the Prothean Beacon and keep their sanity, as the sheer intensity of the vision has the potential to "destroy a lesser mind".
By Mass Effect 3, Indoctrination is believed to at least partly be a result of this, with infrasonic sound being used to render people vulnerable to suggestion. Additionally, the background material suggests that the Reaper Horn, the loud blaring sound produced by Reaper Destroyers and Dreadnoughts, is intended to induce panic in enemy forces by similar means. Developer commentary states that the sound engineers put quite a lot of research into what type of sounds instinctively frighten human beings, and combined them to make the Reaper Horn.
The Tomes of Eldritch Lore in the original Alone In The Dark 1992 will either weaken Carnby (Fragments from the Book of Abdul) or kill him dead (De Vermis Mysteriis) upon reading unless he is standing on the pentagram in the room where you find them.
The first Breath of Fire I game gives the D.Hrt, which is a song that reduces the HP of any dragon who hears it to 1. It will immediately waste Zog or Sara, and bring the main character's HP down too since he's also a dragon.
The advanced forms of the Trumpy viruses in the Mega Man Battle Network series can induce status effects like confusion and blindness or immobilize you while they play their music. They can be summoned to mess up your opponents should you obtain their corresponding battle chips.
Kirby is a combination of a very loud singer and a horrific bad singer. For these reasons, the microphone copy power (as well as the mike item from the first game) will instantly kill all non-boss type enemies on the screen.
In Fallout 3, Vault 92's experiment involved Mind Control via subliminal messages in white noise, which ultimately drove the inhabitants insane.
The mesmertron is a weaponized brown note which either drives someone into a homocidal rage, killing allies and enemies alike, causes their head to explode or makes them completely docile and obey any command given to them by anyone. This last one makes it the weapon you get when enslaving people
One of Eddie's solos in Brutal Legend is called "Face Melter," which causes massive damage to nearby enemies; killing basic infantry shows you the literal effect of a face-melting guitar solo.
Lost Eden has the Instruments of Fear. Despite appearing to be nothing more than a trumpet, a drum, and a bell, they produce a noise which forces the Tyranns to flee when played by the right male party members.
In South Park: The Stick of Truth, one of Jimmy the Bard's abilities is to play the Brown Note. If done successfully, he can make the enemies shit blood.
In the world of The Demented Cartoon Movie, saying the word "Blah" sometimes causes your head to pop off of your neck, although the exact rules regarding this are inconsistent. Saying or producing a recording of the word "Zeekyboogydoog" causes a nuclear explosion at the location the sound originated from. Saying the word "Gleegsnagzip" causes the entire planet to explode. And saying "Kamikaze Watermelon" cues a visit from Fooby, the Kamikaze Watermelon.
According to the Homestar Runner cartoon "Fall Float Parade", Strong Sad goes into an unexplained trance whenever he hears the phrase "covered bridges". At least until Strong Bad starts hitting him with nunchucks.
In this same series, there's the Creepy Painting Strong Mad keeps in his closet, which depicts a gargoyle-like creature named Rocoulm who says "Come on in here!" and causes anyone who sees the painting to get "the jibblies."
And apparently, a drawing of a one-legged puppy nicknamed "Li'l Brudder" can make Homestar break down in tears.
Homestar: Li'l Brudder! I... I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING WITH MY LIFE! I'm thinking of getting into male modeling... or maybe high finance... I JUST DON'T KNOW!!
In Dick Figures Red finds an adorable Kitten he dubs "Kitty Amazing" (because that's what he is). The kitten is so adorable it melts the hearts of all who look at it... Blue recently had eye surgery so he is spared, but no explanation is given for why Red is immune.
For a one-shot gag in Sam and Fuzzy, here, Fuzzy creates a Brown Note video to psychologically break Sid, another character. It might have worked if Sid hadn't run away.
In MegaTokyo, the Necrowombicon was probably a Brown Note, because Largo's life can be divided in two. Before reading it, he was just a superconfident, super-spirited hardcore gamer; after reading it, he became obsessed with zombie rampages, though that Miho was the "3V1|_ Z0MB13 QU33N", and suddenly started seeing the world through the glasses of B Movies, shooter games and online RPGs. But if we consider that Largo is also a big Cloudcuckoolander, it might as well have been caused by something else.
This happened about the time the authors were transitioning from a loosely connected series of jokes to a more comprehensive narrative, so the clichés Largo was built on were ramped up overnight to Cloudcuckoolander status to help lead into his plot arcs. It's later mentioned that he's always been this way. In addition, the "other" Largo was becoming less influential on the comic's creation by that point — if he had not already been completely forced out — which meant it was also the point where the Largo character was being written by the other author/artist, who had vastly different tastes in humour and writing style.
In 8-Bit Theater, Black Mage explains that anyone who sees his face will go insane. This happens to a random passer-by which comes back to bite the Light Warriors much later. Later on, an as-of-yet unnamed Dark God tells Black Mage that hearing his true voice will cause a person's brain to eat itself.
Starslip Crisis has the sculpture known as "The Spine of the Cosmos". Looking at it by itself is harmless, but when its artistic context is described to the viewer, they are either granted ultimate understanding of the universe or driven insane — either way, becoming a mindless zombie. The insectoid aliens known as Cirbozoids are the only intelligent species immune to this, due to their inability to understand art.
It is forever robbed of this ability, however, when its artistic context is irreparably changed by Mr. Jinx wearing it as a hat, and is thereafter described by at least one character as "the dumbest thing i've ever seen".
Librarian Dewey develops a book talk guaranteed to make people faint in Unshelved!
That's just one of the talks he's got. He has, if memory serves, book talks that make people nauseous, break out in a rash, and speak Urdu, among what must be others.
In RPG World, it's hinted that the four Mystic Keys are these. At least it was strongly hinted that reading the Tiger Book was what made Jeff go crazy and turn evil.
In #859, Durkon casts Holy Word, described under Dungeons & Dragons, on the Linear Guild, banishing Sabine and striking everyone else deaf. The only member to come out unscathed is Tarquin, whose hit dice are apparently higher than Durkon's caster level. The deafness also affected Belkar, causing an interesting result when Nale cast suggestion on him to get him to stop stabbing him. Roy, who came up with the whole plan, snarks:
Lampooned in one series of Nodwick strips, the Evil Sorceress She Who Must Be Obeyed has obtained a written copy of That Which Man Is Not Meant to Know, and she is smart enough not to read it, because she realizes that this Trope must apply if no-one is meant to know it. However, after taking the heroes prisoner, Piffany assures her that only men are not meant to know it; women can safely read it, because it's something that they know already. When she reads it, not revealing it to the readers, the fact that such a secret would be so devastating to men almost makes her bust a gut laughing.
A unique tone not reproducable by nature is generated by a device that can make Florence Ambrose, a genetically modified red wolf, fall asleep or wake up. Given previous negative experience with similarly modified simians, having an "off" switch" on an experimental design is probably not all that bad idea, particularly when that "design" is a based on a predator.
Sam's real er... face, which he theorizes triggers some sort of nurturing instinct in humans, since any time someone sees it they immediately disgorge their stomach contents. This is a big part of why he wears a full-body environment suit with an animated mechanical face, beyond issues with lower partial pressure of Oxygen.
The Sticky Notes of Doom, which cause any robot who reads them while connected to the commnet to download an upgrade that lobotimizes them.
In Jayden and Crusader, the character Third can apparently utter proofs of the non-existence of God so powerful Priests have heart attacks because of the conflict of their profession and the utter logic of the proof. We aren't told what this proof is.
Ubersoft employes were once shown only the shadow of a new Apple product, since it's beauty drove a small percentage of the population insane when they looked directly at it. When asking how big a percentage, the answer was approximately the same small percentage of the population that had been allowed to look at it directly.
Necessary Monsters: Jonathon tells the man on the safehouse front desk something that causes him to pull his own skull apart.
Rowasu of Juathuur makes his sword screech by draggin it on the ground to confuse his enemies.
In Homestuck, Feferi has to continually keep her lusus fed, or it'll cry out and every troll in the galaxy will die from the subsquent psychic shockwave known as the "VAST GLUB".
In Poharex, Eperok uses "The Call", a high-frequency sound(which he refers to as magic), to force any dinosaur that hears it to come and aid him in battle. He only used it once in order to distract Leay, allowing Poharex to get the upper hand.
The Doom Bell of Girl Genius painfully knocks out all those who hear it for the first time.
Agatha on the other hand, only seems mildly surprised.
Mama Gkikka: Keeds today. Kent even take a leedle existential despair.
Mama was surprised, though, that Gil found the sound "beautiful" as it meant Agatha was still alive and fighting. It's been implied, though, that Gil may be related to the Jagermonsters, which may account for his immunity.
70-Seas has "Jensen's Ye Olde Horror of the Deep", an Eldritch Abomination in a bottle that causes pants-wetting terror on anyone looking at it.
Vexxarr has the Schlumpoid Sploorfix, whose Livejournal entries have caused AI to explode at how melancholy they are. Even his casual observations about life have caused otherwise rigidly-programmed ship drones to consider him a threat to the host vessel and left him unceremoniously dumped in a waste bin.
Axe Cop has a band called The Axe. Their music kills bad guys because it's poisonous to them.
Neuro-fractal patterns can induce all sorts of reactions from calmness to nausea. In some places fractals that promote immune health are used to prevent populations from getting sick.
Thus providing (cold) comfort to fans of Langford and his basilisks. In fact, Orion's Arm also features the Medusa Fractal. A hypothetical mathematical figure which... sets up a feedback loop in the brain... sending them into a permanent catatonic state. It is also sometimes referred to as a "flatline fractal" or (after the Julia set it is said to resemble) "the brain-eating basilisk".
From The Onion: "New Study Too Frightening To Release". A scientific study whose contents must be suppressed or the knowledge within would likely cause "the total breakdown of societal order, including the abandonment of the current political and economic system, rioting, looting, mass suicide and, quite possibly, global thermonuclear war." The head of the team investigating then killed himself, and many of the other researchers "cannot be accounted for".
In Star Harbor Nights, a close-up look at the insanity causing molecule in Rhyme's blood at just the right angle causes viewers to scream until they pass out.
The SCP Foundation has enough of these to call them "cognitohazards" — a syndrome or behavior that can be transmitted by means of sensorial information, such as pictures and sounds. It becomes a "memetic hazard" if the person affected can reproduce the Brown Note so that it spreads to other people. Mind affecting Brown Notes can often be cured by the application of Laser-Guided Amnesia.
A "Langford-Berryman Memetic Kill Agent" triggers a fatal neurally-induced heart attack in any "un-innoculated" personnel trying to view the SCP-001 entry. Try your luck here.
SCP-298 is an Ominous Pipe Organ that causes the blood of anyone who hears it to be expelled from their body and gain the consistency of cellulose, and paralyses them to stop them from escaping.
SCP-332 is a marching band that plays every 48 hours, or when someone gets too close. People hearing the band play will be overtaken by an intense desire to acquire an instrument and join the band, or pretend to play an instrument if they cannot find one, and play until they pass out from exhaustion and are subsequently trampled by the band members.
SCP-1875 sends emails and modifies incident reports with these. Considering thesituation, it's quite understandable.
Perhaps the most dangerous is SCP-370. The first victim had to actually look at the thing - that's all it takes - but it's so contagious that knowing too much about what it looks like or what happens to the infected is enough to become infected. Finding out what could and couldn't be safely known of it was something that happened the hard way to its discoverers. Some of those infected cannot help trying to give out information that will spread the effect and even secretly edit documents previously thought harmless, though of course precautions are taken against this.note ≌⊙♆☣♉︎℥Ω Because of this, we are absolutely positively mostly sure reading the SCP writeup won't affect you, and therefore almost sure the words you're reading right now do not mean that You Are Already Dead.
Parodied in College Saga, where singing a corny song was the only possibility to defeat the Chocolate Tree.
In H-M Brown's Shell, using some type of filtration method like a peep hole or a television to see the Eldritch Abomination, will still lead you to madness.
The Creepy Pasta Smile.jpg, an image of a dog that causes the viewer to have bizarre nightmares.
In case you're wondering what it looks like and are resistant to the Shmuck Bait, it's a picture of a husky with demonic eyes and a photoshopped grin on it's face. Said nightmares involve the dog telling you to spread the word, meaning that you have to send it to someone else in order to stop the nightmares.
The "full version" of the Creepypasta video "Mereana Mordegard Glesgorv" is said to drive the viewer to insanity.
The Choir from The Fear Mythos can distort sounds...and make them shatter glass, rupture eardrums, and hemorrhage people's brains. Luckily, most of the time they seem content to simply drive you to suicide, but if you piss them off...
Many of the eponymous creatures in S T R A N G E R S have effects on people simlpy by being in their presence. For instance, contact with the gazedrene causes a spike in violence and aggresion around it, and those who live with the quiet simdroni will grow more and more antisocial until they loose their ability to communicate altogether.
While it's fine for humans, but for the Weasels in Fallen London, "Pop Goes the Weasel" tends to cause the little fellas to explode quite spectacularly. The Correspondence is a straighter example: It has caused the following reactions:
Hair and eyebrows set on fire
Bleeding from the Eyes
One Half of an Audience covorting lustfully with the other half
In Adventure Time Princess Monster Wife repeatedly inadvertently knocks Finn and Jake unconscious with her appearance, even when they use mirrors to avoid this. She also made a penguin puke, again inadvertently.
Kim Possible: Singing "Rock-A-Bye Baby" instantly puts Rufus to sleep.
The Brown Note itself appears in the episode "World Wide Recorder Concert", here referred to as "the brown noise".
"Now, as you all know, the Mexican Staring Frog of Southern Sri Lanka can supposedly kill you with one horrid gaze. If a person even so much as looks into the frog's eyes, they can be paralyzed, or even die."
The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs, a novel within the series made by the boys on an episode with the same title. It causes everyone who reads it (with the possible exception of the boys themselves, who just laugh) to vomit from the Squicky parts (which we never hear) of it. Apparently, nobody has gotten past the first paragraph without this reaction, and in a game show where you try to listen to the audio books as long as you can, one person threw up after 2 seconds. The twist of all this is that despite this reaction, it is agreed-upon in-universe to be an excellent work of literature.
Ugly Bob, the ugliest man in Canada (or so we are told). He's so ugly that he has to wear a paper bag over his head, and anyone who looks at him turns to stone. In the episode "Royal Pudding" his ugliness is used to defeat the monster that stole the Canadian princess.
Mightyman and Yukk is one of the Three Shorts of the late-70s Plastic Man cartoon. The titular Yukk is a dog whose face is so ugly that it is continually concealed by a doghouse; when he takes it off, whoever is looking at it would run away in terror, and it could even cause inanimate objects to break.
In the pilot episode of the revival... episode of Biker Mice from Mars, the Big Bad throws his little evil brother against a wall, and the sound of his claws scratching makes their prisoners wince and cry.
Dethklok's music on Metalocalypse has some unique effects, but they may be supernatural in origin. In "Dethkomedy", it's mentioned that the song "Go Into the Water" caused a million people to go into the water and drown (although Ofdensen successfully argued in court that it was their own fault, since the album that song was on was 'intended for fish only'). They summon tornadoes in "Bluesklok", a troll in "Dethtroll", and a large amount of fish in "The Metalocalypse Has Begun". All the while, they remain mostly oblivious to this ability, often acting just as surprised as everybody else at the results. Every time Skwisgaar starts to play a solo, PEOPLE START DYING! Duncan Hills Coffee anyone?
In Justice League, the supervillain Ace of the Royal Flush Gang is a human Brown Note. Simply looking into her eyes, even through a television broadcast, can lead to delusions and eventual catatonia. If she really puts her mind to it, the result can last long after she's left or even become permanent. Eventually her power expands until she is a full-blown Reality Warper.
One episode dealt with a magic flute that caused anyone who heard its song to fall into a permanent magical sleep. What was the cure for this curse? Harmony Smurf's trumpet playing, a racket that was so bad that it could "wake the dead".
Grandpa Smurf's foe Nemesis was a wizard who's face had become so hideously deformed in an accident that no-one could bear to look at him, either fainting or fleeing in horror if they did so.
American Dad!'s Oscar Gold, a inside-series film created by the villain Tearjerker (Roger, in a Bond style parody) so sad you will cry to death. It's about a Jewish, mentally retarded, alcoholic boy, in hiding from the Nazis (Anne Frank style), whose puppy has cancer...and then the pup dies and Oscar walks and jumps in joy while he drags the dead doggie body...
There's also an even sadder film, consisting of several hours of a baby chimp trying to revive its dead mother, but fortunately it's never released.
As another American Dad! example, Steve Smith gets lost in the desert and meets God, who took the form of Angelina Jolie. When Steve asks to see her boobs, she agrees, though warns him that staring into the rack of infinite wisdom has been known to drive men insane.
It's never stated, but it is implied, with the Golden Turd. While it does have a lot of monetary value, seeing as how it's solid gold and encrusted with valuable gems, it drives the people who find it to do some insane things to keep it or to prevent others from having it, implying that it does have a more drastic immediate effect on the finders. Let's see, the first man who finds it is with his friend, and he quickly kills the friend because he doesn't like the idea of sharing the value. He regrets it immediately and kills himself. The next person who finds it is a long-time ethical cop who takes it from a crime scene two weeks before retirement, putting his pension at risk. He immediately regrets it, but not before his wife finds out. The cop decides to return it and his wife ACTS like she agrees, but then we see her put poison in his tea... The turd ends several episodes later powering up Roger´s UFO so he can escape the war on earth between heaven and hell forces after the apocalypse, but not before taking Stan and Jesus itself as passengers to the anti-Christ hideout...transforming it along the series from an Artifact of Attraction to a some sort of Chekhov's Gag
Futurama has quantum lichens, such as Langdon Cobb. Anybody who sees one, even in a photograph, would be drained of their lifeforce, which it would then collect for nourishment. Cobb becomes an actor because the adulation given to him as a celebrity is enough to substain him without draining anyone.
An episode of The Transformers, "Carnage in C Minor", features a race of aliens who can produce resonant tones which can cause a variety of effects, from healing to destroying stuff. When working in concert, several such aliens can create a harmonic effect that can be quite devastating, and the Decepticon Soundwave attempts to record this sound to use as a weapon.
In World Of Quest, saying "witch" near Shrieks causes them to...well, shriek. Because they have a long history with witches.(Which is entirely folk tales.) In one episode, Quest says they shouldn't use the W-word. Prince Nestor goes to the Shrieks and says a sentence ending in "...the W-word. You know, witch." causing the entire city to shriek. Then again, he's pretty stupid.
The fan-favorite ending of "Band Geeks" features The Power of Rock so awesome, it gives Squilliam Fancyson a heart attack.
Used in Gargoyles when Demona used a spell broadcast via TV to turn everybody who saw and heard the recitation into stone by night. Those who didn't catch the transmission as well as those who did but were deaf or blind and thus logically couldn't both seeandhear it were unaffected.
The first season of Code Lyoko has an episode where XANA distributes an MP3 called "Glad to be Bad" through the Internet that sends listeners into a coma.
On another episode Quagmire tells Peter a dirty joke with the punchline "P.S.: Your vagina's in the sink!", which Peter finds so funny he poops himself every time he hears it. So Quagmire and Joe keep telling him the punchline through various means (texting him, having Freddy Krueger tell him it in a dream).
Peter: "Stop it, you guys, you're ruining all my clothes!
In the animated version of Fraggle Rock, Boober finds a scroll that holds "The Funniest Joke in the Universe", which is so funny that anyone who hears it will laugh forever, literally. While most of the main cast falls victim to the curse, Boober does not, because he does not "get" the joke, leaving him the only one able to lead the search for an enchanted spring that can cure them by erasing the joke from their memory. He succeeds in the end... And right in time, because then he finally does understand the joke. Fortunately for him, the spring is nearby.
In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, Shake's horrific self-written song "Nude Love" forces the Insanoflex to kill itself upon hearing it.
In one episode of Fish Hooks, Bea attempts to make friends with Albert by playing the violin. Her playing is so bad Albert's face cracks and his organs fly out.
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show episode "Stars In Their Eyes" established that certain sounds could disrupt 'Moonman' Koopa's technology. In order to save the Marios from being blown up by Koopa's spaceship, the quirks- an alien race Koopa enslaved- use their double-snouts to toot a kazoo-version of the Zelda theme.
Koopa: You call that music? Stop that racket!
Not to be confused with the real-life "Brown noise," which is completely harmless.
The McCollough effect is a distortion of a viewer's ability to perceive tightly grouped horizontal and/or vertical lines, induced by around three minutes of exposure to a pair of innocuous "induction" images. Pursued for fifteen minutes, this induction can screw with a viewer's sight for up to three months.
Baby cries and cat meows, to some people, for the reason that humans (usually) feel pain and empathy at them, which is great if it's your baby that needs help or if you forgot to feed the cat and he/she is reminding you to do so. Not so great (and this trope) if it's the Screaming Plane Baby or if it's when you want sleep and the cat wants to be petted.
The sound of fingernails dragged across a chalkboard contains very similar resonances to the sound of a baby wailing in extreme distress, which may explain why it's a wince-inducing Brown Note to nearly everyone.
Similar things happened a decade before with The Blair Witch Project. The movie's notorious Shaky Cam footage caused quite a few cases of headaches and motion sickness amongst moviegoers.
When the BBC revamped its weather forecast from a 2D map of the UK bearing abstract symbols to a CG representation of the country which filled the screen, and which quickly and dizzyingly changed focus as the weatherperson moved around the country, many viewers complained that the sense of disembodiment this caused made them feel ill. It didn't help that rainfronts moving across the country were portrayed as fast-moving blue watery waves, which generated the illusion that a satellite was watching large tracts of land being covered by devastating tsunamis. People would anxiously ring up asking if we were all about to die. It is still oddly disconcerting even now, several years on.
Regarding the Beach Boys, one of the things that made Brian Wilson reluctant to finish "Smile" was a fear that he had created a Brown Note entirely by accident. He and his musicians had recorded a very creepy instrumental called either"Fire" or "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow"; to get the atmosphere in the studio right, they had worn toy fireman's helmets and lit a firepot to emit smoke. The very night of the recording session, a building down the street caught fire and burned to the ground; someone later mentioned to Brian that an unusual number of fires were breaking out in Los Angeles that summer. The coincidence struck Brian as extremely creepy, and he became hesitant about working on the album.
This prompted him to not release the album for 35 years and bury the original tracks in the vaults in a fit of panic, refusing to finish the album until 2004. Some other tracks of the original song were destroyed. Brian Wilson went into seclusion for decades, fearing that his hallucination-induced music would cause more fires. Listen to it here.
"The Elephant's Foot", a formation of reactor core lava in Chernobylnote so-named because it is shaped like an Eldritch Abomination, apparently. which was so radioactive, just looking at itwould kill you on the spot◊. Like the classical Medusa, a heroic Russian physicist risked his life to journey into the bowels of the reactor to take pictures and find out what was going on down there; he had to use a mirror to take pictures of it from the adjoining hallway. Why did he "volunteer" to do this? Because (a) he was old enough not to worry about inevitably dying of cancer from background exposure (which he did later; they all did) and (b) the robot they sent to take photos of the reactor core lava had its circuits fried due to radiation, while a human could move quickly through the same hallway as long as he did not look into the open doorway itself.
A person able to actually see critical fissionable material up close will die a horrible death, although all they will see is a glimmer of (deadly) light, along with a weird buzzing. (The light itself is deadly, as it contains gamma rays.)
Averted, remarkably enough, in the seminal "Tickling the Dragon's Tail" criticality accident that claimed the life of Los Alamos scientist Louis Slotin. Eight people were in the laboratory when the "Demon Core" did its thing, filling the room with a blue glow and blasting the observers with a heat wave. However, the other seven survived; only Slotin did not.
In the real world, infrasound—sounds employing frequencies below the range of human hearing—is reputed to cause anxiety and fear in those exposed to it, and at least in one case a hallucination. For example, see its use as a weapon of psychological warfare in the early Robert A. Heinlein novel Sixth Column (also released in the 1970s under the name The Day After Tomorrow). It may also be the explanation behind some "haunted" houses.
Back in the 1950s French Professor Vladimir Gavreau invented a real infrasound weapon. (It's not clear whether he designed it as a weapon or just to explore the potential of infrasound effects.)
The musical artist Lustmord combines ambient noises (recorded in, for example, caves and slaughterhouses) with bass rumbles just this side of audible. Listening with headphones: not really recommended.
Gaspar Noé's notorious 2002 film Irréversible specifically includes lengthy portions of almost sub-audible 28hz frequencies on the soundtrack for the first half-hour, so as to cause people to walk out feeling inexplicably ill. The DVD sleeve proudly notes that there 200 walk-outs at the film's Cannes premiere alone. They were gone before the film got REALLY unpleasant.
Lou Reed also claimed to use these frequencies on his album Metal Machine Music, but he was probably full of shit.
There's been speculation that local infrasound resonance might be responsible for many places appearing to be "haunted." In a few experiments, soundwaves around 18 Hz were directed into people's eyes, as the human eye has a resonance frequency somewhere around 18 Hz. Most reported physical discomfort, and a few had mild visual hallucinations (flashing lights, green spots, etc). Try it, it's fun.
Given that our early hominid ancestors would've only experienced infrasound when something very, very big and dangerous (e.g. an elephant, hippo or rhino) was vocalizing nearbynote or during an earthquake, which is dangerous in its own right, it makes sense that we would find the associated tactile sensations unnerving.
The Drone of Dread article has more specific examples of songs which may contain infrasound.
Likewise, high frequency sound is usually considered to be highly annoying and painful to those who can hear it. Since the ability to hear higher frequencies fades as one gets older, a British engineer once created a "teenager repellent": a little thingamajig that creates a loud high frequency blast, which annoys and scares away anyone that can hear the sound, and that usually means anyone under 30 years. Of course if it works on anyone younger than 18, then parents of infants and toddlers should know better than to punish their tykes for voicing the extreme discomfort the noise inflicts upon them, but then again, it doesn't stop them from blaming the kids anyway. In an ironic twist of fate, this "anti-teenager" weapon was reversed, and turned into an "anti-adult" weapon: a high frequency ringtone that allows teenagers to listen to their phones in the classroom, without the giving-away buzz of a vibrating phone, safe from the usually 40-something ears of their teachers.
This "teenager repellent" is in use in downtown D.C., at the Gallery Place metro station. There have been frequent congregations of teens at that metro station, and in an effort to curtain the fighting which often breaks out, they have installed the mosquito.
Sadly, while this idea was first presented as an "adult-proof" ringtone, any number of teenagers discovered, to their sorrow, that it really isn't. Some people in their thirties can hear it just fine. While it is true that, in general, the older you get the harder it is to hear, there is no single point after which no one can hear it, and before which, everyone can. It depends on the degree of deterioration of that person's hearing. Since most modern youth listen to music at pretty high volumes, they'll soon stop hearing that ringtone.
For those who can hear it, it's very uncomfortable. It's high-pitched enough that you don't notice it unless you're listening for it or you're close to it, but after a while your ears and head start to hurt for no apparent reason. Some people even have feelings of dysphoria, nausea, and loss of focus. Classrooms full of high schoolers have turned people in for using it purely because it's damned irritating.
The problem with the teenager repellent is that babies are even more sensitive to it, and are unable to communicate the problem to their parents. On high settings, the "repellents" can cause excruciating pain and permanent hearing loss.
In the late 1940s, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy were still not convinced that pure jet propulsion was the way to go. This led to a number of rather surreal aircraft that didn't work very well, but the king of these was the XF-84H, a turbo-prop version of the swept-wing F-84F Thunderstreak that was known to its pilots as the "Thunderscreech." The XF-84H more than lived up to its name: its propellors spun so fast that they generated sonic booms, deafening and injuring crewmen working on the plane. Loosened bowels were in fact reported by crewmen.
The blade tips of propeller-driven fighter aircraft (and helicopters) will go supersonic at top speed, causing a sharp, crackling noise. In some models the blade tips are shorn off to prevent this. The XF-84H's propeller achieved this even in idle running.
A 1991 news article reported that a woman suffered epileptic seizures upon hearing the voice of Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart. This was worked into an episode of Seinfeld, because it is funny.
The Electric Soldier Porygon episode of Pokémon featured the "digital" Pokemon, Porygon. The surreal nature of the episode resulted in a certain pattern of repetitive red and blue flashes which are known to cause epilepsy; 685 children were taken to hospitals after complaining of blurred vision, headaches, dizziness and nausea, and some of them even had seizures, blindness, convulsions and unconsciousness. Laws now are on the books that animators can't have flashes that fast, and the episode is the reason health warnings in video games and before the beginning of anime remind the viewer to watch in a well lit room and keep back; many of the cases were due to the kids being glued to the TV and the lights turned down low.
Some of these cases, especially the less-severe ones, may have been caused by mass hysteria after seeing a news report on the initial cases.
Spoofed in The Simpsons, when they went to Japan and saw the show "Battling Seizure Robots", which had the expected result.
Also spoofed in Drawn Together, where Ling-Ling (himself a parody of Pikachu) proudly exclaims his motivation for participating in the show as thus: "I come to destroy all! And give children seizure!"
Also spoofed in South Park, in the episode "Chinpokomon," which spoofs the Pokemon fad. At one point, the boys are watching an episode of this show, and Kenny has a seizure.
The early copies of Pokémon Red and Blue (and, in Japan, Green) have the original Lavender Town music. While they didn't cause suicides like some legends say, they did play a rhythmic 8-bit beat at levels only children, some teens and adults, and animals can hear. Side effects include headaches, stuffy nose, stomach aches, and your dog getting gas. It is exaggerated in Creepy Pasta where it causes seizures and insanity.
Similarly, in 1975 a U.K. man laughed so hard while watching the "Ecky Thump" episode of The Goodies that he suffered a lethal heart attack. His widow wrote the producers to thank them for making her husband's final moments so happy.
An urban legend has it that 70% of karaoke bar fights are caused by Frank Sinatra's My Way.
In the Philippines, not only does My Way cause bar fights, but also deaths. The perpetrators are either singers who get booed after singing it, or bar patrons who didn't like the victim's rendition of the song.
There was a report of a guy dying of heart failure immediately after singing My Way in a karaoke-equipped pub in Singapore. Eerily enough, the tragedy happened on the exact same day as Sinatra's passing and the guy shared the same first name as Sinatra.
Erik Satie's Vexations probably counts. The piece consists of a slow, simple theme that the composer insists should be repeated 840 times in a performance. It was first performed by a relay of 10 pianists, and took over 18 hours; reputedly, by the end the audience had dwindled to a handful of masochists. At the end, a sado-masochist shouted 'Encore!'
It was once attempted by a single pianist. He quit, suffering from dizziness, nausea and hallucinations. He stated, had he continued, he'd probably gone mad.
This is a wonderful interview with a researcher in search of "The Ultimate Yawn" — a yawn so contagious that nobody could resist yawning if they saw it. His results are fascinating.
Also reading about yawning. Stopped yet?
Yawning in general, really. Just seeing someone else yawn is enough for most people.
The infamous Blaster Beam musical instrument, most notably employed in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and by Japanese musician Kitaro, has been reportedly able to cause female audience members a... climactic degree of stimulation (at least, in live performances, lest female tropers rush to their nerdy friends to borrow a copy of ST:TMP).
Statistical mechanics is infamous for the number of famous suicides among the scientific founders. One text book has this as the opening paragraph.
Similarly, several of the founders of modern metamathematics - Cantor and Godel being the two most notable - suffered from serious mental problems. This lead to the idea of the "Black Theorem", a mathematical result that, once proven, drives the prover insane.
Given as how the non-insanity-causing theorems in that field include such gems as "there are as many fractions as there are counting numbers, but there are more numbers between 0 and 1 than there are fractions" and "there are things in math that are true but unprovable, and it is possible to prove that individual instances of this are unprovable", the existence of the Black Theorem suddenly seem a lot more plausible.
While we're on the subject of mathematics, there's a fairly mild brown note that tends to affect newer students. It's the simple fact that 0.999... = 1.
The Murderous Maths book The Phantom X by British author Kjartan Poskitt had a rather... intimidating prospect near the end once it had taught the reader all the basics of mathematics. It came in the form of a very complicated, yet reasonable formula which straight-up proved that any number is equal to zero. Cue collapse of time-space continuum...note At least, that would be the case if it wasn't for the easily missable fact that the proof asks you to essentially divide zero at one point. In short? The proof is one final joke to test the reader.
The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic. Imagine something so unbelievably funny that you keel over, and half-crouch half-lie, sides heaving, tears forming in your eyes, and then suddenly it's not funny and you're fighting to breathe, but you can't inhale properly because you can't make yourself stop laughing. Now imagine that's contagious.
There is actually a weapon currently being tested by police which they refer to a "sonic cannon" that is designed to emit a long and powerful directional sonic burst at the exact resonance frequency of cranial fluid. Supposedly, it can knock a floor of an average office building unconscious after 10 seconds of exposure by mimicking the effects of a severe concussion without the accompanying impact trauma.
Here's its debute at the 2009 G20 summit in Pittsburg here and here.
During an Anonymous protest outside of Scientology's headquarters/armed compound in Hemet, California, Scientologists tried to drive the Anons away by using a loud organ tritone, humorously dubbed the "Gold Note" after the base, in an apparent attempt at an actual Brown Note. It didn't stop the protest, and no changes of underwear were required. They even recorded it and used it against the Scientologists at a later protest.
Similarly, the Anons later found that playing a recording of L. Ron Hubbard reciting the infamous Xenu story would cause any Scientologists who haven't reached OT3 to back off and leave the area. This is because they have been told that anyone who hears it before they're spiritually ready will get sick and die.
In the DVD commentary for one of the Alien movies, it is mentioned that in one of the test screenings, groups of older people kept excusing themselves. Upon asking them about this, it was revealed that they were leaving to use the restroom, due to sudden urges. It turned out that apparently the composer for the score had used brown notes in the score, unknowingly. When they changed the score, the problem stopped.
The bizarre angles of the Oregon Vortex will cause most people to lose their balance trying to cross it, or even become physically nauseous. In this case, it's the mind trying to correlate the ear's sense of gravity with the eye's wildly different impressions, until it just reboots.
Recently, several Let's Play gamers have left the community. Some of their fans claim this is because of the "curse of I Wanna Be the Guy", as most of them have played the Nintendo Hard indie game before their abandonment.
Throughout the world, it has been proven that two words that can cause unfathomable rage within many people, but only when their attention has been drawn to it. In casually noticing the words, as you, the reader have done do 9 times on this page alone, there is no ill effects. But once one's attention is brought to the words, the rage begins. The two words in question? The Game.
"Warning: This page contains some works of "anomalous motion illusion", which might make sensitive observers dizzy or sick. Should you feel dizzy, you had better leave this page immediately."
One commenter asked, "Is this the Langford Fractal Basilisk department of ritsumei.ac.jp?"
The "koma" page has a link to "Escape from this page." It actually uses the word "Escape." And that's not a mistranslation.
The music of the glass armonica was said to cause both its players and listeners to go insane. Rumors of actual deaths — including a baby who died in its mother's arms during a show in Germany — didn't help matters any.
Under the right conditions, parts 1, 2, 5, and 6 of Jliat's Still Life #5: 6 Types Of Silence would cause electrical fires in the sound system they were being played through. The album had to be packaged with a disclaimer.
The song Gloomy Sunday sung originally by the hungarian Rezső Seress in 1933, and later translated into several languages, is also known as "The Hungarian Suicide Song" for the large amount of suicides it was associated with. The original performer committed suicide in 1968.
There was a gig in Paris where all members of the orchestra faked suicide during a performance of the song in Paris.
The Flaming Lips have a album called Zaireeka. But, to make sure this WAS A EXPERIMENT, they put a warning on the front stating that on rare occasion, some of the songs contain high frequencies that could cause listeners to become disoriented. Oh god.
At least one positive example exists... the Lung Flute.
There's an urban legend about an arcade game called Polybius. According to the legend, players would become addicted and would suffer several side effects, including stress, insomnia, nightmares, and suicidal tendencies. The legend also tells of men in black who would frequently visit the area the game was in. While there's no proof that Polybius ever really existed, some believe that the rumors originated from an early, defective version of a Tempest arcade game that caused problems with epilepsy and motion sickness.
Described in more detail in Last Chance to See. Adams and Co expected to record a fairly straightforward series of propeller thrums, engine noise, etc. "Instead, what we got was a sustained blast of shrieking white noise in which nothing was distinguishable at all."
Binaural beats recordings, aka "audio drug" : Recordings of specific tones supposed to create a powerful brainwave stimulation simulating the effects of recreational drugs. Thanks to a recent fad among teenagers, such audio sequences (colloquially known as "doses") can now be purchased at expensive price over the Internet.note Or you could just, you know, create it with any audio editing freeware.
An early security flaw in Google's "Glass" goggles could turn any QR code (a kind of complex barcode designed to be scanned by smartphones and the like) into a digital version of this trope. One of Glass' main features is the ability to take a snapshot of whatever the user is looking at. If the user happened to be looking at a QR code and took a picture, Glass would immediately process the code. Hackers created QR codes that could cause the goggles to connect to a malicious website, or connect to an unsecure wireless network that could spy on the user. The flaw has since been fixed by Google.
There's a real-world condition called misophonia that turns everyday random noises into this. Common noise triggers include things like chewing, coughing, sniffing, typing, or even certain words or accents. It's not just as simple as getting irritated, either - it triggers what is essentially a flight or fight response, so people who suffer from the condition can become extremely angry or even violent if they hear something that upsets them. It can also produce panic attacks, symptoms of anxiety, impulses to self-harm, and a strange symptom in which the sufferer re-imagines the trigger sound for months or years on end. Misophonics can also become extremely socially isolated by trying to avoid noise, as things like classes or lectures or family dinners can be absolutely agonizing.