A specific musical cue—not in the BGM
, but in actual music being played by someone or something In-Universe
—serves as the trigger for some event. The more dramatic the event, the more likely that the trigger occurs at the end of the song, in which case the song functions as a melodic (and quantum-mechanical-anomaly-proof
) form of the Dramatic Countdown Clock.
are particularly prone to incorporating music into their master plan. Maybe manipulating a public performance to their own ends is their way of showing off their Chessmaster
cred, or maybe they're just Wicked Cultured
. The downside of this, of course, is that any hero can bring the plan crashing down simply by disrupting the song.
The Xylophone Gag
is a very specific subtrope of this. If the song itself is harmful, it's a Brown Note
. If the song is part of a magical spell, it's Magic Music
. If the song opens a door, it's an example of Songs in the Key of Lock
- In Read or Die, a clone of Beethoven is a big part of the I-Jin's plans; his Suicide Symphony causes anyone who listens to it to commit suicide.
- Elfen Lied has a music box playing the theme song "Lillium" that causes Nyu to shift to her virulently murderous side Lucy.
- Sorta used in Detective School Q, where the Banquet of Evil melody is used to bring a violinist insane with guilt and fear - years after he and other violin players conspired to get their biggest rival to inherit their teacher's prized violin out, which results in her being mutilated and commiting suicide afterwards.
- The Man Who Knew Too Much: One specific cymbal clash in the symphony was the assassin's cue to fire—that was the loudest moment of the symphony, so it would have masked the sound of the gunshot.
- The Great Mouse Detective: The trigger of Ratigan's Death Trap for Basil was tied to a phonograph tonearm, so it would set off the trap when it reached the end of the record.
- Zoolander: The song "Relax" causes Derek's brainwashing to kick in, transforming him into a mindless assassin. This is due to the fact that Big Bad Mugatu was The Pete Best of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
- Get Smart: The final notes of Beethoven's 9th Symphony are the signal for the detonator.
- Eagle Eye: The pentultimate trumpet note of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is the signal for the detonator.
- Also an example of poor research, as the same note is played much earlier... "And the rocket's red glare." But then, the bad guys specifically arranged for that last note to be extra-long.
- Serenity: River Tam has been programmed to go on a killing spree when a subliminal signal, hidden in a Fruity-Oaty Bar commercial, is played.
- In The Living Daylights, James Bond has a keyring that emits a stunning gas when he whistles Rule Britannia and explodes when he gives a wolf whistle.
- In The Three Stooges movie Punch Drunks, Curly goes berserk whenever he hears "Pop Goes the Weasel".
- Likewise, in the Laurel and Hardy movie Saps at Sea, Oliver Hardy goes berserk whenever he hears horns.
- In Inception, the team uses "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" by Édith Piaf to time their awakening from the lower dream levels. At the end of the song, their accomplice on the first level will crash the van they are all in into the river. They need the musical countdown due to the time dilation effect.
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation pays homage to The Man Who Knew Too Much example above. At a performance of Turandot, Ilsa uses a note from "Nessun Dorma" as a cue for her shooting the Austrian chancellor.
- In Family Matters, one episode had Steve Urkel invent gunpowder that was set off by the finale of "Roll Out the Barrel." When it was mistaken for pepper and used to cook dinner for a party, hilarity ensued.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike's trigger in season 7 is an old English folk song, "Early One Morning."
- In The West Wing, Josh is counseled by a psychologist due to his recent unpredictable behavior, and it turns out the trigger was the Christmas music in the lobby. In his mind, music represented the ambulance siren and made him relive the trauma of being shot months before.
- An episode of Get Smart featured a cannon that would fire at the climax of Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture.
- In another episode, titled "Weekend Vampire," this was also the secret behind the mysterious vampire killer; he used a special modified oboe to fire two poisoned needles into the victim's neck when he played high C.
- Battlestar Galactica - the jump co-ordinates needed in the series finale were derived from Starbuck playing the main theme from "All Along The Watchtower". While being nuked near a black hole, no less.
- In Game of Thrones, the playing of "The Rains of Castamere" at the Red Wedding is the cue to lock the doors and murder everyone inside that isn't a Bolton or Frey.
- In the penultimate episode of Community's third season, Chang has rigged the documents incriminating him in his brutal takeover of the school to be set on fire when he hits the high note in his awesome keytar solo. Unfortunately, his plan will also result in the building burning down, because despite his claims that fire is not a ghost, it can in fact go through doors.
- The most famous example is the eponymous instrument from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Zelda's Lullaby - is basically a generic activator for a wide variety of effects.
- The Forgotten Superweapon Vegnagun in Final Fantasy X-2 is operated by playing an elaborate tune. Good thing the only person who remembers it is dead... Wait, he's come back as an Unsent? Oh Crap!.
- Left 4 Dead 2: Get Jonathan Coulton's Re: Your Brains song to play on the jukebox and the chorus will result in a Horde being summoned.
- This is how you get the best ending of Chrono Cross. In the fight against the Time Devourer, each element color plays a corresponding note when used. You free Schala by using them in the right order to play a specific tune.
- Shivers. By playing the siren's song on the organ in the "Mysteries of the Deep" room, a door opens up to reveal the way to the "Subterranean World" maze.
- Psycho Mantis from Metal Gear Solid uses "mind control music" to control Meryl. When you hear it on the way to the commander room, looking in first person view shows the perspective of Mantis looking at you implying that you are also being manipulated.
- Inverted in BioShock. Sander Cohen ties a former student of his to a piano, which is rigged to explode unless the performer successfully plays a specific song composed by Cohen. Unfortunately, "Cohen's Masterpiece" is a song specifically designed to be nigh-impossible for a pianist to complete, and missing too many notes causes the bomb to go off. It goes off.
- This forms the backbone for the EXA_PICO franchise where songs are used to relay emotions and get all kinds of effects.
- In Girl Genius, Agatha uses an organ to control her "battle circus".