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A Brown Note is a sensory input that is inherently harmful. Exactly how it works is left up to the imagination of the writer. In older works, especially the classic myths that codified the trope, this was almost always supernatural, typically a curse or strange spell. More modern or "grounded" works will try to pass it off as psychological.

Named for the urban legend about an audio tone that, when played, causes the listener to lose control of their bowels and spontaneously defecate.

Usually, we don't get to see or hear it ourselves, for obvious reasons.

See also Black Speech for inherently evil languages, which may overlap with this for people who aren't evil enough. A Brown Note is a common trait of Eldritch Abominations, due to how mind-breakingly alien they are. The nastiest forms of this also force their victims to propagate them, overlapping with Mind Virus. Not to be confused with the real-life "Brown noise", which is completely harmless and sounds a bit like a poorly maintained air conditioner. Compare Suckiness Is Painful.

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Examples:

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    Asian Animation 

    Fan Works 
  • In Child of the Storm, Sean Cassidy's powers are upgraded from simply 'screaming at people' and 'improbably flying', to a number of other sound related applications. One of these is being able to hit the resonant frequency of various kinds of woods, the point at which they shatter. Wand woods, to be specific. If that didn't make him dangerous enough, chapter 70 reveals that he can also hit the resonant frequency of bone. He's also figured out how to use his powers to create a Compelling Voice, which he used to avenge the death of his wife: All we know about how that went down is that even Nick Fury can never unsee the mess he made.
  • In the Danny Phantom fanfic Stolen Years of the Facing the Future Series, Jack invented a device that emitted a painful sound that only ghosts could hear. He got the effect backwards. It is later used to disable the Guys in White, to rescue Danielle.
  • In the Pony POV Series, there's Havoc, Anthropomorphic Personification of Mass Hysteria. Looking at his true form will terrify ponies so badly they'll likely never sleep again. His voice will reduce them to horrified wrecks.
  • In the prequel to a Portal 2 fanfiction called The Punishment, Wheatley falls victim to a glitch programmed into all personality cores which makes them "fall asleep" at the sound of human singing.
  • 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.
  • The Stars Will Aid Their Escape:
    • During the attack on Canterlot, Herald has Trixie conjure the Red Sigil (an obvious expy of the Cthulhu Mythos' Yellow Sign), which causes intense pain if you just glimpse it, and insanity if viewed directly.
    • If Herald removes his mask and shows his true face, the viewer's mind is filled with knowledge of the Outer Gods, which drives them insane. This is what he does to Twilight Sparkle.
  • Equestrylvania: Just looking at Death's face Mind Rapes the viewer, causing them to relive every terrible memory they have.
  • 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 feel disoriented, a nearly tangible fear that completely overwhelms her as she experiences horrifying visions.
  • The Triptych Continuum ascribes this to her cutie mark, stating that ponies looking at it are quite disturbed, with Twilight nearly experiencing it as a breaking event. The mark is animated, and up until she came along, no mark had ever moved: the disruption of that level of constant doesn't go over well. Notably, however, some individuals aren't affected and claim it's beautiful, while Spike seems to be aware that something is off, but isn't sure what.
  • Apparently, an age-regressed Reimu and trying to understand her (or rather understand her personality and antics) is this for some, as Ran noted that trying to do so would cause mental distress, making the effect rather psychological. The fact that Reimu, by this point, is a youkai doesn't help matters either.
  • In The End of All Things a magical reaction destroys the Horcrux in Harry's scar during second year. It's stated that if Madame Pomfrey had been unlucky enough to hear the scream of the dying Horcrux it would've shattered her mind.
  • In Number 48 Harry's Grim Reaper says that Leviathan's true form is so impossibly beautiful that looking at him causes mortals to feel pain unless he decides otherwise.
  • In Pokemon Black & White: Tale of a Legend, Volan, Thrin, and their dragons are filled with intense pain and anger when they hear Kyurem's cry.
  • In The Power of the Press the screaming of a Horcrux being destroyed gives Sirius nightmares and makes an American observer physically ill.
  • Children of an Elder God: In episode 9, "The King In Yellow" play makes an appearance. When it's performed, a lot of people goes mad and dies, and Hastur shows up at the end. However, it's defeated and destroyed.
  • This Bites!:
    • Soundbite learns to produce a sound that causes extreme nausea and disorientation in everyone who hears it, enabling Cross to take them down easier. He and Cross christen it "Gastro-Phony" (going off of cacophony) in Chapter 25.
    • When DJ Gappa of Baron Omatsuri's crew, possessed by Lily, broadcasts on the SBS to invite them to come to their island, the sheer fakeness being broadcasted sends chills up everyone's spine. To say nothing of what happens when anyone tries calling Soundbite while on the island. All they get is a completely unholy sound, with a hint of something underneath. What? 
  • Ringo's mindsight turns out to function this way in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. Any genuine telepath (John is not one) who taps into Ringo while he's using mindsight will instantly become addicted to it, and unless he's heavily shielded, he'll also get the mental equivalent of a bad sunburn. And don't think the mindsight isn't having a comparable addictive effect on Ringo—hence his extreme Blessed with Suck.
  • Besides the Will of Evil: The screams of the fell beasts cause anyone who hears them to be overwhelmed by visceral terror.
  • Robb Returns: The entity behind the Hightower Gate emits an aura of fear to everyone in its proximity, and the effect is stronger the closer you get. At a certain distance (marked on the floor), the aura causes people to lose control of their bowels. Get closer, and you'll collapse from fear. And if you get too close, you die of sheer terror, then the entity possesses your corpse and tries to break out from behind the gate. However, wielding Otherbane renders you immune to the aura.
  • In The Shape of the Nightmare to Come, saying the full name of the Nexus of ever fated rising madness hope of all turned black doom to all the belligerents and their gods all hail doom nightmares causes severe nausea and vomiting, and wreaks havoc on recording equipment.

    Film — Animated 
  • Kung Fu Panda 2: The ominous red-eye symbol on Boss Wolf's shoulder and Lord Shen's tail triggers a Heroic BSoD moment for Po, since the evil red eye symbol was associated with a gruesome childhood memory in his home village.
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    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Signal (2007) 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.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail has the Knights who say Ni!. Like their name makes clear, they utter the word "Ni!" in a very screechy high pitched voice to hurt passing travelers and scare them into doing their bidding. "Ni!" works whether it's the Knights saying it or someone else, as when King Arthur is harassing that old woman to find a shrubbery. It's later revealed the word "it" serves as a Brown Note against the Knights themselves.
  • In Mars Attacks!!, it is discovered that the Martians' main weakness is the singing voice of Slim Whitman; a recording of "Indian Love Call" causes their heads to explode. Seriously.
  • In Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, the eponymous 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 the assassination of the United Kingdom's ambassador to the United Nations, carried out through sound piped through his translation earpiece.
  • According to the Metatron in Dogma:
    "... 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.
  • π is about a number sequence that helps define the universe. However, the process of determining this number is 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, one of the weapons Stark Industries has developed is an auditory paralysis device. It causes anyone who hears the noise to be temporarily paralyzed. The government didn't OK production because it violates the Geneva convention. Obadiah, however, has 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.
  • In Disturbing Behavior, the E-Rat-icator device used by Mr. Newburry is designed to have this effect on rats to drive them away, but it doesn't work so well. It is, however, damn effective against mind-control chips.
  • The Sick Sticks in Minority Report cause the victim to projectile vomit.
  • 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
    Atreides: I can kill with a word.
    Soldier: And his word shall bring death eternal for all those who stand against the righteous!
  • In the The Adventures of Rocky & 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.
  • Constantine. When John is trying to exorcise a demon from a little girl he tells the men helping him not to look. One of them does and his hair instantly turns white.
  • In The Lords of Salem the song on the strange record has this effect on Heidi.
  • Kick-Ass 2 has the Sick Stick, a stun baton of sorts that induces instantaneous nausea and diarrhea on it's victims. Hit-Girl uses it on the Alpha Bitch and her Girl Posse for humiliating her.
  • R.I.P.D.: A dead-o weapon releases a sound that's harmless to their own kind but cause RIPD officers to move at a snail's pace.
  • Played for Laughs in The Chase, when Jackson Hammond (Charlie Sheen) tells his kidnapping victim to stop screaming at him because her voice is so high and whiny he can almost feel it boring into his skull. ("It's like a drill!")
  • In the religious horror film Deliver Us from Evil the (apparent) head villain repeatedly leaves graffiti in the form of latin/persian incantions written in strange places. It turns out simply reading these incantations, not necessarily even out loud, allows the reader to be possessed by a demon.
  • In the New Zealand-made film Deathgasm, the protagonist stumbles upon some sheet music that when played, turns anyone within earshot into demons.
  • In the 2015 film Kingsman: The Secret Service, the villain develops a signal (transmittable by cell phone) which causes anyone nearby to become violently homicidal. The first live test is done in a crowded church, while a highly competent secret agent happens to be present. The resulting four minutes of deadly free-for-all is epic.
  • The last segment of the horror anthology Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear features video recordings of experiments with a lethal Brown Note musical piece that makes listeners tear themselves apart. The researchers had to destroy the eardrums of their pianist just to let him play the whole thing, and it still killed him when he finished.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The concussion from the tank's main gun firing in the opening sequence puts the pursuing constables on the ground, groaning and helpless. Justified considering they just had several artillery shells powerful enough to blow the vault door off its hinges go off in a confined space; the bigger surprise is that the overpressure didn't outright kill them and that the Fantom and his men can still hear each other (apparently the tank cabin has very good sound insulation).
  • In the Thai horror film Coming Soon, watching the scene of the film within a film "Evil Spirit" where the Big Bad Shomba is hung to death after being discovered kidnapping children will cause whoever watches it to die.
  • Bird Box: The mere sight of the creatures causes this. It drives most people to suicide. With those who were already mentally unhinged, they became obsessed with it, and force others to look.

    Music 
  • 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 window.
  • 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 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.
  • 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).
  • DYE's "Fantasy" music video ends with the protagonist seeing an Eldritch Abomination so horrible that the mere sight of it made her eyes explode into flame.
  • They Might Be Giants:
    • In "Experimental Film" the ending of the titular film supposedly "makes your face implode".
    • In "Spiralling Shape", the eponymous "hypnotic and strange" shape "will make you go insane", despite which "everyone wants to see that groovy thing".
  • 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 Lonely Island's "WHEN WILL THE BASS DROP?" (featuring Lil Jon), a parody of dubstep DJ's, is this in the music video. When the bass finally drops, Lil Jon says "Get turned up to death!" and people immediately start exploding and/or killing themselves.
  • According to Chromeo's video for "When The Night Falls", their music apparently has the ability to instantly make women nine months pregnant.

    Myths and Religion 
  • Some plants are said to have this power:
    • 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 some cases, violently.
    • 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.
  • There's the Irish legend of the harp of Daghda, which could cause pain, laughter, or peace through music.
  • The Basilisk and/or Cockatrice take this trope to a new level:note 
    • 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.
    • 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."
    • There is one definite Brown Note connected to the basilisk legends: the crow of a rooster will kill it.
  • Greek Mythology:
    • 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.
    • Seeing the true form of the Greek Gods was said to have this effect on mortals, with one of the more famous cases being when Semele, a human princess, was tricked by Hera into convincing Zeus to reveal his true form to her since he had been coming to her in the night in disguise. When he finally relented and threw off his disguise she was incinerated instantly. Thankfully her demigod fetus was immortal so Zeus was able to take it and bring it to term in his thighnote  and eventually gave birth to Dionysus.
  • 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)
  • Seeing the full glory of God is harmful for mortals; none can see God's face and live. Moses asked to see God's face, and after explaining the aforementioned, God placed him in a crevice and passed over while showing His back to Moses. That was enough to make Moses' face shine when he went down. Saul saw God's light while on his way, and even closing his eyes during the encounter still rendered him blind. On the other hand, the Beautitudes mentioned how the pure of heart are blessed, for they will see God.
  • The draugr of Icelandic mythology are an interesting example, because though the sight of them is a Brown Note, not everyone responds the same way. Some are "merely" driven mad by them while others scream uncontrollably until they eventually die of exhaustion. Some people aren't affected at all, although the only way to guarantee that is to have Heroic Resolve.

    Radio 
  • A very weird example Played for Laughs as a Running Gag twice per episode is from Car Talk. At the end of every episode or when going to a commercial break half way though, one of the hosts of the show would say "And even though (random person has a humorous negative reaction) every time they hear us say it, this is NPR, National Public Radio."

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE has several:
    • Tren Krom and Anonna, Eldritch Abominations that can potentially drive people who see them insane.
    • The Klakk's scream, which can cure Shadow Matoran of their corruption.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night has Ea acting as this for Shirou. On seeing it he instinctively attempts to use Structural Grasp on it, but due to its divine origins and composition his mind overloads and he temporarily loses all senses. However, Shirou can apply Structural Grasp to plenty of other objects that were "merely" made by gods; Ea, however, was forged from the unlivable hell that was the earliest days of the earth and predates the very concept of "Sword" — it can only be called a sword because the world has no term for what Ea is other than "Ea". And in a setting where age=power...
    • In Fate/EXTRA, Elisabeth Bathory's singing is physically painful to hear, and her cooking can induce near-death experiences. In the former case, she's a Giftedly Bad pop idol wannabe with no sense of volume and a breath weapon in her voice. In the latter case, she's just that bad at cooking.
    • In Fate/Grand Order, Wolfgant Amadeus Mozart is summoned as a Caster with Magic Music powers. In his interlude quests, Mozart creates deliberately bad tunes with Brown Note effects to prank people with, such as "a fugue to inspire sudden bowel movements". His Evil Counterpart Antonio Salieri's Noble Phantasm is to concentrate his hatred into a symphony that assaults both mind and body.
  • The titular Saya in Saya no Uta has this effect on most people who see her. Fuminori, who perceives her as a Girl in White because of his extreme (and possibly supernaturally influenced) agnosia is the only exception.

    Web Animation 
  • 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.
    • "(Fanfare plays) Wheeee! (splat)"
  • In YouTube Poop, an Off-Model picture of Luigi, nicknamed "Weegee", has gradually developed this power. Anyone who looks at him for too long will become him. It's been used as a metaphor for how memes spread.
  • 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.
  • In the Garry's Mod video "Scout's Amazing Adventures (Part 3/6)", Heavy starts playing "Friday", which is so awful that it sends Soldier into a series of contortions until he eventually explodes.
    • Downloadable GMod weapon "Erectin' a Boom" is a radio that ignites anyone who hears it, and then their head explodes shortly after.
    • Similarly, a mod for Doom 2 replaces the chainsaw with a radio that, when played, rickrolls enemies. The enemies' sprites have even been altered so that they cover their ears.

Alternative Title(s): Motif Of Harmful Sensation, The Basilisk, Deadly To Behold

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