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"Can you feel my heartbeat?"
2PM, "Heartbeat"

Thub-thub... thub-thub... thub-thub...

The human heartbeat is an evocative sound, one with literally life-and-death significance, so it comes as no surprise that songwriters and composers frequently co-opt the sound to inject a little gravitas into a song or a scene.

The beep-beep of an electrocardiogram, or a drumbeat intentionally meant to mimic a heartbeat, also count for our purposes.

When a heartbeat is used in a soundtrack, it's common to partially or completely mute every other sound. The heartbeat then serves either as an indicator that a character is near death, or as an audible indicator of shocked silence.

May overlap with Critical Annoyance in games that use it to symbolize low health. When used properly, it can amount to Paranoia Fuel.

Examples of Heartbeat Soundtrack include:


Anime

  • Princess Mononoke has a loud, dull pulse invade the soundtrack when Ashitaka tries to subdue The Corruption in his arm in the forest.
  • In the first season of Sailor Moon, an ominous heartbeat is heard in the core of the Dark Kingdom (Negaverse in the English dub), with Queen Metallia looming over it.
  • In the Pokemon episode "A Chansey Operation", an unusual heartbeat sound can be heard when Dr. Proctor listens to Pikachu's heartbeat with his stethoscope.
  • There is a heartbeat sound from within Susano-oh's chamber in Blue Seed.
  • In Mahoromatic, a "mechanical heartbeat" is heard when Mahoro feels her chest.
  • In the last two episodes of Mobile Fighter G Gundam, a heartbeat sound can be heard; one being in the elevator to the core of the Dark Gundam (Devil Gundam in Japan), and another in the core itself.
  • In Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, a subtle heartbeat sound is heard while a naked Lucia lies on her bed, with her hands on her chest.
  • In Urusei Yatsura, a pulsing heartbeat is heard as Lum lies naked on her bed.
  • In Halo Legends, during "Homecoming", when Daisy is running back home, Halo 1's "Under Cover of Night" plays. The unexpected heartbeat-like drums when Daisy suddenly sees her clone is quite appropriate.
  • In an episode of Sonic X, an ominous heartbeat is heard while Rouge the Bat falls asleep in her bed.
  • In Mahou Tsukaitai, a heartbeat sound is heard as a naked Akane relaxes in the hot springs.
  • An unseen episode of Gunsmith Cats has a heartbeat sound in a scene where Rally Vincent grows tired of fighting the enemy.


Film

  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, in the flashback with Sméagol and Déagol, the beat replaces the soundtrack as Déagol is strangled, and stops as he dies.
  • There's a song on the soundtrack for Earth Girls Are Easy that also has a heartbeat beginning.
  • Laurence Olivier's film version of Hamlet, every time the ghost appears.
  • The classic Jaws theme evokes a heartbeat with brass.
  • Dragonheart.
  • The Terminator soundtrack had, according to the DVD release, a "robotic heartbeat".
  • The soundtrack to The Monkees' film Head features a loud heartbeat sound in a spooky scene leading up to the “Happy Birthday” sequence.
  • Used in La Jetee at a few points during the experiments.
  • A subtle heartbeat sound can be heard throughout the film Alien whenever the xenomorph is about to appear. Pay particular attention when the crew is eating Chinese food.
  • In Repo! The Genetic Opera, "21st Century Cure" has a constant pulsing sound all the way through.
  • Dinosaur begins with the sound of Aladar's heart beating from inside his egg.
  • John Carpenter's The Thing uses background music, most notably in the beginning, that is nothing more than an instrumental heartbeat.
  • Sucker Punch features a heart beat during the Sweet Dreams introduction.


Live Action TV

  • The finale of 24 Season 2 replaces the usual ticking clock at the end of the episode with President Palmer's heartbeat as he is the target of an assassination attempt.
  • The Master's theme in Doctor Who is made up of a repeating "boom-boom-boom-boom" sound, most often in drums. It's the heartbeat of a Time Lord's twin-hearts, and the "sound of drums" in his head.
    • Donna can hear a heartbeat in "The Stolen Earth" and "Journey's End", a presage of the Clone Doctor that is going to be born.
    • The heartbeat sound made by Dalek technology, mildly averted as attention is never drawn to the sound.
  • This happens in Flower Boy Ramyun Shop whenever Chi Soo goes into kiss Eun Bi. She asks her friend (Dong Joo), after the first time, if it's common to hear your heartbeat and bells when somebody is about to kiss you.
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? uses it extensively from around the middle of the game (£32,000 under the old system) onwards to crank up the suspense. In most incarnations, the final question's music is literally nothing but a Heartbeat Soundtrack.
  • "Teardrop" by Massive Attack was remixed, to play up the heartbeat sound of the drum beat, when it was made the theme to House.
    • There's an alternate theme when it's shown on Channel Five, apparently because they couldn't afford the music rights, which also has a heartbeat motif.
  • A pulsing heartbeat sound can be heard in the background during encounters with the Prophets in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  • The opening theme to Torchwood: Miracle Day has an electrocardiogram beep over it.
  • Lampshaded in the Boy Meets World horror movie-themed episode:

 Thub-thub... thub-thub...

Angela: Alright, you're the horror film expert, what's that?

Shawn: That's the sound of our beating hearts. It signifies our heightened fear, and the fact that something horrible is about to walk in that door, right NOW!

(door opens, revealing Eric and Jack standing there)


Music

  • Orbital's "The Girl with the Sun in Her Head" (from the album In Sides) opens with a heartbeat, distorted into a low rumble.
  • Starflyer 59's "First Heart Attack" ends with a drumbeat imitating a heartbeat; playing over it is a recording of a doctor operating.
  • Metallica's "That Was Just Your Life" from the album Death Magnetic starts with this, then gets heavier.
  • The start and end and various points between of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.
    • Odd fact- when played along to TheWizardOfOz, the heartbeat at the end of the last track syncs up with Dorothy and the Scarecrow listening to the lack of The Tin Man's heartbeat.
  • Huey Lewis and The News has "Heart of Rock 'n' Roll" which ends with a drumbeat that turns into a human heartbeat. And it starts with one too.
  • Weird Al's "Like a Surgeon" uses a heartbeat monitor.
  • The Creature Feature song "Buried Alive" uses a heartbeat during the final repetition of the chorus. Used to expectedly creepy effect when it stops mid-pulse.
  • "Meaning of Life" by Disturbed starts with a rhythmic double bass drum closely in line with a heartbeat that slowly loudens into a think, distorted power chord.
  • Teardrop by Massive Attack has a drumbeat in it reminiscent both of a heartbeat and a ticking clock. It is used as the theme tune to House.
  • The beginning in Jethro Tull's 1973 Concept Album, A Passion Play.
  • "Ron's Piece" a.k.a. "Last Rendez-vous" by Jean Michel Jarre (1986) has a sampled heartbeat in lieu of a drum machine for the entire more than five minutes. His 1993 album Chronologie starts and ends with presumably synthesized heartbeats which also appear after part 1; they were also used during the countdowns before his concerts from 1993 to 1995.
  • The end of Avenged Sevenfold's "Unbound (The Wild Ride)", continuing into the next track, "Brompton Cocktail".
  • South Korean boy band 2PM's hit single, "Heartbeat".
  • Utada Hikaru's "Hikari" and "Simple and Clean", the Japanese and English versions of the first Kingdom Hearts theme.
  • The Protomen have a heartbeat in Act II, which changes to a drumline representing a heartbeat. In "The Fall", it flatlines.
  • "Ode to Divorce" by Regina Spektor opens with the sound of a heartbeat.
  • "Cry for You" by Korn has a faint heartbeat sound in the background when the singer says "feel it beating".
  • Hilary Duff's song, "Beat of My Heart".
  • Creed's "With Arms Wide Open" begins with a faint heartbeat sound.
  • British pop band Scouting for Girls has a song titled "Heartbeat" which uses an actual heartbeat at the beginning and end of the song. It also uses a heartbeat rhythm throughout the song.
  • David Usher uses this to great effect in "Black Black Heart".
  • Zeromancer's "Dr. Online" has heartbeat-like tones in the background and uses electrocardiogram beeps which flatline at the same point the music stops.
  • Deftones's song, "Pink Maggot" at 6:20 has an atmospheric heartbeat that keeps going on until the end (even being the only sound heard at the very end)
  • Rick Springfield's song "My Depression", ends with three heartbeats before stopping. This is made even more atmospheric by the last line in the final verse with the character questioning if he is "ready for the second half" and a scream before the close of the song, suggesting the heartbeat is the character's final moments of life.
  • The aptly named "Cardiac Arrest" by Madness features a heartbeat at the beginning of the song. It flatlines at the end.
  • "The Endless Enigma (Part One)", the opening track from Emerson Lake and Palmer's Trilogy album, begins with a heartbeat sound effect in the left channel, and a synth doodle in the right.
  • Florence and the Machine's song, "Cosmic Love", uses a heartbeat sound in one verse, coming in at the "And I heard your heart beating" line.
  • The most famous example of this from classical music is a 15-bar stretch of the third movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, where the movement's theme is reduced to its rhythm played quietly on a kettledrum against an even more faintly sustained chord.
  • Kamelot's "The Human Stain" uses this pulsing sound throughout the song, rather fittingly as mortality is one of its themes....also Love You To Death.
  • Emilie Autumn's Opheliac, Subtle but there.
  • Taana Gardner's "Heartbeat" used the pulsing heartbeat sound at various points, particularly at the beginning and the end.
  • The Nine Inch Nails song "Closer" uses this as well as a tapping sound to serve as the main beat. The video also starts out with an actual human heart tied to a chair, drumming out the rhythm.
  • "Broken Arrow" from Buffalo Springfield is an angsty minor-key number typical of Neil Young with a couple of false stops, that finally crossfades into a jaunty, jazzy instrumental, which crossfades into a heartbeat into the fadeout.
  • "Heroin" by The Velvet Underground has a heartbeat-like percussion throughout the song, speeding up until the crescendo, then slowing down to a snail's pace afterwards. It all serves to evoke the feeling of one shooting up on smack.
  • "Beyond Belief" by Epica--a song about death and what might or might not come after--uses a fading heartbeat as a Last-Note Nightmare.
  • U.S. DJ Armand Van Helden did a remix of Jimmy Somerville's 'Heartbeat' that basically combines this trope with House Music. The remix made the idea of taking a feel good love song about hearing a lover's heartbeat and made it into something disgustingly literal.
  • New Order's "Guilt is a Useless Emotion" has a low heartbeat thudding throughout. It's most audible at the beginning and the end.
  • Appears in the chorus of "Artificial Heart" by Jonathan Coulton
  • "Headstrong" by Trapt:

 I said your motive's inside...

  • heartbeats*

Decisions to hide...

    • Also, the ending of the song has more heartbeats.
  • Britney Spears uses it in Heart...at the end as a finale. This song is written to her heart.
  • Delta Goodrem features this to create artistic tenstion in "Extraordinary Day". A song about her dealing with her mortality to say the least.
  • The intro of the trance track "Return from Flatline" by Nexus uses this along with an EKG beeping and flatlining, hence the name.


Other

  • In the original attic of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, the only sound effects were screams of various ghosts and the loud beating of the bride's heart. Made for a great Mood Whiplash between the madcap ballroom song and the catchy "Grim Grinning Ghosts" number.
  • Comedian Pablo Francisco employs this to humorous effect in a routine mocking movie trailers.


Professional Wrestling

  • Tazz's WWE entrance theme started with a heartbeat... then went into an electrocardiogram... which then flatlined.


Theatre


Video Games

  • In Chrono Trigger, the inside of Lavos' shell replaces background music with Lavos' heartbeat and breathing.Which get louder and faster as the party approaches the core.
  • Meteos -- the planet Globin. Well, it is shaped like a red blood cell...
  • Eversion. World X-7 has no soundtrack but a heartbeat.
    • And World X-8 has, among other creepy noises, an accelerating heartbeat.
  • In Samurai Shodown 1, The first part of Amakusa's stage theme is a really creepy sounding heartbeat. Creatively, arranged soundtracks replaced this with slow, steady taiko drums.
  • Dance Dance Revolution has a song called "Healing Vision" that, near the end of the song, has a heartbeat segment. The song at this point slows from 196 BPM to 49 (and yes, you step on the panels in time with the heartbeats). "Healing Vision -Angelic Mix-" has heartbeat segments at the very beginning and at the very end, and ECG beeping for the rest, with a Flatline at the pause and last section of the song.
  • Call of Duty 4: In your last moments of life after the nuke goes off, all you can hear is the gusting wind and your own heartbeat.
  • GoldenEye: The Facility theme at one point features a sudden drop in volume, leaving nothing but a faint heartbeat, before gradually returning to normal.
  • From Touhou, the track "Fires of Hokkai" (from Undefined Fantastic Object) starts with a heavy drumbeat similar to this.
  • Fallout 3 plays a heartbeat sound in the background when your character's health is extremely low.
    • The "Level Up" four-beat military drum tune sounds like a heartbeat as well.
    • Both Mass Effect games do the same.
  • The track Spooky Scape from Saya no Uta has a heartbeat in the background. It plays throughout most of the song, but it's difficult to notice except towards the end.
  • The Ecco the Dolphin series' generally haunting soundtrack does this from time to time, for example in the themes for Sea of Darkness and (appropriately) Heart of The Foe.
  • The ambient opening movie to Katawa Shoujo features both a heartbeat and the sound of a monitor.
  • The A Nightmare on Elm Street PC game had this and only this for its soundtrack. I heard a rumor there's actually music at the end of the game, but I couldn't confirm.
  • This occurs in Kuon whenever an enemy is approaching. The quicker the heartbeat, the closer the danger.
  • A song used in Tomb Raider 2 and 3 (and 1 in the PC version) is mainly composed of a heartbeat along with some other Hell Is That Noise sounds.
  • Asteroids handled it pretty masterfully -- the heartbeat's speed increases as you take out asteroids.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, the theme of Sephiroth "Those Chosen by the Planet" makes use of a pulsating heartbeat, along with synth vocals.
    • It's there in his other two themes, "The Birth of a God" and "One-Winged Angel". Although it's drowned out by the other instruments.
    • The Landing in Final Fantasy VIII starts by playing a slow heartbeat. In this case it likely signifies the calm before the battle.
    • You can hear a heartbeat pounding as time slows down in Tidus's overdrive Blitz Ace.
  • From Cave Story, "Pulse".
  • The aptly titled Heartbeats from online game Colour My Heart uses this.
  • Anytime an enemy falls asleep in Mother 3. The heartbeat drums in rhythm with the battle theme that's currently playing, which can help the player to learn how to tap along with it in order to rack up damage. This can be especially helpful for tracks where the beat isn't quite obvious, or ones that have an unusual time signature.
    • Also used as an indicator that things are getting serious when the Ultimate Chimera is around; the music doesn't change, but you hear Lucas' heartbeat speed up as the beast closes in on him and his party.
  • Earthworm Jim 1 has a heartbeat in the music for its 'Intestinal Distress' level (for the Sega Genesis version)
  • Used extensively in Manhunt.
  • The main theme of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Nerevar Rising. This actually has an in-game justification of sorts: the MacGuffin of the main quest is an actual gigantic heart, belonging to the dead god Lorkhan.
  • Secret of Mana has In the dead of Night which plays during the intro.
  • Seiken Densetsu 3's Ghost Ship theme prominently features a heartbeat.
    • The game also has Political Pressure, which is featured in areas like the Valley of Flames, Cave of Darkness, and the Moonreading Tower.
  • Darius Force has this for the final boss theme of Galst Vic
  • The briefing for the final mission of Ace Combat 04 has the faint sounds of a heartbeat and machinery in place of the usual soundtrack.
  • Both versions of the hotel in Silent Hill 2, and the Meat Moss-covered alternate hospital patient wing in Silent Hill 3. The series as a whole uses heartbeat-like controller vibrations when the hero's health is low.
  • Used as a low-health warning of sorts in Rift, along with desaturated graphics and muffled standard game sounds.
  • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes used this in basically all the music on Dark Aether. Heartbeats also appear in the Title Screen and Agon Wastes music.
  • Portal 2 uses two distinct heartbeats with a BGM Override for dramatic effect in the final portal shot of the game.
  • The SNES port of Populous had a heartbeat superimposed on the game's ambient music track. The heartbeat started out at about 120 beats per minute but increased as the computer came closer and closer to victory over the player. The heart rate capped at a ridiculous 480 BPM, just before the computer wiped the player off the map and won.
  • In the Nintendo 64 game Pokémon Snap, a heartbeat sound is heard when Mew tries to fly back into the bubble in the Rainbow Cloud, the final stage of the game.
  • In the adult anime PC game Brave Soul, a pulsing heartbeat is used for Marin's sex scene.
  • In Custom Robo, a heartbeat sound is used for Rahu's chamber.
  • In Radiant Historia, an ominous heartbeat-like sound is heard just before the villains' secret weapon is used.
  • Rez features this at the very end of Stage 5, once you've cleared the Boss Rush and are on your way to Eden's chamber. Bonus points for tying into the image flashes you see as each phase of Eden is reawakened-- which all feature some aspect of life, including a TMI-cam-like view of a capillary with pulsing blood.
  • In F.E.A.R., a heartbeat is heard during the part where you're in an elevator with Alice and you must leave it to turn on again the power.
  • In Madden NFL, you will hear heartbeat sounds when attempting a last-second potential game-winning field goal. Probably used to show how nerve-wracking such situations are for the kicker.
  • Used for suspense when opening certain doors in Resident Evil Code Veronica.
  • Heard in The Journeyman Project if your oxygen runs low in the Mars Maze. In all cases, an EKG Flatline sound is heard when Gage dies or otherwise gets Game Over.
  • The Halo soundtrack pieces "Destroyer's Invocation" and "Dread Intrusion".
  • Desire has a music track like this, appropriately enough named "Beat".
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: During the No-Gear Level / Stealth Based Mission in Eldin Volcano, a heartbeat plays over the soundtrack if you get too close to a Bokoblin. Useful if you can't see where he is and need to get to cover.
    • When you're at low health during a fight with a regular enemy, one of the percussion tracks switches to a heartbeat-like rhythm.
  • In King's Quest VI Heir Today Gone Tomorrow, the last few seconds of "Alexander's Suicide" are coupled up with Last-Note Nightmare, as they are incurred by Alex's heartbeat slowing down to a stop via "Drink Me" potion.
  • The Intellivision game Night Stalker had a constant heartbeat sound in the background.
  • In Jak and Daxter, a heartbeat plays if you swim when there is a Lurker Shark in the water. It get faster the closer the shark gets.
  • In Superman for the Nintendo 64, a heartbeat sound starts playing when Superman's health gets low.
  • In Persona for the Playstation, the track "Awakening" (played when someone calls their Persona for the first time) has a brief period in the beginning with and obvious heartbeat sound. It continues through the remainder of the song in a more subdued form. Sadly, this song, like most of the others, wasn't retained in the Updated Rerelease.
  • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the final chapter of part 3 has a heartbeat interlaced with the map theme. The beat becomes louder and louder until the kill count reaches 80 and the chapter ends, as the MacGuffin's power has overloaded due to all of the chaos.


Web Comics

  • Homestuck uses it a few times, almost always when Jack Noir flips the fuck out. [1].
    • The opening of "Black", the theme from the one year anniversary update.


Web Original


Western Animation

  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "The Baljeatles", Doofenshmirtz's evil plan involves broadcasting his heartbeat over the Tri-State Area. At the same time, Baljeet is performing a rock song, which suddenly has a cool beat--and which speeds up during the second verse as Agent P fights with Doofenshmirtz.

Notes

  1. In case you're wondering why a web comic has musical tropes, it's because occasionally the author updates with short flash animations as a supplement to just regular panels
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