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Film music is used to
accompany the story line of a film and helps to create the world of the film in
a sonic sense that will affect the viewer subconsciously. It is a defining
element in the ambience of a film’s atmosphere, capable of turning a situation
from sedentary to tense in a single chord change. It provides a sonic narrative
of the plot development, normally moving to different themes and suites for
different scenes. People can hear a melody or a movement from their favourite
film and immediately be taken back to the palpable emotions conveyed in the
exact scene by the culmination of music and action. Often the use of a reprise
can remind the viewer of action that took place earlier when the same music was
played.  Film music is divided into music
that is featured in the story, such as the sound of a radio, or into background
music which is made by composers to suit the aesthetic of the scene. Music adds
to this formation of a particular mood or emotion and often drives the story
onwards. The term ‘mickey-mousing’ refers to music that serves to accompany
specific actions occurring in film or tv, such as a cymbal clash when someone
tells a joke. Horror movies are often atonal, meaning they have no key center.
This is used to create a sense of unease and dissonance. Famous film score include
Hans Zimmer (notable works including The
Lion King), Danny Elfman (Spiderman)
and Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings).


was released in 1960 and traces the story of Marion Crane as she steals from
her employer and stays in a motel owned by the sinister Norman Bates. It
centres on her murder and the attempts of others to identify her attacker.
Professor John Butt’s seminar deals with the work of director Alfred Hitchcock
and composer Bernard Herrmann to bring the thriller Psycho to life. Hitchcock primarily wanted all scenes set in the
motel, including the famous shower scene to run without music but decided
against this once hearing Herrmann’s compositions. Unusually, the instrumentation
of the score consists solely of the string section of the orchestra, which was
a compositional idea of Herrmann’s to use the high pitched timbre of the
strings to construct an eerie setting. Hitchcock is associated with suspense in
his directorial and producing styles alike.

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Hitchcock planned every
shot months before filming. He made storyboards for each cut from every camera
angle and theoretically edits the film before he begins to shoot it. This limited
the actor’s potential as they had to follow Hitchcock’s plans exactly. Hitchock
uses absolute music here. Butt states music critic Eduard Hanslick supported the
theory of absolute music that Hitchcock also used and explained that it
employed the idea that music does not need to convey a particular meaning but
can be appreciated simply for its sonic cohesiveness. Hanslick claims that emotions
cannot be created in music but can be aroused by the intricate awareness of
tension and release patterns that evoke feelings in the listener, creating an
apprehensive setting. Butt adds that the lack of meaning in Psycho is provided to entice viewers to
create their own interpretation. The structuring of Psycho is a semblance of classical music forms. Butt informs his
listeners that Psycho employs a
dissonance of structure and narrative, and plays on this interaction to create
drama. The film is split into two halves – Marion’s story and the aftermath, being
the first of many binaries used throughout the film. Marion and Norman act as a
character binary and of one of the movie’s most palpable binaries: good versus
bad. Butt reminds the audience that these binaries are reminiscent of musical
structures such as the two subjects found in sonata form. Hitchcock uses visual
binaries of horizontal and vertical lines, as the title uses horizontal lines
followed by the image of vertical houses. Marion changes cars from black to


In the first half the
event structure uses a tripartite. Marion’s journey is broken into three parts:
driving from Phoenix and the second half features three attacks. Marion’s
arrival to the motel marks the beginning of act two. This arrival is repeated
later through the investigator and then by Sam and Leila. There are similarly
three movements in sonata form, Butt remarks. One can see the developmental
section enacted through Sam’s search for Bates. When Marion arrives we hear the
rainstorm, followed by the sound of running water in the shower scene. Butt
states this water is supposed to cleanse Marion of her sins, replicated in the
glimpse of Norman washing his hands. This provides a triad of water while a
later triad features shots of an eye. There is a car horn heard near the
beginning of each act, particularly Marion’s horn, which begin from Act 1. The
car horn heard in scene 2 stitches the first two scenes together. The car horn
at the beginning duplicates the major 7th of the last two notes
played of a minor chord, namely the Hitchcock chord. Butt states Hitchcock uses
striking violins in the murder scene which he mimetically repeats on the
attempt on Leila. Marion’s journey establishes the topic while sonically
implies her dread living Phoenix and invites the viewer to empathise with the
criminal. Hitchcock’s visual of Marion driving is represented again with the
inspector’s journey. The music encourages the viewer to remember the duration
of Marion’s journey and apply it here.


Although Butt’s talk was
hugely enjoyable the inclusion of information surrounding Herrmann’s inspiration
for the Psycho score would have been
interesting. One can assume Herrmann was supremely confident in his notation
for Psycho when he persuaded
Hitchcock to include his music, especially in the shower scene. It would be
beneficial to know any history Herrmann may have had with the horror genre, and
what education he had of this genre to entice him towards Psycho. I appreciated Butt’s dealings with Hitchcock’s use of
formalism, binaries and the tripartite form which was thorough and detailed.
This seminar was greatly educational in the combined work of Herrmann and
Hitchcock to produce this iconic film.

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