Cinemusic: Alf & Bernie's Psychotic Reaction

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Chris Morley psychs out.


Where last time out we looked at a man of music alongside film, we can now take a step back & look into one of John Carpenter's cinematic influences - the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock.



Allied to his vision as a director was the music of Bernard Herrmann, their relationship enduring across seven films from 1955's The Trouble With Harry to Marnie from 1964.



A credit as sound consultant on The Birds a year prior to that also giving him chance to experiment with electronic sound in the creation of the caterwauls of the feathered fiends. And to do that he used a trautonium. What's that, you ask? Let Sound On Sound explain.....
"A monophonic analogue synthesizer-like instrument played by the action of fingers on a metal resistor wire. The wire is mounted on a metal plate, referred to as the 'manual' or 'playground', the whole thing set on a tilting metal arm hidden inside the box. The pressure applied when you play a note determines its volume, so it's that rare combination of expressive to play but simple to grasp."


Music Of Sound reveals yet more!
“There are seven attacks in all, and Hitchcock clearly was challenged by a desire to differentiate them. There are two sets of variables that he seems to be manipulating in relation to the sound effects: whether the birds are introduced first aurally or visually and whether the birds are ominously noisy or ominously silent.”
Its director proved a fan.
“When Melanie is locked up in the attic with the murderous birds we inserted the natural sounds of wings. Of course, I took the dramatic licence of not having the birds scream at all. To describe a sound accurately, one has to imagine its equivalent in dialogue.

What I wanted to get in that attack is as if the birds were telling Melanie, “Now we’ve got you where we want you. Here we come. We don’t have to scream in triumph or in anger. This is going to be a silent murder.” That’s what the birds were saying, and we got the technicians to achieve that effect through electronic sound.”
Most famously perhaps, though, is Herrmann's score for Psycho, which would go on to resonate, notable for using only the string section of the orchestra.



Incredibly Hitch had originally asked for no music at all during the now famous shower scene!

That discordant violin motif would go on to echo throughout the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby, producer George Martin inspired by Bernard's work on the film & keen to implement something similar as he guided Paul McCartney in his own closer studies of orchestration. As the Beatles Bible would learn, though, this wasn't Martin's first brush with Herrmann.
"I was very much inspired by Bernard Herrmann, in particular a score he did for the Truffaut film Fahrenheit 451. That really impressed me, especially the strident string writing. When Paul told me he wanted the strings in Eleanor Rigby to be doing a rhythm it was Herrmann's score which was a particular influence.

He had a way of making violins sound fierce. That inspired me to have the strings play short notes forcefully, giving the song a nice punch. If you listen to [Eleanor Rigby & Psycho], you’ll hear the connection.”


Herrmann had earlier served as a champion of the Theremin, his score for Robert Wise's The Day The Earth Stood Still featuring its distinctive tone. This after working with Orson Welles on War Of The Worlds, Citizen Kane & The Magnificent Ambersons. A disagreement with RKO Pictures over the heavy editing of his music & that film lead to his work with Hitchcock.



A later dispute over the music for Torn Curtain brought an end to Herrmann's collaboration with Hitch, who was under pressure from Universal to have the score go in a more jazz/pop direction. John Addison was handed the task of picking up the pieces. He was hardly an amateur either, with the unlikely claim to fame of having a grandfather who had played for the Royal Engineers in two FA Cup finals, in 1872 &'74!

Speaking in 1973 Herrmann said,
"I have the final say, or I don’t do the music. The reason for insisting on this is simply, compared to Orson Welles, a man of great musical culture, most other directors are just babes in the woods. If you were to follow their taste, the music would be awful.

There are exceptions. I once did a film The Devil and Daniel Webster with a wonderful director, William Dieterle. He was also a man of great musical culture. And Hitchcock, you know, is very sensitive; he leaves me alone. It depends on the person. But if I have to take what a director says, I’d rather not do the film. I find it’s impossible to work that way."


Herrmann's final work, for Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver is equally well remembered. Although it took some persuasion from the director to get him to agree to score the film, as Scorsese revealed...
“I called him and said the film is called Taxi Driver, and he said ‘I don’t do taxi movies’…. .”
Recently a whole label was kickstarted with vinyl reissues of Herrmann's soundtracks. Say hello to Stylotone, with the Vinyl Factory keen to spread the word in March of this year. The first was Twisted Nerve, its whistling theme also sampled by Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill (we'll come to him & his soundtracking process next time).



As Stylophone themselves put it,
"A 1968 British psychological horror film from the Boulting Brothers, ‘Twisted Nerve’ starred Hywel Bennett, Hayley Mills and Billie Whitelaw. The film itself has little to offer, however its soundtrack remains one of Herrmann's finest and, alongside the film, would have probably languished in obscurity but for the intervention of Quentin Tarantino who revived its main whistle theme for his 2002 film ‘Kill Bill: Vol. 1’, bringing Herrmann's music to a whole new audience.

The complete Original Motion Picture Soundtrack composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann for the Boulting Brothers’ Production of ‘Twisted Nerve’ has been assembled, mastered and cut at London’s world famous Abbey Road Studios to produce a stunning master that is “enough to make even Hitchcock jump!”."
Jangled nerves indeed!

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