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Sound in Psycho

Missing from the rough-cut viewed by Hitchcock and his collaborators on April 26 were the essential ingredients of a complete audio track and a musical score. No matter how much Hitchcock trusted his composer and sound mixer, he always dictated detailed notes for the dubbing of sound effects and the placement of music. 

Hitchcock was dogmatic about the dramatic functions of sound and music, and often interwove his suggestions into the screenplay. To Francis Trauffaut, Hitchcock had registered his displeasure with such scores as Miklos Rosza's for Spellbound (1945) and Franz Waxman's for Rebecca (1940) and Rear Window (1954). In fact, the Psycho screenplay suggest that Hitchcock was anticipating and experimenting at minimizing music, an attempt that was eventually to culminate in the Birds, which had no conventional musical score at all. 

In the description of the opening shots of Psycho, which Hitchcock in his notes dubs "Sequence 1", the director writes: 
 Traffic noises at their loudest as the Camera is passing over the [Venetian] blind, and then diminishes once inside the Hotel Room. 

In Sequence 2, after Marion steals the money and is driving through the city: 
Marion’s car comes to a stop at the intersection, we should hear her engine die down to an imperceptible tick over. It is very important to hear her engine sound diminish sharply, because the shot on the screen itself does not clearly show her coming to a stop.  

In Sequence 3- of Marion hellish drive that ends at Bates Motel- Hitchcock writes: 
  When we reach the night sequence, exaggerate passing car noises when headlights show in her eyes. Make sure that the passing car noise is fairly loud, so that we get the contrast of silence when she is found by the roadside in the morning…. Just before the rain starts there should be rumble thunder, not too violent, but enough to herald the coming rain. Once the rain starts, there should be a progression of falling rain sound and slow range of the sound of passing trucks…..Naturally, wind-shield wipers should be heard all through the moments she turns them on…. The rain sounds must be very strong, so that when the rain stops, we should be strongly aware of silence and odd dripping noises that follow.  

In the screenplay, the description of the scene in which the detective sneaks into Bates house prescribes the following sound cue: 
  Arbogast listen, holds his breath, hears what could be human sounds coming from upstairs but realizes these could also be the sounds of the old house after sunset….[He] starts up, slowly, guardedly, placing a foot squarely on each step to test it for it squeaks or groans.  

For the moment note when Arbogast meets his maker. Hitchcock dictates: 
  Special note must be taken of the sounds of footsteps on the stairs- because, although we do not see "Mother", we should hear the sounds of her stumbling feet down the stairs in pursuit of Arbogast.  

In the scene after Arbogast has been killed, Hitchcock knew what effect a creaky stairway would have on the audience, when: 
  As [Lila] climbs [the stairs] she is startled by the creaks and groans of the old wood of the steps. She steps more carefully.  

On the shower sequence and its aftermath, Hitchcock's notes to composer Bernard Herman and the sound men Waldon O Watson and William Russel dated January 8, 1960, are most emphatic. Again the director seemed intent upon making the impact through image, not music. 
  Through the killing, there should be the shower noise and the blows of the knife. We should hear water gurgling down the drain of the bathtub, especially when we go closer it… during the murder, the sound of the shower should be continuous and monotonous, only broken by the screams of

After five consecutive films with composer Bernhard Hermann, Hitchcock deeply respected the contributions of the brilliant, often abrasive New York- born Juilliard graduate. Founder and conductor of a camber orchestra at age twenty, Hermann, like Hitchcock, could be a bristly perfectionist, contentious, and pedant. Although Hermann was clearly not the sort who easily took direction, the composer was to follow closely Hitchcock's dictates as to the music cues for the opening third of Psycho- with a single, unforgettable exception. 

"Mr.Hitchcock had a wonderful relationship with Bernie" observed script supervisor Marschal Schlom. "And the way to maintain that was to give Hermann the latitude to do what he wanted. Mr. Hitchcock only wanted people around him who knew what they were doing." Hermann, who died in 1975, once told director Brian De Palma, " I remember sitting in a screening room after seeing the rough cut of Psycho. Hitch was nervously pacing back and forth, saying it was awful and that he was going to cut it down for his television show. He was crazy. He didn't know what he had. `Wait a minute I said, " I have some ideas. How about a score completely for strings? I used to be a violin player you know…"Hitch was crazy then. You know, he made Psycho with his own money and he was afraid it was going to be a flop. He didn't even want any music in the shower scene. Can you imagine that?"  

In fact, Hitchcock dictated that he wanted "no music at all though the [motel] sequence" with Marion and Norman. Hermann so mistrusted the uncharacteristic state into which Hitchcock had worded himself that he ignored counter suggestion made by his directorial colleague for Psycho's fidgety, post-bebop jazz score. Screenwriter Stefano, a former musician, recalled Herrmann’s telling him, " I'm going to use only strings. ´I thought it was weird. No drums? No rhythm section? At the good example- for this score. But I felt that Bernard Hermann was the first person other than Hitchcock and I who dug the movie, the first who said ´Ooops-we´ve got something else here"  

For Psycho, Bernard Hermann was to concoct nothing less than a cello and violin masterwork, "black and white" music that throbbed sonorously as often as it gnawed at the nerve endings. The score would prove to be a summation of all of Hermann's previous scores for Hitchcock's films, conveying as it did the sense of the abyss that is the human psyche, dread, longing, regret  in short, the wellsprings of the Hitchcock universe. According to Stefano, Hitchcock was particularly amused by Hermann's screaming violins" and "gave him more credit than anyone else he ever spoke of". So pleased was the parsimonious director by Hermann's score that he did the unheard of: He nearly doubled the composer's salary  to $34.501. 

Excerpt from 
Rebello, Stephen: 
Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho 
St Martins Pr (Trade); 1999  

The book is availed at Internet book stores as Amazon books 

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