Electronic Music Experimentation In The Films Of Alfred Hitchcock

The latest Reverb.com video takes a look at electronic music experimentation in the soundtracks to the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitchcock’s films were a perfect opportunity for composers to experiment with new sounds, which led to the use of early electronic instruments like the Hammond Novachord, theremin and Mixtur Trautonium.

While these films and other films of the era brought electronic instruments to a broad audience, they also may have ‘typecast’ electronic instruments, because of the way that they were used as a sort of shorthand to evoke the eerie and otherworldly.

9 thoughts on “Electronic Music Experimentation In The Films Of Alfred Hitchcock

  1. Along with other sounds, the Trautonium was used to make bird sounds in The Birds.

    I’m surprised that no one has created a soft-synth version of some of these pioneering electronic musical instruments.

    There is a rumor going around that Behringer is developing a full size hardware version of the Telharmonium.

  2. The Rebecca theme is an idea Hitchcock picked up from Fritz Langs Movie M (with Peter Lorre),
    in M it’s the melody the murderer whistles.

    1. The idea of using a leitmotif – a theme associated with a person or thing – was nothing new at that time, either in music or film. It’s most associated with Wagner, but goes back a lot further than that.

      In film, it was used from the beginning. Think about the scores for silent movies and the ‘bad guy’ themes.

      Here, what’s original is really the use of unique new instruments.

      I’m less impressed by the way that the theremin was used – it was generally just used to play the theme of whatever was weird – the ghost, the space ship, etc. Much more impressed by the soundtracks that really were experimental – like The Birds or Forbidden Planet.

      1. Nope
        Fritz Langs M was the first Movie with sound that did that.
        There isn’t any music in the film , no score or something
        Just Fritz Lang badly whistling a melody of peer gynt for Peter Lore.
        It’s an very impressive work of film art.
        Fritz Lang is The Godfather of cinema 😉
        You have to see it to get it.

        1. Sorry, but you’re about 40 years too late.

          By the end of the 1890s, studios were giving theaters cue sheets of music to play for scenes or characters in the films.

          And this was copying something that was already a century old in classical music.

          But you are right that ‘M’ was a unique and important milestone in film history, for the way it used sound and picture in such a creative way.

  3. For those that are interested here’s some of the more experimental side of oskar Sala’s compositions for the mixtur-trautonium:


    In response to Andreas’s comment, playing the trautonium can be a real high. The work involved to get to this point is, shall we say, intense in my experience. Oskar truly was a virtuoso, that I can attest.

    “There is a rumor going around that Behringer is developing a full size hardware version of the Telharmonium”

    This site is saturated with strange, apocryphal rumours about Behringer. I enjoyed the humour.

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