Case Study 2 – The Birds (1963): Trautonium Pre-Production Blog

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One of the more unusual approach that Alfred Hitchcock’s had with The Birds was that it has very little musical presence throughout the entire movie – as intended by Hitchcock, himself. The silence however, does bring a greater sense of dynamic between the silence and diegetic sound effects. These diegetic sound effects become more of a focus because audiences were so used to hearing elements of music to at least some degree. The deliberate use of silence generally set the mood and theme to the movie, almost giving it this unique feel and a sense of style that I am unfamiliar with.

The nonlinear sound effects of bird noises are littered throughout the movie. The first wall of these nonlinear sounds of birds noises are heard during the opening sequence. This is the first time we hear Osker Sala’s nonlinear sound effect of bird noises.

The Birds opening sequence.

The pet shop scene at the beginning of the movie introduce another wave of these nonlinear sounds of bird noises. However, the birds sound here is more authentic but yet, the sound design within this scene of bird noises are at unusually high-pitched, distressed chirping – almost scream-like. The loudness of these bird noises are gradually increased once Melanie Daniels (portrayed by Tippi Herdred) enters the pet store – the use of sound design here is reminiscent of the pet store scene in Cat People. Furthermore, I am certain he had used actual recordings of distressed bird sounds but unfortunately, I do not have any evidence to back this up.

The ‘Love Birds Scene’ from The Birds.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/669347/Birds-The-Movie-Clip-Love-Birds.html

An electronic instrument called the trautonium was used to recreate the bird noises we hear in The Birds. And it Oskar Sala who the produced the bird like sounds and is also known to be the pioneer of this instrument. The trautonium has the ability to produce vowels, animal sounds, synthesised sounds and traditional music.

The most effective use of these synthesised bird sounds is during attic attack scene of Melanie towards the end of the movie. Here, Hitchcock explains that: “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” (musicofsound 2007).

Luckily, I have found some links to download this electronic instrument – the trutonium plugin for my DAWS for future use.

Links for trautonium DAWS plugin: http://www.newgrounds.com/bbs/topic/1396096

Reference

The birds & subharmonics. 2007. [online]. Available from: http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/blog/the-birds-subharmonics [Accessed 1 December 2016].

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