Task 3. Orchestration 1.

Influences on my string score for Psycho.

One of the soundtracks that influenced me in scoring the Psycho sequence is the piece The Well by Hans Zimmer, written for the 2002 film The Ring (dir. Verbinski, G). Zimmer’s use of arpeggiated staccato cello heard in this piece at around 1:55″ create equal movement and suspense, making the soundtrack flow onwards but leer toward the inevitable misfortune of the characters. Zimmer then layers more stringed instruments over the top following a similar rhythm pattern to perpetuate the mood of the scene it relates to. Below is posted a video of Zimmer’s soundtrack.

Another influence on my score is Christopher Young’s use of half-step trills and harmonic glissandi that are frequent throughout his score for the 2004 hollywood remake of The Grudge (dir. Shimizu, T). Although both Zimmer and Young’s soundtracks use more than just string instruments in places, Young prefers to utilise glissandi and other alternative string techniques such as playing behind the bridge which are now more-or-less standard in cinematic horror scores. Glissandi, behind-bridge playing and also string scrapes in my piece have been heavily influenced by the sounds heard in Young’s score, which has been posted below.

Although my influences for this piece draw upon modern cinema, most of them the techniques used were originally adopted by Bernard Herman in his original score for Psycho (1960. dir. Hitchcock, A). Hermann’s use of major thirds to create his theme and variating it using ostinatos and arpeggiated melodic lines have been the core ingredient to my composition. Other techniques used by Hermann such as stabbing triadic chords feature as another major influence in my piece and are used to create mounting thrill and suspense, which is touched upon by Scott Murphy when discussing the Psycho suite in Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema (Ed. Hayward, P) when he says ‘aspect of the five ‘hammer-blow’ chords in this first three bars, the qualities of its harmonic structure aside, are pertinently expressive’.(Murphy, 2009: 49). This stabbing chord motif is a central part of Hermann’s score and a similar motif has been given equal prominence in my own composition. Below is a score for the ‘hammer-blow’ chords used in my piece as well as an audio sample. These chords can first be heard in my piece at 0:22″.

My string-only score for the Psycho sequence.

Below is the video player containing my string score.

Task 3. Orchestration. from James Utting on Vimeo.

Report for Task 3: Orchestration 1.

The objective for task 3 was to score a given sequence using only string sounds. Visual elements I chose to highlight were the points were the trooper walks up to the car window and the full-face shot of the women and trooper in succession, marked by stabbing chords which I feel portray the fear and surprise felt by the women at the sight of her potential assailant. I adopted techniques used by Christopher Young in The Grudge of using alternative string effects such as harmonic glissandi as well as Hermann-style ‘hammer-blow’ chords featured in his score for Psycho. One audio-sequencing technique I have used in this task was the use of the modulation wheel on a midi controller to recreate the effect of vibrato on a string instrument. Through this task, I have learned the musical technique of harmonizing arpeggio melodies and major thirds to create a retro-classic horror cinema style score. In my view, this task is practice as research because I have looked further into alternative string techniques found in works such as Christopher Young’s The Grudge and have advanced my research via practicing these techniques in the form of a composition. For this task I would award myself a 2:1 because I feel I have put into practice the theory behind composing with strings and string FX, which my piece is evident of as it demonstrates a good understanding of what the task objective requires and presents the results with clear and consistent structural direction.

word count: 250


  • Davis, R. (1999) The Complete Guide To Film Scoring, Boston: Berklee Press.
  • The Grudge (2004) [DVD] dir. T, Shimizu. USA: Columbia Pictures
  • Murphy, S (2009) ‘An Audio-Visual Foreshadowing in Psycho’ in Hayward, P. ed. (2009) Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema, London: Equinox
  • Psycho (1960) [Film] dir. A, Hitchcock. USA: Shamley Productions
  • The Ring (2002) [DVD] dir. G, Verbinski. USA: Dreamworks

Web references.


~ by J.E.R.U. on February 18, 2011.

2 Responses to “Task 3. Orchestration 1.”

  1. fantastic, well done. The strings sound so realistic. My only observation is that it is emotionally a bit ‘front heavy’. You show your weapons too soon, you need to accumulate the tension more and pull back a little. Still. This is clearly a first class task. 1:1. a high one 🙂

    your background listening really payed off !!!!

    • Thanks for the comment Julio, I’ll get to work dialling down the strings at the beginning and upload the fresh video soon as. Thanks again, James.

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