A Symphony of Noises: Revisiting Oskar Sala’s ‘Geräuschmontage’ for Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ (1963)


  • Julin Lee


The soundtrack of Alfred Hitchcock’s The
Birds (1963) is particularly remarkable not
only because of the absence of a conventional
orchestral underscore, but also
because the terrifying sounds of the
aberrant birds were actually synthesized by
Oskar Sala using the Mixturtrautonium, an
electronic musical instrument of his own
The examination of the film’s soundtrack has
shown that Sala’s organization and utilization
of bird sounds are akin to that of more
conventional, tonal sonic material in
Hollywood films. Firstly, the montage of bird
sounds which accompanies the title sequence
possesses a formal structure which
resembles a classical Hollywood film
overture and takes on several expositional
roles conventionally assigned to a film’s
opening musical passage. Furthermore, the
gull cries take on the function of a leitmotif
while the stylized bird sounds perform
emotive functions usually ascribed to film
music. In addition to that, the hostile birds
are characterized by electronically synthesized
bird sounds –a representation which
can be understood within the broader
context of mankind’s ambivalence towards
machines and technological progress in
general. The consideration of the musical
provenance and materiality of these bird
sounds affords us a moment of reflection on
the sound effect-music divide in film as well
as on the perceived aesthetic values of
sounds in the noise-music continuum.
The research for this article was facilitated by
the funding provided by the Leibniz Association
within the project ‘Materiality of Musical
Instruments’ at the Deutsches Museum,



Com citar

Lee, J. (2019). A Symphony of Noises: Revisiting Oskar Sala’s ‘Geräuschmontage’ for Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ (1963). Journal of Sound, Silence, Image and Technology, 1(2), 7–23. Retrieved from https://jossit.tecnocampus.cat/index.php/jossit/article/view/10