The Use of Sound in “Bates Motel”


I chose to analyze the use of sound in the pilot episode of Bates Motel titled “First You Dream, Then You Die.” This episode establishes the beginning of the show when Norma Bates and her son Norman move from Arizona to Oregon after the death of Sam Bates, Norma’s husband/Norman’s father, with the hope of a fresh start. Norma buys a small run-down motel and wants to reopen it; however, the motel’s former owner is not too keen on this. It is made clear that a lot is going on in the town that they are not aware of yet.

The first musical ingredient I noticed is continuity. The first scene is suspenseful and ominous with darker lighting. It includes an eerie soundtrack in order to establish the mood. When the next scene is shown, there is a sunny scene of the characters driving alongside the ocean. The music then becomes much more uplifting and positive, establishing a good mood. The music contains the same theme and includes the same background beat, therefore adhering to the musical ingredient of continuity. This strongly contributes to the meaning of the whole because the episode/show has a cohesive musical theme throughout the scenes.

This episode also includes the musical ingredient of aptness. The function of the music is to establish a mood and often create suspense. The music adds to the intensity of scenes that contain action and uplifts scenes that are supposed to seem positive. This ingredient contributes significantly to what/how the audience feels while watching the show.

For the on-stage talent ingredient, Orlik writes “for actors, a key to [the] visual impact is emotional and nonverbal believability in terms of the role to be played.” Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore use a lot of nonverbal acting. For example, in the first scene of the show, Norman tells his mother that her husband is hurt, and her reaction is very stoic and calm, implying that something suspicious is going on.

The combination of musical and on-screen talent ingredients makes for a well-reviewed, highly ranked show.