Composed By: Chris Bacon
Distributed by: Varese Sarabande Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
About a year ago, I was offered the opportunity to check out a new A&E horror series, Bates Motel. Now entering its third season, the series stars Freddie Highmore as a teenage Norman Bates, the iconic serial killer in the movie Psycho. Norman's mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), after the death of Norman's father, decides it is time for a change and purchases an old hotel through foreclosure. The mother/son relationship in this series is quite interesting as one could imagine, given the events of Psycho and later films. I found it quite interesting to see this contemporary view of the relationship which would further Norman on his path to psychotic killer.
The musical score of Bates Motel was created by American composer Chris Bacon. Learning to play piano and saxophone before studying musical composition in college, Bacon moved to Los Angeles from Utah to study film scoring at USC. He soon found himself an apprenticeship with composer James Newton Howard, orchestrating, co-composing, and writing additional music for Howard on movies like Gnomeo and Juliet and King Kong. Making his solo debut with the score for Angels Fall, Chris Bacon has worked on a number of musical scores since, including popular films like Space Chimps, Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike, Source Code, Smash, Sworn to Silence and more.
As Bates Motel is an offshoot - prequel - if you will to the Psycho films, no one would expect to hear that iconic Psycho shower scene theme in this score. In fact, according to Chris Bacon, "In my early conversations with the show's producers about the score's direction, they made it clear that we are not trying to re-create or pay homage to the original PSYCHO, which was good news because that's one of the most iconic and recognizable scores of all time and my attempts to emulate would most likely come across as a cheap imitation."
Instead, the musical score of Bates Motel features a mix of conflicting emotions expressed through music. Sorrow, hopefulness, innocence, anger, despair - all of these emotions find their way into the score to offer listeners an idea of what is going through the minds of Norma, Norman and the people that touch their lives. As Bacon states, the show is "not so much a horror show as a psychological drama with real elements of emotion, tension, humor, as well as some horrific events. The tightrope has been trying to play the real emotion between Norma and Norman while maintaining just enough discomfort to underplay the dysfunctional elements of their relationship."
Featuring piano as the standout instrument against a background of strings and ambient sounds, each track of the Bates Motel Soundtrack features a new development in the lives of Norma and Norman, from the move to their new home (A Fresh Start, New Home) to the theme of their first murder in that new home to Norman's first thoughts of love and his first thoughts of lust...and what that means for his mother. Oh, and despite not being an imitation of Psycho's iconic score, there are moments where the shower scene is brought to mind. Though darker in tone and performed through lower instrumental registries, those horrific scenes like The Rape, in which mother and son join together to take out the man who has attacked Norma, have a similar strike, strike, strike sound.
The musical score of Bates Motel is a psychological thriller in itself. Fans of the show will find themselves remember the scenes in which each piece of score takes place. Those who haven't seen all of the episodes - myself included - will be wondering just what is going through the minds in each of the characters as the score progresses. I found the Bates Motel Soundtrack to be quite the interesting listen and definitely a bargain for fans. At $18.00US for the CD and $10.00US for the mp3 and featuring two seasons worth of music, Bates Motel is a virtual steal and a terrific example of how a good composer expresses emotions through music. Well worth the listen.