Ronit Kirchman talks about composing the music for USA Network’s riveting new dramatic series The Sinner starring Jessica Biel.
USA Network’s new series The Sinner follows the story of a young woman (Jessica Biel) who commits horrific acts of violence and rage, and to her surprise, has no idea why. Composer Ronit Kirchman’s score explores various themes in the series, including ideas of memory, shifting perceptions, veils that are lifted, and the deep mystery of the psyche and the mind. “There are times when the music really goes to the bleeding edge of sound design, but there is also room for melody and harmony and instrumental writing in the score. It’s a very rich contemporary fabric that I get to weave,” said Kirchman.
How did you get involved with The Sinner?
A long-time friend and collaborator of mine, Derek Simonds, is the creator of the show and early on he expressed interest in my musical tastes. When it came time to score the pilot he asked me to do it. Through the pilot process, I think the show has a unique sonic signature that’s still evolving as we’re creating the music for it, but that has provided a really nice foundation for moving on through the series.
How would you describe the sound of The Sinner?
It’s a contemporary sound. It’s a hybrid of very specifically designed electronic landscapes and instruments as well as lush instrumental writing. The combinations and juxtapositions are intended to be somewhat unexpected and not completely conventional. The idea is to make sure people are emotionally awake and not completely comfortable. There’s a bit of emotional range in the score as with the show and there are a lot of surprises too. By thinking outside the box, we’re keeping people on their toes.
When you’re composing, what’s your start point?
With different scoring projects, it depends on when the story comes to me. It’s great when I’m able to make contact with the story before it’s been shot. In the case of The Sinner, I had read the pilot script and I also read the book that the series is loosely based on.
Even in that script phase, I start to get first impressions and ideas. I like to have had making music as part of that initial process for me. Whether or not I end up using some of those first impressions in the actual score, thinking about music I start to come up with themes and sounds and it keeps the dialogue going.
Once I read the script, I started making sketches. Once you get footage, it actually cements things in a very important and great way. Everything about the sensory experience such as colors and textures of the pacing, the performances, and all the factors that make the show really influence my language choices and my pacing choices to the extent that it materializes.
It wasn’t locked while I was scoring the pilot. For composers, when you’re working with something before it’s locked, hopefully, it means it’s feeding in at a very integral level of the cut.
What did you and Derek talk about?
We have a mutual language that has been evolving for a long time now. We’ve collaborated as co-song writers. As friends, we’ve spent a lot of time going to shows, music, and shows and talking about what we respond to. We have a deeper knowledge than usual of each other’s interests and there’s a lot of product overlap.
This area of going in and designing electronic sounds from scratch, that’s something he loves and he knows I love. There’s a lot of story relevance for that stuff in The Sinner. We both share an interest in the emotional journey that the audience gets to have. That definitely informs some of the choices that, when we do use strings or orchestral instruments, tends to open the floodgates.
I have a lot of experience with extended techniques with electronic and acoustic instruments and that lends itself to a palette where you want fresh and distinct sounds. In a lot of ways, we both have an interest where the melodic and harmonic content matters.
What’s great is we’re here talking to each other, and we have to talk about the number of female composers in both film and TV.
Many readers will be aware of the numbers, and it’s something like 2% in film and it’s shockingly low. Day to day, it’s so important as an artist to be focused on reaching full expressivity and it’s a very individual thing. We’re reaching a point now where there’s a collective light being shone on it. They call it unconscious bias for a reason. The studies. The organizations that continue to let people know about it such as the Alliance of Women Film Composers. It all helps to hold that awareness so that the bias becomes conscious and people are aware.
I would say, I think it’s somewhat globally validating to know that it might have taken longer for people to trust women composers with larger budgets. It’s a ridiculous concept that it’s an issue, but it is.
In my own path, I really make an effort to respect myself as an artist and do the best possible job I can.
The Sinner premieres tonight on USA Network.