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Riverdale Composer Sherri Chung on reimagining sound

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by Aiyonna White, Contributor

This year at Wondercon, I had the opportunity to interview the amazing artists behind your favorite T.V. shows, films, and video games. Sherri Chung is a composer on CW’s Riverdale, as well as NBC’s Blindspot.

Q: I assume each job is a little different and has it’s own personality. “Riverdale” has a very unique tone, and sometimes the tone can go many different directions. As opposed to other jobs, what are the unique challenges and opportunities you have?

CHUNG: It’s an incredibly unique opportunity because it is a show where they’re kind of irreverent, in a good way, about doing the same thing all the time. They want to switch it up. So it’s really great to get a note from the producers or creators that says, Go as 80s as you want to go or like this is our noir episode

Chung (second from the left) with other panelists at Wondercon

Q: We saw a bit of that in the panel which sounded really great.

CHUNG: It was really fun to get to reimagine the sound of “Riverdale” that we’ve created in these different genres. What does the “Riverdale” theme sound like when it’s an 80s thing or when it’s noir or when it’s horror? It must be just as exciting for the actors but it’s the same thing with us too. It allows us to tell the story with a different spin on it and reimagine everything that we’ve done so that we don’t get bored, because sometimes in an episodic setting you do have to find new ways to freshen it up and I feel like a show like “Riverdale” just hands us the opportunities to do that.

Q: Just going off that question, you work on a lot of comic book T.V. shows, and then I saw that you did “The Keepers.

CHUNG: I conducted the music for “The Keepers.” Blake Neely wrote the score and it’s I mean it was definitely an amazing experience to be able to watch his process. But I didn’t actually write the music to that.

Q: I was gonna ask you the different approaches when comic book shows are mostly very fun and you can have fun with it, but The Keepers was such a depressing project.

CHUNG:  Since I didn’t do “The Keepers” let me liken it to another project I did. “Nancy Drew” which may not be…it’s not depressing but it’s also very, very different from a superhero show. For one, obviously a superhero show you’re talking about something that is sometimes mystical or alien or just doesn’t exist in reality. And with something like “Nancy Drew,” while there was mystery and maybe in some cases the feeling of mystical nature, “Nancy Drew” was generally rooted in reality.

So just in terms of working on different things, you know as you said superheroes are just so action heavy and the intent of the music is to do something a little bit different than let’s say even in a documentary like “The Keepers” where you know with action the music really needs to, I mean hate to say a word but be active. It needs to increase the adventures. Sometimes the music is going to be a lot faster. It’s gonna make a lot bolder choices. A lot of times in the superhero shows there’s no dialogue. It’s just about these characters flying through the air, sometimes they’re fighting, sometimes you have these long sequences where it’s just music. Then you have something like a documentary. I did one called “The Other Side of Home” a couple of years ago and it was a documentary focusing on the Armenian genocide and it was a lot of dialogue.

I think the music tends to take much more of a backseat. Generally, you don’t do a lot of movement or if you do we keep it consistent. Usually when there’s a lot of dialogue you have to make sure that you’re not tuning too much in your music or changing it up too much because that can be very distracting when you’re trying to listen to somebody speak on screen. So the music just has a different role in that sense. It’s probably more to less and less difficulty where action, you want to propel or you know propulsive, get some more get momentum going and often times documentaries you want to actually sit back and provide like a nice constant bed of emotion and sound that sort of supports the information you’re getting.

Q: So you mentioned “Nancy Drew.” I’m excited about that. Are you guys all done with that?

CHUNG: All done. It hit the theaters. It’s a huge success. It’s on DVD now.

Q: Like a lot of people I read them a lot when I was little. So what’s the tone of the new one?

CHUNG: What we’re trying to do is bring “Nancy Drew” into present day. But it’s interesting because present day can really mean a number of different things and especially because Nancy herself… you know she’s a groundbreaking character in that she doesn’t care about what’s trending. So she’s not into the latest clothes the latest you know, boys. She’s not into that kind of thing. So that was something that the writers and the director and producers and then trickling down to music as well, would just like to bring it to the present day. So let’s have a sound for when Nancy’s hanging out with her friends let’s do something with more of a rhythmic section and some drums, bass, guitar, but nothing that was like too genre specific. It wasn’t punk. Nancy’s not here’s a tattoo. It’s not that kind of present day.

Q: She’s not an Instagram influencer.

CHUNG: Exactly. Also, well it’s called the hidden staircase. We all know there’s a hidden staircase that she finds. That still feels like it’s paying homage to the lineage of the character. And again the music wasn’t taking it too like this crazy bizarro level. We’re staying true to what Nancy is. So I did use a lot of orchestral music in this type of thing to really support that kind of drama and that kind of action.

Q: Do you have something that you wish we’d ask you about or any final thoughts?

CHUNG: My time to shine. That’s a really good question. I’m really excited to see a show coming out called “The Red Line” with Ava Duvernay and Greg Berlanti. It premieres April 28 on CBS. Blake Neely and I also worked on this together and we’re very proud of it and very excited. I’m very proud of this story and what they have created. The actors, the showrunners, as well as Ava and Greg. What they’ve really done is amazing. Not superhero, not mystery. It’s very much based on reality very much based on, you know topics that need to be seen more, need to be addressed more, need to be touched on more. I’m really proud of our score. And I can’t wait for audiences to see this.

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