×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jessica Biel’s ‘The Sinner’ Builds Tension With Orchestral, Electronic Sounds

For USA Network’s new murder-mystery drama “The Sinner,” the question isn’t whodunit but why.

In the limited series, a young mother, Cora Tannetti, played by Jessica Biel, commits a horrific act of violence but doesn’t know what motivates her. A detective, Harry Ambrose, played by Bill Pullman, becomes obsessed with discovering the reason.

The show, based on Petra Hammesfahr’s novel of the same name, debuted on USA Network to high ratings on Aug. 2.

It includes no manhunt, no reviews of security footage and no epic arrest. In the first episode, Cora confesses. What follows is a psychoanalytic journey through her past. As the detective pursues his quest, he learns that a certain song could help lead him to the truth.

The show’s music expands beyond that single tune, adding layers to the multidimensional spectrum of emotions and themes.

“[The soundscape aligns] the audience with different points of view, different characters and interpersonal dynamics.”
Composer Ronit Kirchman

In addition to turning the murder genre on its head, creator Derek Simonds wanted the program’s score and audio cues to sound unique and fresh. And so they were — in more ways than one: The show finished shooting in mid-August, with composer Ronit Kirchman still submitting new material even as the show continued production.

Simonds used Kirchman’s talents to give “The Sinner” a distinct sound palette. Gone are purely orchestral sounds. In their place are electronic textures and melodic material that, in Kirchman’s words, “keep the audience enmeshed in the experience.”

The duo met as students at Yale University, in a music theory class. Their longstanding working relationship led to Kirchman coming on board “The Sinner” early, before they began what would become a tight schedule.

She read the pilot script before production began and has had approximately one week for each episode to turn around the music.

Kirchman says she deploys a range of instruments to create at “one end of the spectrum a soaring theme, or at another end craft ambiences and pulsing rhythms to provide contours and movement — or go anywhere in between.”

She records instruments, including a seven-string violin, often using digital software such as Pro Tools and Ableton Live with its Max for Live add-on. Also in the mix: multiple electronic and virtual instruments, including Kontakt, Soniccouture and Vienna Ensemble Pro.

In all cases, Kirchman adds in her sound-design skills to manipulate the final output.

The result is a score that fluidly articulates the show’s themes and subtexts: Electronic sounds tangle with orchestral ones, and melodies come to the foreground and recede into tonal textures that don’t adhere to a single theme or character, but instead cross-pollinate each other.

The on-screen action mirrors this flow, says Kirchman, “aligning the audience with different points of view, different characters and interpersonal dynamics.” Each episode adds to a narrative about how shame and repression can damage the psyche — as Pullman’s detective searches for the why.

More Artisans

  • Jeff Goldblum performs in a sketch

    Inside the High-Pressure World of Late-Night Talk-Show Prop Demands

    Television production is an area where “Hurry up and wait” is a common refrain. However, for the prop teams that work on late-night talk shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” that’s not an option. They typically have only a matter of hours to deliver what’s necessary. Lou A. [...]

  • Smithsonian Handmaids Tale Costume

    Why the Smithsonian Chose to Enshrine 'Handmaid's Tale' Servant Costume

    The iconic red-caped, white-bonneted outfits worn by Elisabeth Moss and the other childbearing servants in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” created by costume designer Ane Crabtree, have become that show’s signature visual.  Hulu immediately knew it had a good thing, hiring groups of women around the country to parade in the garments to promote the show. [...]

  • Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by

    Why 'Missing Link's' Title Character Was One of Laika's Biggest Challenges

    Stop-motion studio Laika pushes design boundaries in every film it makes, and the lead character in “Missing Link” is no exception. “It became pretty apparent that [the character] Link was going to be the cornerstone,” says director and writer Chris Butler. “I did this rough drawing many years ago, and it was basically like a [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    New 3D-Printing Technology Was 'Missing Link' for Laika's Latest Stop-Motion Project

    For the upcoming animated comedy adventure “Missing Link,” stop-motion studio Laika set the bar very high. To execute the designs created by director and writer Chris Butler, artists would have to speed up their 3D printing of character faces — and those faces would have to be the most complex they’d ever created. “Missing Link” [...]

  • The Old Man and the Gun

    Ohio’s Midwest Locations and Flexible Tax Credit Lure Producers

    With its small towns, rolling farmlands and industrial cities, Ohio embodies the American Midwest. Other location lures for filmmakers include the shore along Lake Erie, the campus of Ohio State University, the striking skyline of Cincinnati and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The Buckeye State also provides producers with a 30% [...]

  • Nancy Schreiber Mapplethorpe Cinematographer

    DP Nancy Schreiber Captures Life of Artist Robert Mapplethorpe in Grimy Gotham

    Don’t tell cinematographer Nancy Schreiber that she’s having a renaissance. That would imply there’ve been slumps in her long career, and she won’t have any of that, even if for a time she was taking smaller jobs as the gaps widened between larger gigs. “It’s never been about the money, for me,” says Schreiber over [...]

  • What Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga Share:

    LeRoy Bennett Keeps Top Acts Like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande in the Spotlight

    You might say that LeRoy Bennett is a shining light among lighting and production designers for pop music. Doing double duty creating both touring sets and their illumination, he started out with a 14-year run as Prince’s collaborator, went on to work with Nine Inch Nails and Madonna and has counted Beyoncé’s and Bruno Mars’ [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content