Nico Muhly gets intimate on the soundtrack for AppleTV+’s epic “Pachinko” series

Classical composer Nico Muhly rarely writes for television (the BBC’s “Howard’s End” was the last five years ago), making his score for Apple TV+’s eight-hour “Pachinko” a real event. The centuries-old epic follows a poor Korean woman and her descendants as their lives often happily intertwine with those of their Japanese neighbors. diversity spoke to Muhly about his sensitive music for the miniseries.

Why did you want to tackle this project?

I would read the book as would most Americans. Soo Hugh, the showrunner, somehow stumbled upon a lot of my instrumental music. She called me and said, “Do you want to do that?” It was a very quick “yes.”

What did “Pachinko” need musically? I noticed that you don’t really acknowledge the Korean or Japanese attitudes with your music.

Not at all. That was one of the first things I said to Soo, “If you want someone to do East Asian music, you have to hire someone else.” Yes, it’s a story that’s so incredibly specific to that one time and that one colonial gesture is. It takes us to America and this very modern vision of what Japan and Korea are like today. [But] Rather than being time specific, the music engages with the characters a bit more.

how did you start

I wrote longer pieces of music that could be edited and placed in appropriate places. Most importantly, narratively and emotionally, was the music for the younger Sunja. This is the genetic material that rules the whole play. This story is so specific, but it’s also the story of every overseas colonial venture and the story of every large-scale immigrant thing. That’s also why I thought the music had to act as a glue, a bridge to be with the characters, but also to hover a bit above them.

What were some of the key moments in the score?

I laid all the foundations early on; I generated a lot of material. I wanted to do the piece where Hansu sees Sunja from the other side of the fish market at the end of Episode 1. I wanted to get the choral music right when they do the white rice, which is incredibly important. And I wanted to put some music together for Solomon because I knew there would be these montages in episode 6 and 8 where we connect straight from Solomon back to his grandmother.

Much of the score has an intimate, almost chamber-like feel.

It’s a small ensemble. I don’t think there are more than 10 players, just with clever overdubbing. We did it in three or four sessions. We never had more than five violins, a viola, a cello, flute, oboe and a solo part.

How many times have you consulted with Soo Hugh?

A few thousand times a day! Soo went into this project knowing exactly how music would work. She sent me one [detailed] Document before anything was shot and where we ended up was more or less there. She already knew what the slur was, and she was absolutely right. Our meetings were incredibly quick because we both knew what needed to happen. We were like this on the same page the whole time. Nico Muhly gets intimate on the soundtrack for AppleTV+’s epic “Pachinko” series

Charles Jones

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