Soundtrack: Apple TV+'s <I>Pachinko</I>
Issue: March/April 2022

Soundtrack: Apple TV+'s Pachinko

Apple TV+’s Pachinko chronicles the hopes and dreams of a Korean immigrant family across four generations as the leave their homeland in a quest to survive and thrive. The premiere season spans eight episodes and features a soundtrack that reflects the four distinct generations across Korean, Japan, and America. 

Supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Luciano Vignola and re-recording mixer Martin Czembor recently shared insight into their work on the series and how they paid meticulous detail to accurately reflect each time period.

How did you two get involved in Pachinko and what drew you to the project?

Luciano Vignola: “It started through Jordan Murcia, who was a producer on another AppleTV+ show we had been working on, Dickinson, and she really wanted us to work on this show and put us in touch with Soo Hugh, the show runner. Soo called us one day to feel us out and talk about the project. We read the script for several of the episodes and it was such a fascinating script that took all of us in with the way it describes these epic scenes with such expansive detail. But it also had so much humanity through the way it was written. It was very touching to read even as a script.

Martin Czembor: “We ended up having a very interesting, long conversation, talking about things like how we’d approach the mixing for all the foreign languages (of which we don’t speak), soundscapes that tell stories of history, music, etc.”

What conversations did you have with Soo Hugh regarding the sound design for the show?

Luciano Vignola: “The way Soo writes and thinks about creating her show, she already has an incredible richness of ideas about sound worlds and sound details. From the beginning, she was always very interested in discussing ideas, both broad and of specific details, and how we would go about creating them for the show. We had many conversations and spotting sessions with Soo very specifically for how to create the sound world and what were the parts that were important for her texturally, sonically and emotionally throughout the storyline.
Martin Czembor: “Soo is always very interested in figuring out how to get us to feel something in a show while watching it, so we talked about how that relates to perceiving tiniest details of texture, the pacing of things, how sound and music can rise and fall, and taking the time with all those elements for the purpose of storytelling. For instance, we would watch a sequence and she would ask us, at what point did you feel remorse or sorrow for this character, and we’d consider how we’d need to adjust, for instance, the beginning of a music cue to get to the right answer. She was always trying to be in touch with the thread of emotions, aside from just the mechanics of dialogue and texture of sound. She was also a great resource of curiosity and pointers about historical accuracy.”

Can you talk about the process of building soundscapes from early 20th century Korea and Japan? What details were most important to you?
Martin Czembor: “One of the first conversations we had with Soo was about creating the tone for the four different generations in the different locations of South Korea, Japan and the US. It was about creating different identities, but also about creating continuity between all these storylines, as there would be many jumps in time and parts of stories, the way the script approached telling the epic novel in a cinematic format. A lot of information about the many things used historically that had already manifested in those areas of the filmmaking were, thankfully, shared with us in the months leading up to the sound editorial process from the sets, locations and production design. For example, the time period in South Korea had its own world of tranquility and rural atmosphere, whereas the later time periods in Osaka were bustling city environments, but yet with distinctive differences from the Korean world. We started there tonally. 

Luciano Vignola: “Filipe Messeder, who is our incredible sound designer, started early on collecting libraries and recordings of these environments, researching historical facts about local wildlife, and making sure our Foley textures were going to be historically accurate to reflect the construction of buildings back then, and the shoes and things like that. 
Martin Czembor: “Because these episodes are cross-cut between time periods, we had to take care to not overdo these shifts in environments to the point of distracting from the storyline. There was not one specific formula for this, it was a delicate balance that required deliberation each time.”
The pachinko parlor is full of distinctive sounds. How did you build that sonic environment?
Luciano Vignola: “We knew very early on that Soo would want to recreate these environments as authentically as possible, and as engaging as possible, so we had reached out to our producer, Jordan Murcia, about getting a vintage pachinko machine sent to our studio so we could record it as one of the building blocks of the scenes at the parlor. We recorded all the mechanics of this machine, the way the metal balls fall through the machine, and the various sounds when you win a jackpot, etc... We recorded using an array of microphones at different perspectives and different angles, essentially creating a library of sounds. Then Filipe recreated the pachinko parlor world using an incredible program called Sound Particles, which essentially reproduces individual sounds on the scale of hundreds of layers.”

Do you each have a favorite sonic moment or soundscape from the show?
Martin Czembor: “For me the first one that always comes to mind is when Sunja and Isak go on the ship to emigrate to Japan. They are on the lower decks, where the poor migrants and workers were kept, while the top deck had fancy shows for the rich people. That whole scene is intercut with Solomon and the land owner’s contract negotiations at the firm’s office. All the tension is built in such a fascinating way within these parallels. On the ship, everything is moving and changing, and you hear the sounds of the big ship and the music upstairs and the uproar that results, then cutting back to the very serious conversation at the firm going back and forth over the final step of the deal, which is obtaining the land owner’s signature. All of the various sounds and music made it fascinating to work on.”
Luciano Vignola: “I remember Episode 1 fondly because a lot of it was setting the tone for these atmospheres and the series. Especially since we’re mixing this in Dolby Atmos, we had amazing opportunities to walk the viewer through these worlds using sound. For instance, we have the first fish market scene with Sunja, her dad and the fisherman in Busan. To contrast this in the same episode was the pachinko parlor in Tokyo, where we introduce this modern world and some of the characters in it.
Martin Czembor: “The pachinko parlor also has a very fascinating sound design imprint in it, and it’s one of the primary sounds. The viewer may spend some time wondering about why this parlor is such an important part of the story that it could give the whole ‘thing’ its name. So as you comprehend more of the story of immigrant life throughout watching the episodes and how deeply it touches generations and evolves as a whole culture, it was important to Soo and us how important a sonic signature that place needed as well.”