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ATMOSPHERICS

Music to 'L&O' fans' ears

March 28, 2004|Christine N. Ziemba

"Chung. Chung."

It's a sound that elicits an almost-Pavlovian response in crime-show junkies, cued to think of "... The police, who investigate crimes, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders." The audio cue is a hallmark of the stalwart NBC series "Law & Order" and its spinoffs, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

For the last 14 years, the clip has been ingrained in the American psyche, and "Chung Chung" has now reached official cult status, being borrowed by journalists and bloggers alike to add dramatic effect to their prose. And www.Glarkware.com, an online store dedicated to things hip, is capitalizing on the sound's popularity by selling emblazoned "Chung! Chung!" T-shirts for $20.

What that marks -- or what the sound itself actually means -- has been up for debate. Some cast members even spoofed the sound effect in recent promos, admitting that they were at a loss as to what the sound heralded.

"We call it the 'Ching Ching,' but 'Chung Chung' is more phonetically correct," says uber-composer Mike Post, who created the piece at "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf's behest. "I wanted [the audience] to hear a sound and know that it's a signature that's supposed to define the show in an aural way."

Consisting of a slamming jail cell, a hammer striking an anvil and drums, the musical cue is used to help announce location, time, date and scene changes, adds Post, whose numerous composing credits include "Hill Street Blues," "Magnum, P.I." and "L.A. Law."

Incredulous that the two-second snippet is garnering any attention, he jokes that with the shows' syndication on several networks, the "Chung Chung" is probably "played more than hit records." And like the chart toppers, Post receives a small royalty each time the sound, well, resounds.

Add it all up, and the "Chung Chung" could be making Post some serious "bling-bling."

-- Christine N. Ziemba

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