‘Law and Order”s ‘Dun Dun’ Created A Legacy Like No Other

When composer Mike Post was assigned to create music for Law & Order (and its endless spin-offs), he had one job: to put the viewer in the mood. That he did.

Perhaps Post wanted to take audiences down a disconcerting—yet seductive—path; one that echoes the journey of Olivia Benson and her comrades in each episode. Maybe he wanted to embody the distress and depravity nestled deep within New York’s world of crime. Rumor has it, if you listen carefully enough, you can even pick up on the sound of a gavel in the ‘dun dun.’

In a 1993 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Post said that he intended for the ‘dun dun’ to sound like a “jail cell locking.” And it does manage to sound like a dark and ominous steel door closing behind you.

Twenty years after its debut, Post’s ‘dun dun’ still bewitches people. But why? How a second-and-a-half sound effect could essentially become a household name (… or noise) is mind-boggling. It even claims stardom and notoriety in popular culture, with Pete Townshend writing the song “Mike Post Theme” on The Who’s eleventh studio album Endless Wire.

Post got his start writing music for early garage rock band The Outcasts and won his first Grammy at the age of 23 for his for Best Instrumental Arrangement on Mason Williams’ 1968 hit “Classical Gas.” After producing the work of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s 1981 album 9 to 5, Post focussed on Hollywood where he wrote TV themes for a number of programs including The A-Team, NYPD Blue, The Rockford Files, L.A. Law, Magnum, P.I., and of course Law & Order.

But it wasn’t even the Law and Order theme that created the hype. It was a simple second-and-a-half sound effect. Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “the ominous chung CHUNG sound accompanying the scene changes”, one “that chills the blood,” even going to far as to suggest that it “does its dark work effectively.”

The intended effect of the ‘dun dun’ is up for debate. Perhaps it tries to chill the audiences; to wake them up to the diabolical mess that is New York City’s crime scene. Or maybe Post just liked the noise of 500 Japanese men stomping their feet on a wooden floor… which I promise is not some urban legend, but a legitimate part of what makes up the ‘dun dun’ noise. Likely a “monstrous Kabuki event,” according the New York Daily News.

There’s something to be said about the powers of the ‘dun dun’ (and Post’s theme song more broadly). It has a strange, and almost eerie, influence on both babies and dogs.

“The second the song starts, [my baby] unlatches and I have to stand her up so she can dance to it. Hands in the air and all smiles. I’m not kidding,” Christine said in a forum on BabyCenter aptly titled, “My baby loves the Law & Order theme song.”

Daniel Serna filmed Knuckles, his Jack Russell terrier, howling to the theme, dog sitter Tanima witnessed her friend’s schnauzer singing along, while Kristina claims that her dog, Dakota, was Law & Order’s“#1” singing dog.

Speaking to ABCNews, veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner said that it likely had something to do with the “higher-register notes” in the song. In response, Post was shocked, telling the New York Post, “they’re [dogs] not running away from it, they’re singing along with it. If somebody notices my music and appreciates it, I’m happy—and if those are very happy canines, I’m happy.”

Did Mike Post unwittingly unleash a beast, though? A force bigger—and more elusive—than he could have ever possibly imagined? In the conversation with ET, Post reflects on the notoriety of the ‘dun dun’ noise, saying that “it’s odd, to be honest, when you’ve written a theme that you think is very musical and what everybody wants to talk about is The Clang.” But its standing in popular culture has come with perks. Every time the ‘dun dun’ sounds, Emmy winning Post is raking it in. He evenaffectionately refers to it now as the “ching ching” sound, in virtue of it being a monkey-making machine.

Dun dun.

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