October 20, 2010 | By

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Alongside Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-DCity of Ember is the second film from Walden Media scored by Andrew Lockington in 2008. Those familiar with the Journey score will find the films and their respective scores compliment each other in orchestral scope and robustness, plus the use of some unique instrumental ingredients.



Mark R. Hasan: For fans who enjoyed your score for Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D(2008), City of Ember will be another great surprise because it’s another large scale, orchestral score. Did director Gil Kenan (Monster House) want a classical-styled score, or was it your suggestion?

Andrew Lockington: I was brought onto the film during the last week of June or first week of July. They had had another composer on the film for a while before me, so one of the first things I was told was that the orchestra record dates at Abbey Road were already set in stone and could go no later. They started August 2nd, so I had literally four weeks to go.

The orchestral side of things and even the choir side had been pre-determined, and had been an idea that they’d been working on before I was hired, so I was fortunate that my ideas for the film definitely went in that direction, but as you’ll hear in the score, there are a lot of elements of interesting electro-acoustic music that I used.

I recorded some organic instruments – some quarter tone trumpet and the violin stuff – and really manipulated it using lots of old analogue filters with the help of a really great programmer here in Toronto named Michael White. I tried to merge that with the orchestral and choir sides to create an interesting angle.

MRH: The more common approach is to put sounds on a hard drive, and use ProTools to do enhancements using the filters that come with the program. Why go analogue?

AL: Well, my early discussions with Gil and my knowledge of Jeanne Duprau’s City of Emberbook were that, even though it’s some time in the future, it’s a very analogue world. There’s nothing super high tech or super digital in the City of Ember; everything is all levers and mechanical machines… so I really wanted the music to try and emulate that, and it brought me to look at some of the old, analogue synths and filters and fun little toys from the seventies and even the sixties, where you’re actually plugging in cables and turning knobs. As soon as you turns those knobs away, or you turn that machine off, you’ve lost everything; you can’t recall any of those settings.

I really liked the idea of playing around in a world of real physical manipulations as opposed to digital or any sort of emulation of that world. There are really good synth emulators now online that you can use in Macs and PCs, and while I have on other projects played around with those, I really wanted to stay true to the form and to the theme of the film, which is this sort of Alien orBlade Runner-type future; sort of a form of the future that’s not super-super high tech, but is a little darker and more rough around the edges.

MRH: Had you heard about Michael White, who had these vintage synthesizers, because those machines are very huge, they require a great deal of electronic components compared to a standard computer workstation, and it’s not something that’s easy to maintain, so there probably aren’t that many people in Canada, let alone the world, that actually have these machines that are still fully functional.

AL: You know you’re absolutely right. I had met the gentleman on Journey. I had done a little but of analogue stuff, and Journey was a more traditional score, so I didn’t have the palette to work with and stretch the limits and boundaries too much with that film, but it introduced me to some interesting sounds and interesting ideas.

On Journey, we were dealing much more with Moog sounds, but in City of Ember, I really wanted to use some of those same filters to start with sounds that would be commonplace – like trumpet and violin – and manipulated them beyond the form of recognition, so you didn’t have that influence of knowing what the instrument… You were only left with a pure musical sound, and the only thing you could really hone in on was the melodic content of what you were hearing, as opposed to a reference to a person actually playing it.

MRH: There’s a BBC documentary that I saw about a month ago called The Alchemists of Sound(2003), and it’s about the people who were working at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Over time they moved from using tape manipulation towards some slight synthesizer processing during the early seventies, before it eventually become more widespread, and the tape-based workshop was ultimately closed, but it was fascinating to see how they were using a lot of tape recorders just to keep doing loops and altering the sounds further though tape.

They were analogue sounds, but like you were saying about those early synths and filters, they produced really unique sounds that I don’t know if today’s computers can do quite as well with that warmness redolent of the old machines.

AL: And it’s a very different creative process to work with something that has knobs and levers and actual physical movements and manipulation, as opposed to clicking a mouse, and selecting bits and bytes and little numbers here and there.

There’s something about the analogue world that I really like. I know some composers who had the opportunity to use orchestras, but were very proud in using a synthesizer instead, and it became a very powerful instrument and something that people were very proud of.

Then we entered a world where synthesizers were basically working as a way to cut corners and cut costs and try to emulate orchestras as best as you can and save money, and it’s nice that I think we’re coming back to the world where we can use different kinds of analogue synths and even digital sounds, and use them for their own sake, as oppose to as a way of saving money and emulate real instruments. That’s where it tends to lose me; there’s something very human about having the real thing in a real orchestra.

I find when I’m at orchestra sessions, I will have a moment where my conductor will turn his score in the middle of a cue; he does it as quietly as he can, but because he’s sitting underneath the microphone tree, you hear that, and the question always come up: ‘Should we figure out a way to get rid of that?’ and I think, ‘No way, That’s the living proof that we really did this.’ That’s one of those great things that tells you that this was 90 people in a room performing this live.

I really like that. I kind of equate it to the breaths in singing. I like to hear the breaths, and hear the singer breathing, and know that there’s a live breathing organism behind the creation of this music; not just five steps back or six steps back but literally one step back from the microphone.

MRH: City of Ember also contains a lot of heavy brass, and I wonder if you think it’s harder to write for brass, particularly when it involves layering and developing sounds for something like a driven action cue. There’s one on the album that’s called “Tunnel” and there’s a lot of fine sonic details you can hear, which other composers have said requires skill to write in such a way that they’re all clearly defined, and grab audiences.

AL: When I’m writing for brass, I always start with the French horns. I really like the timbers of that sound, how rich it can get, and also how you don’t necessarily hear the size; you can have six or eight French horns played in unison, and it just warms the sound as opposed to hearing six or eight separate entities playing the same note.

I’ve always struggled with trombones because it’s a different timber; if I end up writing French horn parts that are really too low for most people to be able to play successfully, they end up getting orchestrated into the trombones, and it doesn’t really capture what I’m looking for or what I’m hearing in my head.

In City of Ember, it was actually Nicholas Dodd, my orchestrator, who said, ‘You know, maybe this is an opportunity to try and use the Wagner horns, which are more similar in timber to the French horns, but a much lower sound.” So we hired four Wagner horns to compliment our six or eight French horns, and just had this massive brass section.

It was just amazing how well it worked… but there’s also a beauty to the Wagner sound that seems to live completely in conjunction with darkness; the combination of darkness and beauty seemed to really fit the film’s themes.

MRH: For you, what was probably the hardest or the toughest scene to tackle, in terms of writing a cue that met its dramatic demands?

AL: Actually, all the scenes came pretty quickly. I wrote all the scenes in the course of two or three days, and one of the three scenes I went back to the drawing board because as I got further on in the film, I realized it wasn’t able to evolve the way I wanted it to, and that was actually Lina’s theme.

Also, around the middle of the film there are a lot of sequences where there’s a lot of tension; [the characters] are in the tunnels, and they’re trying to see what will happen and could happen at any moment. I was actually writing for one scene when Luther, one of the bad characters in the film, jumps in and scares everybody in the theatre to death, but as I was writing, I forgot where it was that Luther jumps in.

I was playing the City of Ember theme in a certain mode that I often did, and I had played it a few times in different ways. I think I was on my fourth time of playing it very slowly, and I was halfway through the phrase when he jumps into the scene. It completely shocked me and interrupted the phrase that I was writing, but I realized that the audience, like myself, would subconsciously hear me mid-phrase, and never expect something musically to happen there. I guess by accident, it introduced me to the idea of getting your audience familiar with the phrase, and then completely interrupting it.

MRH: Is there going to be a soundtrack album, because as I understand Journey in North America was available as an MP3 album, but in Europe it was available on CD?

AL: Yes. Part of the reason Journey was only available as an MP3 album is they had talked about releasing it as an extra with the DVD, but [later on] they didn’t see the value in releasing it as an extra if it had already come out in stores, so unfortunately that didn’t happen.

City of Ember is being released both digitally, and it comes out November 4th on hardcopy on Bulletproof Records, which is distributed by Universal, and should be everywhere.


. would like to thank Andrew Lockington for discussing his latest work, and Melissa McNeil at Costa Communications for facilitating the interview.

Visit Andrew Lockington’s wensite HERE.

Visit the official City of Ember website HERE.

To read our prior interview with the composer regarding Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D, click HERE.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2008 by Mark R. Hasan


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

CD:  City of Ember (2008) —  Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (2008)

DVD/Film:  Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (2008)


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