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CD + MP3: City of Ember (2008)
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November 4 , 2008

Tracks / Album Length:

24 / (71:41)


Composer: Andrew Lockington

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Like his score for the recent 3-D version of Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), in City of Ember, Andrew Lockington returns to a very robust sound, once again revisiting the richness of a big orchestra, and centering his score around a tense action motif, and elegant City of Ember theme (both introduced in the film’s opening titles).

The melodic lyricism in Journey is very much present here – Lockington finds many opportunities to craft thematic variations throughout the score – but there’s a darker colouring to Ember, which makes it appealing to both fantasy and action score fans. The “Main Title,” for example, sets up the score’s ongoing sense of urgency with three rhythmic hits, performed by melding piano and deep percussion, and gradually adding revolving string figures, brass heralds, and mounting percussion layers. The whole effect immerses the listener into a subterranean world, filled with impressions of ominous rumbling, and a sense that a clock is slowly counting down towards some dangerous deadline.

Lockington sweetens the score’s sound with some vintage synth sounds, but they’re very carefully layered into the orchestral fabric. The dominant sounds come primarily from brass instruments, which include a handful of Wagner horns, but of particular note is the use of counterpoint in the suspense cues.

In the opening titles, it’s a classic (if not vintage Goldsmithian) tactic that has one level of brass playing the film theme in fanfares over long and deep chords, and strings and percussion punctuating the melodic phrase with tense hits. The rhythms and repeated figures drift apart and reconverge over several bars, creating a flawless swirling motif which Lockington enhances with wordless chorus. The payoff is part action, goosed with tonal shades that nail a child’s sense of fantastical adventure, but with a lot of apprehension as to what lies beyond a fast-approaching, dark cloud.

As a contrast, Lockington’s theme for Lina is very stately in the brief intro piece “Lina Mayfleet,” with a deliberately Wagnerian brass tones that frequently reappear in the score to lend an old-world, stately majesty.

The album’s longest cue, “Tunnels,” is also the standout action cut, and it’s a grand example of a composer having room to develop a cue which slowly envelops and pulls the listener on a musical journey, unhindered by abrupt endings or a hastily drawn denouement.

The initial thrust comes from a tightly bound group of strings, offering pinched vibrato and notes that drift slightly into harshness, but not quite achieving the strains that are unsettling. There’s also some minor synth effects, sustained breathy shading, and digital squeals mimicking insect squeals, but the real momentum begins when the Ember theme is broken down into variable rhythmic modules on strings, and Lockington keeps adding and subtracting layers of brass, choir, trumpet triplets, and rippling, primal  percussion textures. Admittedly, the cue isn’t one big action cut, but it’s a standout for the emotional dynamics that are at play throughout the score; here, it’s just more compact, but elegantly unravelled.

Verve’s soundtrack album contains a hefty portion of the score, and although the last cue should’ve been a grand orchestral wrap-up (the kind of classic End Title music composers rarely get to do nowadays),  Lockington’s score is well worth acquiring on disc and cranking very loud on a bass-friendly sound system.


Note: for an interview with composer Andrew Lockington, click HERE.


© 2008 Mark R. Hasan

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