Conducting an interview with Rampage’s score composer Andrew Lockington, Bleeding Cool contributor Jimmy Leszczynski writes:
Today I sit down to chat with the composer of Rampage, Andrew Lockington. You may recognize Andrew’s work from such features as San Andreas, Percy Jackson: Sea Monsters, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Incarnate, as well as The Space Between Us. Today, however, we are talking processed brass and world percussion, vintage 8-bit computer game electronics, manipulated animal noises recorded in the jungle on two continents and The African Children’s Choir from Uganda.
“People always ask me what instrument I play, and my honest response is: play everything poorly.” – Andrew Lockington
BLEEDING COOL: Andrew, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I have a few questions about your latest collaboration with Dwayne Johnson. First of all, thanks for helping get The Rock work. This is the third, I believe, Dwayne Johnson vehicle that you have scored — is that correct?
ANDREW LOCKINGTON: Yes, he really needs my help. Whenever he is struggling and wondering what to do next, I always throw his name out there to see if I can get him a gig here and there. I’ve been lucky to get to score him three times now.
BC: Can you tell us a little more about working with The Rock? Is there any particular instrument, or theme maybe, throughout the movies that you use when he is on screen?
AL: Visually Dwayne is, obviously, quite a gargantuan human being. Pretty unequaled. But I think one of the things that make him so successful is that emotionally we can all relate to him. He is a human being. He has vulnerabilities. He has fun. I always find it interesting is that there is such a dichotomy between his physical self and so much of the world is still able to relate to him on an emotional and on a human level. So there really isn’t an instrument, certainly that side of him is so well represented visually and on screen.
Probably the most interesting way to score him is to make sure that I try to capture music to build the bridge between the audience and his character on a human level. In a movie like this, one moment you are having a lot of fun, the next moment is scary, the next moment could be emotional, the next moment he tells a joke and you’re laughing. You are really hitting these four quadrants — these four seasons — in one day. To score that and to hit all of those different emotional quadrants in one score is a lot of fun. In terms of his actual size and what he brings to the screen there, music doesn’t really need to help him there in that respect — I just sort of try to keep up.
BC: The most recent trailer features action, destruction, and comedy. How would you describe this movie? Is it science fiction, horror, action adventure, disaster porn, monster movie, or a mix of all of these? Or something completely different?
AL: The first reactions are exactly what we’d hoped they’d be. It is a bit absurd, but a really fun time. I think the fans of the video game and the fans of the genre are going to get exactly what they hoped for — which is these crazy visual effects destruction moments.
The flip side of that is even though it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s still an emotional story. Brad Peyton, the director, as well as Dwayne Johnson, in his character, and Jason Liles playing the gorilla, did a really good job of the buddy character relationship aspect between Dwayne’s character and the gorilla. It’s very real and very relatable and quite amazing, and quite surprising. To score, I think that honestly audiences will be shocked at that how relatable that is and how moving that can be. But it doesn’t take away from any of the craziness and the fun of the film.
BC: Although I am a huge fan of motion picture scores, soundtracks and their intricate details can too often be completely overlooked and unappreciated. Can you talk about translating an 8-bit monophony tune into a polyphonic full-length motion picture score?
AL: One of the early things that Brad said was were are going to have fun and we are going to pay homage to the video game, but there is going to be an actual story here. There is going to be a level of humanity. Let’s find a way to pay homage o the video game, but let’s do so in such a way that it doesn’t take away from this slightly extreme version of reality that we’re trying to absorb our audience into.
The 8-bit element in the video game was definitely an important part, but it is really easy to get pulled out of reality if the punching noises and the smashing noises and the sound effects have this sort of 8-bit sound. Eventually, one of my assistants, Neil Parfitt (Synth Sound Designer on The Space Between Us, Incarnate, San Areas), sought out the actual SID (Sound Interface Device) chip from the game in the ’80s that was the sound chip, to use as a sound engine. He figured out a way to wire in a zero rack modular system, and we were able to create our own menu of 8-bit sounds that I could use with all the other elements. We had a lot of help from Per Hallberg (Sound Editor on Skyfall, Spectre, Gladiator) and his sound team making sure that between the sound effects and the music we were appropriately paying homage to the video game.
BC: I understand you did quite a bit of research preparing this score. Tell us where you did find your musical inspiration(s) for the three different monsters in the movie, and can you tell us about the themes, ids, or cues for each monster in this movie?
AL: The challenge was figuring out a way to thematically represent the three creatures when they are rampaging in a group where as they are all sort of inflicted with the same pathogen, before they face off against each other and before they start working together. Having the score represent them as unit. We did that by the pathogen that we see at the beginning of the film has this motif — this theme. The same theme gets used and manipulated and used in a different way with the villains who have created the pathogen, and a different version of that yet again. This time it is the brass. We have this incredible brass section — 16 or 18 french horns, some of them playing Wagner horns — and then we took that brass music and processed that thru a ring modulator and unison carrier waves and it adds this whole edge to that theme.
So even though it’s the same action melodic content, it’s used in different ways depending on if it’s the creatures or the actors or the villains or the pathogen. George, the gorilla, because he has this relationship with Dwayne, when he is rampaging we have a thematic element to draw on that we have established with him. So, definitely the three creatures have subtle differences in how I exploit the theme, but they all share the theme when they are all destroying the city.
BC: Can you tell us about the concept that you and director Brad Peyton conceived of involving the two separate thematic elements?
AL: There were several influences. Early on Brad and I talked a lot about this film being the animal world versus the human world — how the villains are trying to play god, fight against mother nature, and really take over the whole genetic programming of different races of animals. We talked about the idea of music — if you really had to distill the score down to two elements, it’s the animal world and the human world. If we define those elements at the beginning of the film and then parallel to the telling of the story, [we would] have the animal world feel like the music is really being genetically modified.
So I would travel to Tahiti and French Polynesia, in large part because the drumming and the wind instruments are really sort of rawly human. Very natural, very removed, not 4/4 — not our traditional tunings of our instruments we learn with western tuning and orchestra, etc. Then over the course of the score, I gradually manipulate those sounds with modern technology — with 8-bit processing, 8-bit modulators,ring modulators, tape echoes, Euro rack, module systems, synth systems, source. So that was really fun to do.
And it’s interesting to start writing action music in 11/8 or these really strange rhythms. Actually, the title queue was written in 11/8. That came out of my research of Polynesian music, of playing with these odd time signatures, and playing in a way to musically make them make sense so that you aren’t thrown every bar. You realize that it’s the same signature, but you don’t realize it, but you actually start to appreciate it. And it feels like it is an appropriate and accepted part of the experience. That was really fun.
BC: I know that the African children’s Choir from Uganda played a large part in the scoring. Can you tell us about meeting them and utilizing their unique talents?
AL: I was in Toronto and drove the eight-hour drive down to Cleveland to meet up with them and spend a few days with them. I have always been fascinated by African music, especially African choral music. And over the course of those few days I realized what fascinated me most and what make them really special, is that the tuning is natural tuning. Suddenly we realised the harmonies that we are getting from this African group of kids was so pure and amazing. It had this quality, this really emotional quality to it, even in the most simple passages that I never had really experienced before.
So when we were trying to come up with a musical element to represent the bond and the relationship between George and Davis, we thought their journey begins when George is rescued by Davis from poachers in Uganda, how appropriate to really represent their theme with these young Ugandan children with a melody that they sing, which is equally as pure.
BC: That’s a fascinating concept, and I am excited to see how that plays out in the movie, especially the gradual, progressive digitizing of the music, or digital manipulation of the music to match the animals morphing and transitioning.
AL: Hopefully we have represented it in a parallel telling in the score. It was really fun. That’s the one theme that doesn’t change — with everything else changing and everything else going on, and all of these themes getting morphed by digital manipulation, the one thing that doesn’t get affected is the bond that Davis and George have. [It] remains true and pure — even in the parts of the film where it feels like it is lost, and George is lost to his affliction. The music, when we do get a moment of connection, is the same purity that we experience at the beginning of the relationship.
BC: You have mentioned Brad Peyton a couple of times. Please talk about how your working relationship him has evolved since first working together on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. It is easier to work together having an a familiar language together that makes it a little easier to collaborate?
AL: So Brad Peyton was hired, we met and hit it off pretty quickly. We realized we were both kids of the Spielberg generation. We grew up loving all the same movies — it was such a golden age of film scoring. The really incredible strong themes, largely orchestral scores. We really found a lot of common ground in that world and had lot of success on Journey 2, so we have since collaborated on four other projects, including Rampage.
Each time I work with Brad we get to sort of begin where we left off on the last one. There is a common language — a common love of different styles of music. He loves taking the journey too, and he loves the fruits of the labor that emerge when you explore uncharted territory. It is a real pleasure to work with Brad. He loves to roll up his sleeves and get involved with the music.
“The coolest thing is that he is really open to music influencing other aspects of the film making. Because we got into the theme writing and the research of the score before the movie is shot, before it’s even scouted often, we are deep into our conversation. I am very humbled by that fact that things we talk about a lot of times I will see reflected in the script writing or the acting, or the way he shoots the movie.” Andrew Lockington
BC: Which composers have influenced you the most?
AL: Growing up, obviously there was the Spielberg/John Williams collaborations were always fascinating to me. I think John Williams is an especially great theme writer. Most working composers, if not all, everyone is really good. Everyone is doing really great work, really great scores.
I think growing up I listened to a lot more scores — for me that’s where the most interesting new music was coming from, and a lot of the experimentation. Prior to that, a lot of classical composers — Wagner, Mahler, Shostakovich — there are so many interesting composers. Nowadays a lot of the more modern and popular music. You always hear interesting ideas — the hard part part is once you hear it in some ways it is off the table. When I am, working on a film score, I don’t want to listen to anyone else’s music. I want to just live in the world inside my head trying not to be influenced by what anyone else is doing.
BC: Researching your IMDB page I found quite a variety of film credits. Will you tell us about a few of your favorite films or pieces our readers might not be aware of?
AL: One I did last year is called Meditation Park for director Mina Shum — it is a great film. Mina and I collaborated on one of the first films I ever did called Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity. The other film maybe a few people have heard of I did a score called Siddharth for director Richie Mehta — a beautiful movie that won the Beijing film festival a few years ago, as well as several other film festival awards. It is more of an East Indian-influenced score, but something I am very proud of. And very different than Rampage.
One of the great things about being a film composer is that you can write and live in so many different worlds. You are writing from the perspective of a different character or different group of characters each film you do. So you get to immerse yourself in all these different worlds on different projects. It is part of the reason I love doing the more art films than I do, and these action films, and dramas like The Space Between Us. It’s really nice to move around and exercise all these different muscles for just a moment.
BC: Last question: Which monster would you most like to turn into and do some destruction — George, Lizzie, or Ralph?
AL: That’s a tricky question. I would say Ralph is probably the coolest. Cause he can run super fast, and he can fly. There is a lot of little hidden things we don’t expect to see from Ralph. And also I’m a dog lover, so I gotta side with those guys.
BC: Andrew, I want to say thanks for your time, and hopefully someday we will be talking about the Peyton/Lockington team-ups they way you talk about Spielberg and Williams.
AL: Listen man, I love your site. I think it’s such a cool site.
BC: Oh wow! Thank you for saying so. I’m going to put that in. I always love to mention a fan.
AL: It is neat in this day and age to sort of have… I have a handful of go-to sites I go to every day, and Bleeding Cool is at the top of that list. I was excited to talk to you.
Besides listening to Andrew’s latest and great this weekend in Rampage, please feel free to check him out at Andrewlockingtonmusic on Instagram. Or you can check out his website: Andrewlockington.com.
You can purchase the Rampage soundtrack right here.