A Q&A with Award-Winning Composer Susan M. Lockwood

  1. Empathy, Scope, And Silence: Exploring the Score with Composer Susan M. Lockwood

     You’ve written music for film, tv, the internet, concert halls and more. What makes you passionate about writing to picture?

    Two things: collaboration with other artists and the opportunity to move an audience, both of which I consider sacred contracts. As far as roots go, my earliest memory of being struck by the power of music in film was when I was about 5 years old. My family crossed the Pacific on a passenger ship and the ship’s theater screened PINOCCHIO, and it was magical. And of course after that it was STAR WARS, that incredible fanfare just banging around the heavens… captivating.

  2. In 2020, you worked on Detour, which won Best Original Score at the San Jose 48 Hour Film Festival. How amazing is that! What were the challenges you faced working under a very tight deadline, and what was it like to work with director Chris Dyer?

    First, my thanks to the SJ 48 Hour Film Festival for the award and to Chris Dyer for the opportunity. This was my second collaboration with Chris and Dirt Dog Productions, and they’re just a joy to work with. The challenge and beauty of doing a 48 Hour is that you have to rely entirely on your gut when composing because there literally is no time for a second pass. For DETOUR, I had a bit of an easier go of it because Chris and I did not spot any music over the film itself: we reserved music for the end credits as a sort of wry character commentary. Even so, there was a time squeeze because I need to see the film before I can score it! I worked from an assembly edit, which gave me a good idea of where Chris and the actors had taken the script. I went with what I felt would work, and fortunately for me, Chris loved it.

  3. You recently scored the Veritas HackerTrack Ransomware Video Game. How does your music react to the different levels of this interactive game?

    HackerTrack was fun to score, and had its unique challenges. To start with, it’s a video game written for a marketing campaign, so it’s not a game in the traditional sense — there’s an element of concentration and focus there, and I felt strongly that the music should not interfere with that. At the same time the entire game is a ticking clock, so the music couldn’t sit too far back in the player’s experience; it had to push. What I composed has a sort of quiet, nervous energy to it, with subtle builds as the clock winds down. For example, a motif for violin would repeat with a double at the octave and a harmony in 3rds. One of the tracks is scored in 5/4 to give it a slightly off-kilter feel. The solo violin is played with a fair bit of vibrato and I ran it through some effects to enhance the restlessness of its delivery — compositional and production choices that add up to what I hope was an impactful addition to a really unique and fun campaign. Kudos to the creative minds at Mahalo Digital who designed the whole thing.

  4. For Mindera Software Craft, as part of the #CraftMatters Campaign, you wrote a percussion-only score while the race car provides the melody. How did you come up with this unique concept, and how did you go about composing and music-producing it?

    I was super-excited when Mindera chose the race car concept! The sound of the car, the speed, the danger… all of it inspired me, and the score was very easy to write. I went with a percussion-only score because the engine sounds left little room in the frequency range for anything else; certainly anything melodic would compete with the engine whine and lessen the overall impact. Instead, I chose to underpin the visual and sonic experience with a primal, almost brutal percussive attack and some mid-frequency echo effects as the car zoomed by. The footage at the finish line was just begging for a bass drop, and I got to break out my sticks and play some percussion, too. There’s even a bit of humor at the end with a “Wheeee!” effect as the car blurs by. I’m proud of how that came together.

  5. On top of composing, you’re also the host of The Scoring Stage on KWMR, a twice-monthly radio show that explores music written for visual media, video games, and Broadway shows. In your opinion, what are the ingredients of an outstanding music score?

    Empathy, scope, and silence. First, Empathy: find something in the story that resonates with you, that just knocks you over, and then bring it to the audience in the form of music. Next, Scope: the score should serve the film, not only in its compositional choices but also in its orchestration, its genre, and most importantly its emotional content. Finally, Silence: don’t forget silence! Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony literally begins on an eighth rest, an in-breath. Outstanding music scores find those moments of silence and deploy them to epic effect

    Interview by Nami Melumad


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