Kenneth Lampl and Darren Tate are the composers of Magnolia Picture’s “Frontera”. What makes them so unique? They've never met in person. Join us as we talk with them about their interesting and unique working relationship.
Working partnerships are common in the movie-making industry. Pooling together knowledge and talent is one way to create a more appealing and more complete product. Furthermore, for large projects with lots of work to do and tasks to complete, it makes the burden easier to bear (we all know how helpful it can be to have a shoulder to lean on). What is not common is having such partnerships develop across an ocean and not in person. For Kenneth Lampl and Darren Tate, that's exactly what happened.
Kenneth Lampl is a Professor of music at Hofstra University in New York. Darren Tate is an international DJ and producer who resides in London. Together, they have joined powers to create "Tate & Lampl" also known as "Brainstorm". The award-winning duo has gone on to compose music for both film and television, including the feature film "Frontera" which is hitting theaters in September. While their musical accomplishments are impressive by themselves, they are made even more so when you consider the fact that they have never met in person. Cinelinx got the chance to learn more about this interesting duo and how they are able to work so efficiently without direct contact.
What is Tate & Lampl? When and how did the partnership first begin?
Ken: I was working on a film called “Ninja’s Creed” with the director Babar Ahmed for Lionsgate Films and picked up a copy of Computer Music Magazine which featured Darren. I was very impressed by both his creative ability and his thought process. As I started to listen to some of his music I came across a remix he did of the music for “Gladiator” which just blew me away. I thought that a remix of the themes for “Ninja’s Creed” would make a great end credit sequence. So I contacted Darren via email and we just got along famously. He had a profound knowledge and interest in classical music as well as a passion for film scoring. At the time the music budget had all been spent so we bartered a remix for orchestration lessons. We enjoyed the process so much and our strengths, intuition and working method complemented each other so well we decided to partner up to form “Brainstorm”.
Each of you has a background in music that is different than the other. How do you use your different experiences to benefit the partnership?
Darren: Well, like Kenneth I have had classical training but most of my professional career involved electronic music production, engineering and mixing. Since being a kid, I’ve always had a fascination with electronic music production (oogling over expensive keyboards with lots of buttons) and that interest developed over time. The result is many years of knowledge of all things electronic and that gives us a massive palette when it comes to approaching scores. The same could be said for sound mixing, recording and engineering.
Ken: I was more of a traditional “ink to paper” composer than an electronic one, though I do have ability with electronics. The world of orchestral/acoustic instruments and classical composition inspired me and I’ve had many years of conservatory training at the Juilliard School and the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France. I wrote a lot of classical orchestra music before turning to film scoring and for me it was the working with the live musicians and using my classical training in conjunction with the psychology of film that turned me on. When I met Darren the idea of mixing that skill set with someone who was a master of the electronic music and engineering was really exciting.
It’s very interesting that you have had so much success with this working partnership, yet you’ve never met in person. Which aspects of each other’s work or habits do you believe are responsible for making this possible?
Darren: I think the key things are firstly a mutual respect of each other’s respective abilities; a passion for all things musical (as well as a similar appreciation for the same kind of music); a passion for film scoring, but most importantly, we just get on like a house on fire and spend most of the time ridiculing each other.
Compared to working with someone with whom you can communicate directly (in person), what’s it like working with someone whom you have only communicated with indirectly? How has technology and the internet aided your working partnership?
Ken: To be honest, technology is so impressive these days that actually being physically present isn’t a pre-requisite in having a good working relationship. Facilities like Skype allow us to communicate just as we would in person; and being able to transfer files across the internet, record orchestras remotely, working with directors across the Atlantic in real-time – all of this is technology driven which in turn makes our jobs that much easier.
On the other hand, are there any limitations that you have encountered related to the way that you approach your work? When writing and creating music, are there times when it would have been easier to be in the same room?
Darren: The thing is, we can communicate our respective ideas over the internet and then discuss them as anyone else would. We also transfer ideas to each other and then adapt them accordingly. For “Frontera” this was a huge amount of back and forth work but the end result was as effective as had we been in the same room together. It’s not to say there aren’t advantages to firing off against each other in real time but it certainly doesn’t restrict our creative process.
Ken: I think our process of using Skype and the internet is so refined I’m not sure what I would do with him in person other than slap him occasionally. What I do like about our process is the time alone to digest the feedback and respond musically.
When you are creating music for film, do you have any favorite film genres? Do you have similar or different tastes in film and music? How does this influence your work?
Darren: I think to be a good composer it’s good to have a wide appreciation for all kinds of music. We have integrated everything from tribal chants from the depths of Africa to cutting edge breaks to hitting pipes with a hammer. As long as there’s symbiosis between the music and the film that’s what counts. I often think a good score just belongs to a film and vice versa.
Ken: We have very similar tastes in music and film in general, which I think is the backbone of our working relationship. We enjoy working on a wide variety of films and truth be told, who wouldn’t like the idea of working on a big epic score like “Frontera”!
What is your inspiration when creating music for film? What film soundtracks stand out as influential to you personally?
Darren: The film itself is my inspiration, but every time you hear a great piece of music and watch a film with a great [soundtrack] it embeds itself in you. Personally I’m a big fan of John Williams as he’s just a master of melodic writing in a truly old school way (esp. classics such as “E.T.”; “Star Wars”, and so on). For electronic, Vangelis had monumental moments especially with the likes of “Blade Runner”. I think Hanz Zimmer has delivered some great scores, especially with his more minimal scores as of late; but the same can be true for Ennio Morricone; Jerry Goldsmith; James Newton Howard; Alan Silvestri; Dario Marianelli… and the list goes on and on..!
Ken: The biggest inspiration is of course working on a great film! My favorite classic soundtracks are definitely John William’s Score to “E.T.” as well as Bernard Herrmann’s score to “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”. One of my big influences of the present day is my friend Tyler Bates who did just fantastic scores for “Dawn of the Dead”, “The Devils Rejects”, and “300”.
“Frontera” is about to hit theaters. How did you approach the music for this film? What was it like working on this exciting project?
Darren: We loved “Frontera” from the first time we each read the script. Seeing the film it was clear that this was a remarkably good project and we were very excited about the prospect of working on it. Initially Kenneth and I drafted ideas against a handful of cues and Michael (the director) connected quickly with our vision for the score. From early on we realized we wanted the score to represent the essence of individuals and their cultures and that formed the foundation which we then built on.
Now that you have proven that geography is no limitation for you, what’s next for Tate & Lampl? What types of projects would you like to write music for in the future?
Ken: Right now we are working on a terrific thriller of Gary King (How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song, What’s Up Lovely) called “Unnerved”. After that we have a new film by Russ Parr (35 & Ticking, The Under Shepherd) who Darren and I have done five films for, as well as a new film by Babar Ahmed (Ninja’s Creed, Amka). We have been blessed by writing music for many very talented directors and we wouldn’t mind some epic scores in the future!
Magnolia Picture’s “Frontera” hits select theaters September 5th, 2014.
Want to learn more about Kenneth and Darren? Be sure to check out their websites: