Occupation: Composer / Songwriter /Performing Artist
Current Release: Shirley OST, on Milan Records.
Recommendations: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler / ‘Black Gold of the Sun’ by Rotary Connection’s and Isaac Hayes’ rendition of ‘Walk on By’
Website/Contact: Learn more about Tamar-kali's work at her website www.tamar-kali.com
When did you start composing film music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started composing film music in 2016. It was an unexpected turn after years as an independent performing and recording artist. I had not anticipated adding this skill to my repertoire. I came to music as a primarily self-taught second generation musician. I was trained as a choral classical singer as a child. I sang in the choir at my parish and eventually became a cantor and played guitar at Charismatic masses.
I was exposed to a range of musical genres at home. My father, formerly a bass player, gave me a great foundation in jazz, soul, R&B and funk.
I was drawn to new wave, alt-rock and eventually punk rock and hardcore but always maintained an eclectic range of interest as a New Yorker exposed to an array of cultures and sounds from reggae and salsa to kompa and hip hop as well as the choral classical music I was performing in Catholic School.
Music was my sanctuary growing up as a single child in NY in the 80’s. It was my refuge and gave me a sense of freedom. My soul always knew that it was my path even though at times I doubted it.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I started writing songs at a very young age, about 6 or 7. I’ve always connected with the practice of expressing my personal thoughts and feelings and figuring out how to get the music I heard in my head out into the world. Originality was of the utmost importance in the types of genres I was drawn to. It was the purpose of expression.
I would describe my development as a long period of nourishment that evolved into practice followed by expression. The NY punk rock/hardcore scene was the catalyst for my step out into the world of performance on my own terms. It was through my experiences within that community that I found my voice.
What were your main compositional challenges when starting out as a film composer and how have they changed over time?
Film composition was a sudden pivot that I had not prepared for. I had to figure out and learn a lot in a very short frame of time. The challenges weren’t compositional but in developing the technical skills and sorting out time management to compose, orchestrate, record and mix my first ever film score in 4 ½ weeks. Challenges are opportunities for me to grow as a musician and an artist. I am still developing as an artist in this arena and learning about myself as a collaborator in relationship to directors and music editors as well as building relationships with the audio and professionals I engage on each project.
What, to you, are the main functions and goals of soundtracks and film music and how would you rate their importance for the movie as a whole? How do you maintain a balance between, on the one hand, artistic integrity and sticking to your creative convictions and, on the other, meeting the expectations of the director?
I envision the original score as the vehicle that transports the viewer into the world of the film seamlessly. Soundtracks are a dose of nostalgia that reconnect you to the experience you had while viewing the film. They are also an opportunity to delve deeply into the musical world without the visuals and have an entirely new experience.
As an artist who maintains a range of artistic expression separate and apart from film composition; I come to the table as a creative collaborator committed to serving the film’s needs. The feedback process is often an exercise in managing the director’s expectations and maintaining the compositional and artistic integrity of the music. An understanding and knowledge of each other’s work and creative process is the foundation for an effective collaboration.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I primarily work at home from a small set up. I started with less than the basics; a 13” laptop and Garage Band. I used my deceased Power G5’s monitor for picture and an old Casio (floppy disc) keyboard. It was a present from my Father when I started a chamber ensemble in ’99.
My setup has evolved a bit since then. I have a full-sized keyboard controller, I still use the old Casio for ‘in the room’ piano sound to work out ideas and I have a couple of monitors to spread out the visuals (sound library, plug in windows etc.). The most important piece of equipment I possess is my imagination and creativity.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I am without a doubt, not a gear head. My goal is to create mock ups to reflect the compositional elements of the music with the understanding that I will be recording live instruments and the demo is just that, a demo. I collaborate with directors as a composer, not a programmer or producer. I excel at writing from my heart and that is the lane in which I stay. I never expected to use technology to this degree, but it is the best choice for time management and execution at the pace required for film projects.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I’m definitely on the minimal side of things when it comes to production tools. I am essentially moving the music from my mind into the physical world. I have used synthetic layers as atmospheric padding and done a wee bit of experimenting with field recording.