Film music in the age of teamwork

Portraits

A portrait of Triplet Studios in Zurich

Steffen Schmidt - 2019-12-11
Film music in the age of teamwork - ©Njazi Nivokazi
©Njazi Nivokazi

Triplet Studios are a production centre for film music. They are based on the Langstrasse in Zurich, where they plan, compose and record. The Triplet team has completed successful projects ranging from the German TV series Lindenstrasse to numerous Swiss feature films such as Flitzer (“Streaker”). By working as a team, they have said farewell to the myth of the “sole author” and instead offer a very different concept.


Triplet Studios owes its name to a collaboration between three composers: Michael Duss, Christian Schlumpf and Martin Skalsky, who after studying at the Zurich Academy of Music in the 2000s decided to dedicate themselves to the booming film music industry – and did so with a passion. These three budding composers were attracted by film music as an open field in which everything seemed possible, erecting hardly any stylistic boundaries. It was this opportunity to compose anything that the young composers saw as their real strength. Since then, depending on the type of project they embark upon, the three of them work either together as a production team or separately; they also take on responsibility for sound design. But for most of their work, they sign off jointly as “Triplet Studios”.

These three composers had no opportunity to study film music specifically during their time at the Academy. But their private interest in film was encouraged and supported by André Bellmont, who was a lecturer in jazz and arranging at the Zurich Academy of Music at the time and is today the founding head of the curriculum in film, theatre and media composition at the Zurich University of the Arts (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, ZHdK). Thanks to Bellmont, the three students got the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles and to work with Henning Lohner and Harry Gregson-Williams, who belong to the team of Hans Zimmer. This experience gave them the decisive inspiration to set up something themselves in Zurich.

Lindenstrasse 

Little by little, they wrote their film music, showed it to each other, made joint drafts and gathered up commissions. And they were successful. For seven years, they have written the music for the German TV series Lindenstrasse, working as a team. It was a stroke of luck that the series features three long-lasting, linked, narrative strands, because they could assign each separate strand to be composed by a different member of their triumvirate. It was an ideal constellation in which the structure of the TV series matched the structure of their team. And with this teamwork, they buried any notion of authorial exclusivity – here there is no putative, godlike Beethoven figure who is responsible for all the sounds produced. 

“At present, we’re in a state of upheaval”, says Christan Schlumpf, the team member who has made himself available for our hour-long interview. Lindenstrasse is only going to be broadcast for another year, after which these three composers – all of them fathers with young families – will have to find other large-scale projects to make ends meet. That’s not always easy, confirms Schlumpf. When asked about marketing and advertising, he explains that his main focus is on the contacts they can make by attending festivals and other events. For example, their contact with the film team for Lindenstrasse led to their founding a second Triplet Studio, in Berlin, which they use when fulfilling commissions in Germany in order to make administrative matters easier when dealing with job opportunities abroad. 

Stylistic breadth

The stylistic palette of Triplet Studios is indeed broad – but this is part of their manifesto and their calling card, as it were. They often utilise techniques from pop music, usually in small-scale combinations that the three composers record themselves (they are all also instrumentalists). The film Flitzer (“Streaker”, 2017, directed by Peter Luisi) was an exception in that the team was able to employ a large orchestra. The budget they were allocated meant they could engage a film music orchestra in Moscow. The recordings took place in Russia, and although the composers could not attend, they ensured that everything ran smoothly by staying in close contact by mobile phone and texting. Here, music production truly entered the digital, WhatsApp age. 

 

The music for Flitzer (“Streaker”, Peter Luisi 2017) is captivating, hymnic, heroic, and immersive. It enhances the moment when the streaker enters the stadium, transforming a crackpot into a sportsman – the sportsman who breaks the world record for streaking and brings it home to Switzerland. 

 

The music affords this witty, scurrilous scene a degree of profundity that is nevertheless multifaceted, ranging from stirring heroics to calm intimacy and a playful sense of movement in 5/4-time. Triplet Studios hasn’t specialised in comedy, but this genre – which is generally regarded as problematic – is one that clearly suits these composers. And what seems to define the sound of “Triplet” is in any case a feel for clearly defined musical characterisation and crystalline sound combinations, rather than anything atmospheric and undulating. 

Working methods

The team engages in an interplay of collaboration and autonomy when they set to work on a project. Some sections are assigned to a single composer, who works completely independently. So things don’t work here like they do in Hollywood’s studio system, where the musical structures are determined by the composer, but the instrumentation can be carried out by an arranger (though such practices were already regarded as anathema by film music greats like Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone).

Despite their autonomy in the actual matter of composing, the three musicians work in close collaboration, providing mutual feedback and preparing joint concepts in advance, deriving these from their initial discussions about the narrative of the film. The fundamental working method of Triplet Studios means understanding the dramaturgy of the film, adapting their musical intentions accordingly, and providing a meaningful perspective on it. They also engage in regular, intensive sessions with the director, presenting and discussing different drafts and possibilities for the music.

Schlumpf says he isn’t necessarily in favour of a strategy that would involve putting all his musical eggs into one basket, as it were – deciding on one version in particular and then presenting it as a fait accompli. It’s more of a process in which they listen carefully to learn the filmmaker’s own perspective, and then endeavour to find a common language in order to realise the music for the film in question. They have been able to establish just such a long-term collaboration with the director Peter Luisi, for example. Schlumpf confirms that filmmakers have great respect for musical terminology, but insists that this is no obstacle to coming to an understanding about their respective fields of film and music. 

 

Die Lehrer (“The teachers”, Adrian Aeschbacher, Eric Andreae 2016):

 

Plötzlich Deutsch (“Suddenly German”, Robert Ralston 2014):

 

Usgrächnet Gähwilers (“Meet the Gaehwilers”, Martin Guggisberg 2017):

 


www.triplet-studios.ch
 

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