For us here at DN, one of the best ways to experience music on film is to take it far from the established structure and confines of the stage, to a place where it can be experience anew. Add to that the stripped down beauty of the single take in which you can watch great musicians doing what they do best and we’re in heaven. Releasing the first of what we hope will be many films documenting musicians creating in the heart of nature, Ben Evans, co-founder of international arts review site Fogged Clarity, set out to Michigan’s Les Cheneaux Islands with filmmaker Christopher DeSanty and a group of talented artists to document those fragile moments of creation. DN invited Evans and DeSanty to take us into the heart of their collaboration.
Fogged Clarity is an international arts review founded by myself and visual artist Ryan Daly in 2008. Having released 1 print edition and 60 digital issues featuring the finest in contemporary poetry, fiction, visual art, music – in addition to exclusive audio interviews with some of the most gifted creative minds in the world – Fogged Clarity has established itself as a true comprehensive arts journal.
One of the first musicians Fogged Clarity ever featured was Samantha Farrell – a beautiful songwriter first discovered by the late Dave Matthews Band horn player, LeRoi Moore. Over the years I remained close friends with Samantha, and, last February met up in Boston where she introduced me to her boyfriend, filmmaker Christopher DeSanty. Christopher and I struck up a friendship and began discussing ideas for collaboration on a project to be featured on Fogged Clarity. I had recently emerged from a 2 year depression, and a great deal of that time was spent alone at my cottage in Michigan’s Les Cheneaux Islands. In order to answer back to, and create something beautiful from the darkness that had enshrouded me, Chris and I came up with the idea to shoot a documentary exploring the wonder of creation and landscape…in the Eden that is the Les Cheneaux Islands in August.
I began recruiting talented musicians we had worked with in the past via Fogged Clarity and finally decided to invite Chris Bathgate, The Hand in the Ocean, Gabrielle Schaub, violinist Michelle Brosius and the aforementioned Samantha Farrell up for a shoot. As a 501c3 non-profit organization, donations to Fogged Clarity are fully tax deductible, and about a month prior to shooting I asked three childhood friends to contribute $500 each in order to fund the filming – for food, the artists’ travel expenses, and Christopher’s time. It should be mentioned how generous Chris was, and continues to be with his time on this project. For both of us, it is a passion project, at heart we’re artists and have dedicated our lives to creating and proliferating beauty.
So, the money being raised, Chris, I and 8 musicians walked around the island drinking wine, playing music, reading poetry, and discussing art and life. It was sublime. Chris captured over 25 hours of footage, in addition to four 4-5 song sessions with each musical act playing in an island location of their choice. There was also a concert, in which, many locals from the nearby towns of Hessel and Cedarville drove their boats over to my cottage one night and watched the artists perform as old foreign films were played (without sound) on a projector behind them.
The first of these four Les Cheneaux sessions was recently released to the public; the next one will featuring Chris Bathgate will be released February 1st on Fogged Clarity, with the other two being released at one-month intervals thereafter. We hope to have the documentary footage edited and organized by next summer, but may actually end up shooting another similar weekend this summer with another group of musicians and poets.
I came into this project with an open mind and not much planned, as I wanted to be in and of the moment – much like the other artists. Ben Evans brought in a group of musicians, poets, filmmaker (artists)… and I just wanted to take a fly-on-the-wall approach to the weekend and document the creative method of the artist in this great arena that was the island. I was focused on the artist vs. environment, and how they played off of one another. I’m also a musician (drummer) so I’m well versed in both film and music. Marrying the two is my greatest passion, and favorite thing to capture.
In the case of this first session with The Hand in the Ocean, I particularly love the sound design. The band set up in a clearing in the woods, not far from the shore of the lake. The common thread throughout this performance is the never-ending sound of the water. It creates a beautiful, serene and mesmerizing tapestry underneath the powerful dynamics of the trio. It’s there all along on a subconscious level, but when the band hits the end of each tune, the water swells and takes center stage again.
I shot everything live, one take using a Canon 7d on sticks with a wide angle lens for the full band and a handheld Canon 5d with a 50mm lens. Audio ran through a Zoom H6N, mixing the stereo mic ambience with the inputs. Editing was a combination of Pro Tools and Final Cut Pro. Like I stated earlier, I’m a musician and am very conscious of the beats of the song and how/when to effectively cut around that to best serve the music and performance. I cut to the wide water shot between pieces as a reminder of the environment and all the themes of the film (eternity, passing of time, etc.). It also adds this serene/almost therapeutic and calming effect on the viewer. I wanted those transitions to be as quiet and smooth as possible to help establish the relationship between artist and environment, how they co-exist and feed off one another. How one’s environment can put the musician in a certain mood and place, and even me as videographer/observer. It changes my approach as well.
I like that conversation between man-made and natural sound. The band comes in and makes its statement, and then leaves, while the water remains constant. The way the light through the trees dances differently in each tune because of the sun setting in the late afternoon also signifies the passing of time. To me, it’s a meditation on a moment v. eternity. The performance is fleeting in the grand scheme of the nature of the island, but we captured it on film – rendering it an important moment. It’s a truly unique artistic moment for that given time and place.