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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

India - Calm and Spacious

It's 3:34 am and I'm awake and thinking about landscape.

I recently edited a video that was shot in a hurried fashion over three weeks in Nepal. The footage (though there is a lot of it) is claustrophobic and never lets the viewer out of the frenetic pace of what must have been a busy, production-oriented trip.

As in the great film Baraka, which has been a huge influence on my approach to working with non-narrative storytelling as well as landscape, I hope to find the time during production on Song of The Untouchable to step back and find ways to portray India in many different ways. I think the frenetic, confusing, crowded part will be easy enough... but finding moments that go beyond the shakey and confusing path of a video camera through India will be the real finesse.

One thing I've noticed is that lately, and due partly to the fact that the camera I'm using is such high resolution, I've been discarding the rule of thirds in favor of composing my shots in a combination of thirds and fifths. I've been trying to place large structural components of the composition according to the rule of thirds, but I'll almost always have something important - or even the very subject of the shot - placed according to fifths. Here's a couple frames from the Wyoming segment of the film I'm working on now:

I overheard an interview with a wonderful film director yesterday, and he called his visual style 'clutter'... which he basically described as the secondary or tertiary layers of subject matter in a shot. I'm starting to understand what he is talking about, as clutter is not only a theme in the shooting I'm doing now, but is quite possibly a requisite component to any shoot in India.

Happy Holidays.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

a hundred-ninety minutes in warsaw

Ewa's voice crackles over the black, Soviet era loudspeaker: "The problem was een the solo violeen. We have to do eet again." The cellist to my left does another one of his little hyena whistles and the orchestra begins to kvetch in Polski. They're losing their patience and we're almost out of time. I glance down at the black page of notes on the stand, then back up at the stereo pair of mics positioned in front of my forehead, but there's nothing more to see. There's nothing more to think. Either my body knows this music or it doesn't.

It was 1:26 pm on October 29th, and I was in Warsaw recording a violin concerto written by my father, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer George Walker, with Ian Hobson and the magnificent Sinfonia Varsovia. I grasped the Strad, not like a $4,500,000 antique, but like the surgical, double-edged tool of musical illumination/personal confession it is. I had four minutes left to will it into a successful take of the insectile passage work.

In a sense, while I'd never experienced that particular kind of pressure before, it seems a microcosm of my life in music thus far, as well as the transformation I hope Chuck can capture with Leo's guidance in the future: Neurotic. Revelatory. Blurred.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Some Guidance from Leo Eaton

Leo Eaton

Last week I watched a series called The Story of India which profiles the journey of Michael Wood as he travels around the subcontinent looking for clues of India's past and present. This documentary was one of the best pieces of programming I've ever seen, and I immediately saw a few connections with Song of The Untouchable. As I scoured the credits of The Story of India - trying to decode some information on how the production worked - I came across the name Leo Eaton, who served as the lone executive producer. Though his boots were likely not on the ground during filming, no doubt Leo was guiding the ship.

After a brief introductory email, I called Leo this morning and he generously gave me about half an hour of his time discussing Song of the Untouchable and how we might make it a creative success as well as a financial one. Leo impressed on me how important it is to develop the journey as not just a series of points on a map, but a transformative journey within our main character.

Leo told me that "India will change him, the question for you as a filmmaker is whether you can capture that transformation or not."

Agreed. Emotional buy-in is going to be hard to achieve if all we're doing is connecting the dots on the map and lecturing about music.

Leo's blog is a well-written dialogue about his life as a documentary filmmaker, and has several interesting posts about the industry, society, and the recollections of a well-regarded professional who has been doing his thing since he was a teenager.

On Wednesday I'm off to Switzerland for the last international filming trip for my upcoming climbing film. I'm looking forward to seeing my friends and enjoying the crisp fall air in Switzerland, Austria, and Italy.


Saturday, October 24, 2009


Inspiration does come from the darndest places. As a creative musician, the object is to make sound that has never been made, no matter how many others share the same inspirations.
Rist's Elixir surely must have come from nature, the same sounds and trees and sticks we all spend our lives tripping over. If only there were a way for Chuck and I to transpose this immersive experience and bottle the beauty of Kerala in a musical performance.
Even within relatively muted and contained colors of the classical music world, there is the occasional shocker: last week, the Rachel Barton Pine Foundation in Chicago awarded me the loan of a 1718 Stradivarius violin.
On Monday, I fly to Warsaw with it to record with the Sinfonia Varsovia. In the meantime, I've been spending time with this legendary antique, getting to know it, learning how to mold its moods even as the damned thing seems to be bending me to its ancient will.
How many ways there are to impale oneself on beauty.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Inspiration from the Swiss

I'm here in Helsinki, Finland working on my next action sports video, and yesterday it was too cold to film (big surprise) so I had a tourist day downtown. In addition to all the normal stuff like coffee and gift shopping I was able to make time to check out a new exhibit at the contemporary art museum called Elixir by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist. The subject matter of the exhibit was much different from Song of the Untouchable, but the presentation and the use of technology and space to create a comfortable, immersive environment was really awe inspiring.

At the last performance of Greg's that I attended - a multimedia work titled 'Searching for the Perfect Planet' - there was extensive use of projected images and sound, and Greg also has mentioned his interest in creating a multimedia work from some of the footage in Song of the Untouchable. Truly, when an artist gets the combination correct of all the varius elements, it really creates something special.

At Elixir, the visitor is enveloped in a large space, with colorful images surrounding them on all sides including the ceiling. Objects such as tree branches and clear plastic objects are suspended in the beam of the projectors offering strange silhouettes and reflections. Comfortable carpet and long pillows invite the visitor to lay down and enjoy the sights and sounds.

Though there was no clear narrative to the program, I wound up spending about 45 minutes enjoying the exhibit... about as long as a film.



Sunday, October 11, 2009

Developing a style - starting from scratch

In addition to directing Song of the Untouchable, I'll also be serving as the Director of Photography for the film. One of the reasons Greg decided to bring me on board is that he felt a sneaky suspicion that if the subject matter was handled wrong it could turn into an un-watchably boring nightmare of a travelogue. My approach will not be entirely different from the way I handle my action sports material, in terms of my choice of subject matter and visual elements. Landscape will play a big part in Song of the Untouchable, since the Kerala region is a beautiful place and it would just be wrong to ignore that. Transportation is another element... I'm always looking for ways to show transportation. Character and lifestyle is another important element I like to pay attention to, so as Greg moves through the landscape with his violin on unique forms of transportation (a houseboat as been discussed for some of the travels) that means I'm right at home.

As I write this I'm in Helsinki working on a action sports film. My friend Nalle lives here... in a unique urban landscape, using interesting forms of transportation, and living a very unique lifestyle. As I work on documenting him and his recent athletic achievements my thoughts are also progressing to the long-term goal of developing a unique visual style for Song of the Untouchable. I'll try to keep the blog updated as I make progress, but for now, here's a frame from the shoot yesterday.

Nalle Hukkataival takes a longboard to his training session. Still frame from video clip.

Cheers, Chuck

Saturday, October 10, 2009


It was a deceptively gentile scene: three men sitting around a plate of cold pizza, the Colorado foothills floating over the busy highway in the distance beyond us like a mirage. Dr. David Claman, world traveller and latter-day Sex Pistol, was showing two of us a historical lineage of Indian musicians on his laptop. Our director, Chuck Fryberger, sat quietly, envisioning ways he could make this landscape of South India explode across a movie screen. And I was just shaking my head; how would I ever catch up with these guys, in the course of a project that requires me to take my old French violin and learn the music of gurus half a world away?

What have I gotten myself into?

Monday, October 5, 2009

What is Song of the Untouchable?

Song of the Untouchable is an adventure film profiling the journey of Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra Concertmaster Gregory Walker. Greg is preparing to embark on a musical journey through Kerala in southern India, where he will collaborate with local musicians, and absorb the sights, sounds, and culture of one of the most fascinating regions in the world.

There is no doubt Greg will undergo personal transformations and experience a way of life altogether different from what he has known. With the end goal of incorporating this new-found knowledge into his musical repertoire, Greg will return for the creation of a new composition, Song of the Untouchable, that will debut in Denver in April 2011. Full, worldwide release of the film is scheduled for summer 2011.

Follow along with this blog to stay up to date on the production, and watch as the story unfolds....

The Team:

Writer: Gregory Walker
Director/Cinematographer: Chuck Fryberger
Executive Producer: Matt Francis
Producer: Stephanie Marvez
Second Camera: Nelson Carayannis