Lisanne Schulze interview
In a quiet corner of the jungle it was noticed that International electronic music stars such as Modeselektor and Daedelus kept passing through, they were passing through a small resort in the Jungle known as Dusun.
After years of this secret practice a compilation of music made on the spot was released, to massive acclaim. Following this success a week long session was planned, with artists from all over the world to come and create with local electronic acts including Bass Sekolah. Many of the artists were German (including Born In Flamez) and the project was made possible by Goethe Institut, organized by BorderMovement and Detour Asia.
What was it like to spend 2 weeks in the jungle with a whole gang of Electronica producers?
From the very beginning it felt very organic, as most of my friends are musicians or work in the music industry. Still, I was super curious whether people from all over the world would have different approaches and methods of producing music. So I observed them and especially the initial meetings and the jamming sessions very closely.
Since you were there to document the project, you literally were in the position observer – what did you learn from watching this project unfolding? What did you learn about producers, in general?
In general, I had the impression that music producers have (at least) 2 very different sides while working. They often start with a tiny idea or some accidental sound generations that they play and joke around with. Mostly, that’s when participants met and were open to change, a lot. Things have been very open to changes at that phase.
But later they would become totally concentrated and would isolate themselves. That’s when I could see some impressive workload being processed in a very short time. All together I have to say that every single artist invited by the Goethe Institute was very professional, often with stunning production skills. Also many of them played the drums, the guitar or the keys by heart and would just sit on those instruments for relaxation and to clear their heads before they would get back to their computers.
How did the setting affect the music?
First of all, I think being isolated in the jungle, away from stores, bars, friends or any other established distraction (other people's houses) made everyone feel very different. Even though some of the people have been in jungles before, none of them have ever worked in an environment as natural as this one. Meaning, being confronted with an unknown atmosphere, as in the constant unknown noises from lizards running on the wall, foreign birds, the rush of the waterfall, raindrops smashing against your rooftop and an architectural openness I have never experienced before. Everything is just always open. There was no way you could lock yourself away from the environment. So you kind of had to fuse with nature and accept that there are way more animals on this planet and the there temperatures you can only deal with when you rest. I feel you can hear this acceptance and openness in the music. Also, a lot of artists acquired field recordings, which inspired them to integrate sound elements they would never work with in the cities they come from.
Did it affect your work as well?
Of course. Those circumstances had a strong impact on my artistic work, too. I never would have expected to hardly be able to hold the camera without sweat not just dripping, but running down my hands and arms. Or the mosquitos, which you would try to shake off while filming when they would crawl up your leg, for example.
From a technical point of view it was almost impossible to set up for stable recordings, as there would always be a vent blowing into your microphone or movements caused by the houses themselves, when someone walked on the wooden floor. In the jungle, nothing is ever tight. So I quickly realised, I had to adapt my approach and with this change the aesthetics. 99% of the shots have been taken spontaneously, working with a hand cam setup. As a consequence the movie has a much stronger documentary character.
Also, I realised that nothing could be scheduled, like on other projects. So whenever a musician felt like jamming I would either jump on it or if I wasn't fast enough, miss it. And, of course, there were always different groups of musicians working simultaneously, in the 3 different studio setups. Accepting the beauty of this randomness definitely made me realise that you I can’t fully coordinate the output of this project and that I should just let myself float with the project, like the musicians.
What were you looking for when you took the photos?
I was impressed by the equatorial flora and fauna, which I had never seen before. Gigantic succulents, neon red palm trunks, massive insects and fruits I couldn’t name, even though I’ve been around the world. Very interesting for me to capture was the hybridisation between those natural components and the artists producing with mostly electronic equipment. The amount of midi controllers, cables, power plugs, amplifiers and, of course, computers looked almost ridiculous, very mutated. So I think that’s what I was interested in. I wanted to document not just the unique display and oddness of producing electronic music in the jungle.
When you look at them now, do you see something that you weren't aware of when taking them?
If I look at the pictures now, it is almost surprising how dense the musical and natural experience / sensation must have been. Almost every single picture shows either artists making music or the crazy fauna of the jungle. The amount of ‘purposeless’ snapshots that I usually find after jobs was much lower this time, which shows how deeply I lost myself in what was going on during that intense time in the jungle. I think this kind of involvement can be seen in every work that was created during the Soundlab.
And what is the documentary about?
Well, the documentary is a piece about 13 musicians from Australia, Asia and Europe being thrown together to have the freedom of creating some music together. It’s a glimpse into what happens when strangers are being thrown together in an intimate setting. What you can see is pure passion for music, a lot of curiosity and the motivation to learn from each other and exchange knowledge. This kind of nosiness was actually one of the most beautiful things to see. They’ve been so keen on sharing ideas and techniques, it really surprised me how candid they all were. I wish people (not just artists) would have the luxurious experience of not caring about the unpleasant necessities of jobs, more often. What I witnessed is how embracing and respectful of each other's work, artists can be.
Was this the first longer format you worked on?
Primarily, I work as a photographer. Apart from that, I have done some video work like the music video for Perera Elsewhere, or some teasers for Born In Flamez or video interviews with artists like Modeselektor.
But as a director and DOP this was my first short movie project. We started with a very casual understanding of what we would like to achieve with the video as the artists' behaviour and the outcome was so hard to foresee. All we knew was that we wanted to have a documentation for Goethe Institute and the participants, of course. But how people would react to being filmed ,while not just working, but living together in the jungle – a totally unknown environment – 24/7, that was unclear. So, in the end, most frames were a surprise to the artists and myself. Going into the rainforest with a script and some shots in your head is futile. That’s something I learned for sure. If you don’t have a massive budget for equipment and people you have to improvise 100%. Don’t go if you’re planning to leave your MacGyver skills at home. And with that the aesthetic message adapts to the circumstances. Normally, I favour more empty, kind of placid or almost morbid atmospheres. But just like with the omnipresent ambient sound, you always have a very rich visual backdrop, which is impossible to edit out.
Do you think you'll continue working with film?
Apart from my job as a photographer, and mostly working with musicians, if not artists of some sort, I’m also doing my PhD in Neuroscience. So my workload is very heavy, in general. One day I might be doing portraits of some musicians, with all the freedom to express my creative desires. The next day I’m filming a neuro-biological phenomenon in a totally different, very constrained and accurate setup. It always depends on what’s most important to me at that moment. I’m a photographer by heart but with growing requests and demands I seem to develop in different directions simultaneously, and that includes the cinematographic work. I enjoy that diversity.
In closing, what were your three top sessions and songs from this project?
I was delighted to see the outcome of (Nguyen Hong) Giang’s geeky way of producing music. He was the only artists that used a lot of programming. I loved it when in the end you could hear a deep piano piece or a dirty, booming hip hop track.
Watching Born In Flamez and Similar Objects was a pleasure, too. To me it seemed as if they had already worked together previously – speaking in a mutual language. That was very impressive.
Last, but not least, I loved it when Nadia Reid took her acoustic guitar and forgot everything going on around her, when Fook played the bass together with Dizz1 on the drums, or when Gerriet faced the sunset with an unplugged guitar in his lap, tenderly plucking some notes.