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Bolivia Monday April 13, 2009

Easter Sunday 2009

For the first time, I've begun to feel like I'm a very long way from
home.

We arrived in La Paz, Bolivia after an early morning flight from Peru.
An already exhausting layover was extended by a grand storm that
apparently reached all the way to Sucre, the destination of our second
flight of a very long travel day. We couldn't fly out of La Paz due to
lightning and we couldn't land in Sucre because of a downpour. When we
did finally reach our destination, we were faced with a three hour
drive up the mountains to Potosi. A day that began at 5:00am, finally
ended at 9:30 at night. This to cover a distance of only 583 miles.
Such is travel in a complicated terrain. But, as we drove and the
daylight finally gave way to headlights, a break in the clouds
revealed the Southern stars that I've only seen once before in my
life. I remembered that I was on a different continent and in a
different hemisphere and very far from home.

Monday April 13

Potosi is considered to be the highest city in the world at nearly
14,000 feet. It was once richer and more populace than Paris because
of the massive silver mine pictured above. It is a very cold and
desolate place, but that doesn't reflect on the people who live here.
We spent part of the morning in the town square and visited the bell
tower of the main cathedral. We climbed the old stone staircase and
our guide was kind enough to ring the largest bell in Bolivia so that
I could record it. His only comment, after I raised a silent hand up
until the last tone had faded, was "I hope the Bishop didn't hear..."

Our film project required us to drive up the mountain to the silver
mines. The rain and hail began as we tried several times to film. We
did successfully shoot on an outcropping that resembled the Moon as
lightning began to surround us. The roads that we ascended with our
Chinese autobus, were rutted, sheer, and by this time muddy and
unpredictable. All one can really do in this situation is to lower
your head, close your eyes and think pleasant thoughts prior to your
unceremonious ruin.

We did survive, as this note attests, but nobody escaped frazzled
nerves. I'm still sipping my second stiff Scotch as I write from my
room.

Chris

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Easter in Cusco, Peru April 11,2009

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The Easter season in Latin America is a strange hybrid between the
Catholic faith and ancient indigenous celebrations, especially here in
Peru. Earlier, on Good Friday, we recorded a procession of thousands
of people carrying a crystal casket with a statued body of Christ in
repose after his execution on the cross. It was proceeded by a chorus
of elderly women singing Christian chants in their native Quechua. It
was a haunting sound and seemed to have little to do with the Spanish
version of their faith.

On Saturday, we were in the central square of Cusco to view a parade
of all the dances from the districts surrounding Cusco and the
Urubamba region. Each dance group was costumed to the highest and had
their own band to play their processional dance. Since there didn't
seem to be any barrier, I stood next to the musicians to record their
performances. Then came the next group, and the next, and so on for
the afternoon. It was fascinating and beautiful, especially because
the version of Peruvian music that we were hearing before was intended
for tourists. Here, it was the pure songs from the villages which were
most interesting to me.

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Machu Picchu, April 6, 2009

Today is worth celebrating. 
I'm pretty sure that I've seen the most beautiful moments of all my travels so far... today. The most frequent thought was, how could I possibly express these things? On to basics...

We needed to catch an early train to Machu Picchu. This meant leaving our hotel in Cusco at 4:30am, which necessarily meant waking up at 3:50. As we bussed out of Cusco in the dark, we were remarking the Southern stars and Venus steadily rising in the east. We climbed into a pass and, at 5:00am, the sun hit the glaciers on the peaks of a bowl of Andean mountains surrounding us. This was the beginning of a long slow dawn that was the most remarkable in my memory.

No one spoke, there were just a series of gasps, and this from a very seasoned group of film makers that have simply seen it all. Wheat, Eucalyptus, Lupin, Lavender, villages, mountains and a constantly flowering dawn.

We dropped into the valley of the Urubamba River. Red dirt and red brick homes. Finally, the people we saw as postcards in Cusco were at home. We met our train at Ollantaytambo and traveled through the river gorge to Aguas Calientes to the Hotel Andina. Further by bus to Machu Picchu. 

Machu Picchu is a well documented beauty but pictures will never replace the wonder of the place. Sharp cut mountain peaks and foggy passes are why the Inca chose the setting. The large peak behind the town is where the gods lived. It is surprising that the buildings are whole, not ruins. The only thing missing are the straw roofs, re-created in a couple of cases. We spent the day working here, filming in many places and generally standing around with our mouths open.

9:30pm
I'm sitting here on a little balcony of my hotel room writing. A mad river is below me with huge boulders and pounding white water. In front of me, about one hundred yards away, is a mountain peak so shear that the entirety of it faces me like a mammoth stone, a thousand feet or more to a perfect peak where gods must surely still live. I struggle to write this, filled with inadequate metaphors. It is it's own reality, completely beyond my words.

I'm sure I've seen the most profound landscape that I've ever seen today. My companions were equally in awe. Today is worth celebrating.


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April 5, 2009 Cusco Peru


There is much to love about Cusco. I'm surely not the first to say so.

I wouldn't include the travel that it takes to get here from San
Francisco. Virtually 24 hours of flights, layovers, baggage and
airports that all look the same, no matter which continent you are on.
The confusing thing about arriving in South America for the first time
is that there is no apparent difference as you step off the plane and
no apparent distance covered. You have been in a box for eight hours
and then you step into a terminal that might as well be in Denver.

We flew into Lima and, after a six hour layover and one lost bag, 
continued to Cusco. We were so tired that the cab ride to our hotel is
no longer a memory. We all tried to sleep for five hours and decided
to force ourselves into motion so that waking the following morning
would approach normal.

At some point it begins to sink in. The cobblestone streets with
sidewalks so narrow that you have to hug the wall to keep from falling
into the street. The terraced mountains that circle the city, reaching
at least a thousand feet higher then Cusco. Shortness of breath. Yes,
the city is stunning, but I'm referring to the altitude of eleven
thousand feet.

A surprising thing, but more common these days, is how international
and current this ancient city is when you're expecting something more
familiar to your imaginary image of Peru. For example, there were 
more Irish Pubs then Peruvian. There were more young foreign travelers
then locals and more flat screen TVs then Llamas. The more places I
travel, the more I'm reminded that the world of 2009 is everywhere.
There is some sense of loss there, but the refreshing dose of reality
saves you from wallowing in naive cliches.

We spent today (April 5, Palm Sunday in a very Catholic city) watching
processions of people carrying palm fronds, filming in the first
Monastery built by the Spanish and recording the songs of cloistered
nuns in a Cathedral. We also visited an open market where I asked
people to sing and ended up recording children until we had to escape
the crowd that gathered. Later, we filmed in the town square and went
to Inka ruins above the city. Amazing how they built these walls of
stone, so perfect that you couldn't slide a piece of paper between.

Tomorrow, we are off to Machu Picchu at 4:30 in the morning. We have
to take the train through a river gorge that is so steep that no road
could be built there. I won't be able to report if there is no
internet, which I suspect, but will continue in a couple of days.

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In the Name of God and King

Spring 2009 brings a new adventure for me. Carl Byker (left) is the director that created parts of "The New Heroes", plus the feature documentaries "The Meth Epidemic" and "Andrew Jackson". He and Mitchell D. Wilson (stills and video genius) are embarking on the story of how Latino culture arose from the ashes of Contact with the Old World.

I will be composing the soundtrack for the film. As I have tried to envision the music, I knew that I would want it to be built from experiences and recordings in the field rather then out of my imagination. The sound of a brass band, miles away in a valley; a street musician working the town square; a quiet story told at night... These are elements that carry the "aroma" of a reality that cannot be manufactured with sound effects and my own musical designs. I always believe that this kind of "audio photography" is the best way to inform my musical choices. It becomes the launching pad for discovering the score instead of composing in a more academic way.

Ruben Martinez is the host and on-camera personality that will be telling the story. Since Carl needed to record "stand-up" statements in the various locations, and I wanted to collect ambience and music anyway, he invited me to join the production team. Jack Combs (pictured right) has teamed up with Mitch and Carl in locations all over the world for decades. Rocio Barajas is coordinating all the filming and doing the difficult tasks of getting visas, location fees and rights, and many other production duties. 

The trip begins with shooting in Los Angeles, then to Mexico in Mexico City, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Merida in the Yucatan. The second leg is in South America at Cuzco, and Machu Picchu in Peru and Potosi in Bolivia. Finally, we will record in Amsterdam followed by Madrid, the Alhambra, Seville and other locations in Spain.

This blog will have a running journal, both organized and totally chaotic iPhone notes, music and photography as the trip goes on. I hope you enjoy it.

Chris


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