The intersection between music and nature
Manu Delago’s epic film and soundtrack, Parasol Peak, was released to the public on September 7th, 2018. Delago is most known as a pioneer of the hang, a handpan that was invented just under two decades ago. After spending years honing his skills as a composer and percussionist, he created a duo with Christoph Pepe Auer, a bass clarinetist, called Living Room. As part of the world’s first hang and bass clarinet duo and other projects with the likes of Björk, Anoushka Shankar, Erik Truffaz and Douglas Dare, it is clear that Delago is not just an avid fan of the wide reaches of the musical spectrum but also an innovative experimenter in terms of collaboration and composition.
Parasol Peak follows Delago, who leads six other musicians into the Alps, settling down at various altitudes and settings to play and record their compositions. Using accordions, woodwinds, horns, strings and experimental percussion, Parasol Peak‘s film documents exactly how Delago and his ensemble create such ethereal, otherworldly music. With everything recorded live and no overdubs, the result is a truly unimaginable intersection between music, nature and the grit required to take on such an immense challenge.
The live album opens with “Parasol Woods,” a glassy first step into the world that Delago has created for his listeners and viewers to experience. Immediately, he dazzles with a twinkling hang melody joined eventually by peaceful woodwinds. This peacefulness comes to an abrupt end by the middle of the song–after the blare of a horn, the hang percussion takes a speedy turn, building up the intensity as the horn melodies take center stage. Everything crescendos until it hits an abrupt silence, followed by much gentler horns that sweep away into the atmosphere. Things pick up in pace slowly but surely with the instruments twirling in a complicated ballet around each other. A dizzying string tremolo ascends in pitch, intensifying everything until it hits its much-teased climax.
The peaceful waters of “Alpine Brook” flow in to sooth the tension of “Parasol Woods.” Light chimes barely sound as distant hum drones away in the background. The horns come in with a heart-wrenching melody, moaning their sorrows away. A gorgeous hip-hop beat comprised of light taps rocks through the background, peppered with splashes of water, cowbells and scratchy cello strings. Suddenly, whimsical chimes and a cheerful shift in the horn melody creates pockets of hopefulness in between the solemn melody that sandwiches it. Eventually, everything echoes out to let a percussion solo march “Alpine Brook” to its final notes.
Many refer to the wonders of the natural world as mother nature, and Parasol Peak embodies this personification throughout. “North Cluster” overflows with emotion with every peak that comes. The horns take a backseat to gorgeous flute solos that flutter like a birdsong. These solos start and stop, and it is this relative sparseness that makes room for the hang melodies and percussive textures that play in between. The flute really emotes, with each brief solo more passionate and feminine than the last. By the end of the song, it stutters and trills into a ringing that fades out as gracefully as it entered, illustrating the purity that can only be found within nature. “Base Camp,” on the other hand, creates a seductive folk song with sultry horns and dancing percussion. Even while things slow down during the middle, “Base Camp” never loses its feminine energy. It captures the triumphant joy that comes with completing such an ambitious project.
Parasol Peak displays both the invigorating highs of successfully scaling the Alps and the zen contentment of being fully present in the moment enveloped by untouched nature and self-composed music. Though Delago led this ensemble through the Alps to areas untouched by such intricate music and sounds, he wove the intricate percussion of his hang into the fabric of the ensemble’s multi-faceted compositions instead of pushing it into the forefront. Yet, by allowing it to be the backbone of all of the songs on Parasol Peak, Delago created an incredibly immersive experience where nature becomes one with the intricacies of co-operated, man-made sound. The result? A breathtaking journey that cannot be described by words alone, only fully enjoyed through the combination of film and music.