Far Off Sounds - the infinite story of music on earth

Far Off Sounds - the infinite story of music on earth

August 20, 2015

Written by:

Nick George & Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman

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1. Songs of the Snake Handlers

Far Off Sounds is a platform which aims to connect the dots between different worlds of music through ethnographic documentary, music video and travelogue. The show’s hosts, Nick George and Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman, guide viewers through distant lands and hidden pockets close to home, exploring the beautiful, strange and varied ways that people use, play, and connect with music around the world.

The Attic talked to Nick and Jacob to find out insights from the making of each episode of the show.

Jacob: I was really into Appalachian music around the time we started brainstorming this first episode. I had an old LP on vinyl that I stole from my parents called Mountain Music of Kentucky, released in 1960 by our friends at Smithsonian Folkways, and I would just listen to this thing on loop. So naturally, the first question when we started thinking about filming musical subcultures was, where can we go see some mountain music? Is it even still around in any form?

Nick: I asked my friend Daniel Bachman if he knew of anything particularly interesting music-wise in Appalachia, and he suggested we look into the musical elements of the snake-handling churches. Most people tend to focus on their extreme and potentially lethal snake-handling activity but what I found most intriguing is the incredible music that fuels these ceremonies. Just from the bits of youtube footage scattered about from these hundreds of churches, the music is just so hypnotic, charged, fierce, and full of soul. Inspired by country, blues, Appalachian folk, southern, and classic rock; the music is played with the intention to entrance it’s participants. We must have spent hours with the Coots’ family watching past ceremonies while they shared their venison chili with us. One of my favorite episodes we filmed.

Jacob: This is really dangerous and intense stuff that they do out there. About two years after we shot this episode, Pastor Coots was bitten and killed by a snake he was handling. His policy was never to seek medical attention, because the whole point is that you're putting your life entirely into God's hands.

2. The Rogue Generator Shows of Tampa

Nick: You know, and I’m just realizing this now as I’m typing, the noise gigs I grew up going to were always in basements since there was a severe lack of venues that would allow a noise gig to go down. At least in a basement, the sound was dampened enough by the ground so that you could sort of get away with it. In Florida, there are no basements due to the water table being so high, so they didn’t have that option and were forced to take to remote/secret locations around town. I could be wrong, I’m wrong a lot.

Jacob: This was a fun episode. There's something liberating about going to a small, secret, outdoor show. It has the feeling of a picnic, very warm and communal and they've been doing it for years, so they're experts. In fact, it was kind of a picnic. At each show (they did 3 in one day), they had food. Waffles, pizza, and burgers on the grill.

Nick: One of the behind-the-scenes takeaways from this episode is that there’s some kind of noise highway between Providence, RI, and Tampa, FL. My friend Ren from Providence gave us the idea for the episode as he fondly looked back at a number of generator gigs he played in Tampa. When we got down there, everyone who’d been doing the generator gig thing for the last decade had either lived in Providence or was moving there soon. There’s a massive connection there. Perhaps due to convenient touring routes?
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3. Deep Black Sea

Nick: I didn’t know I was so susceptible to seasickness, I found out pretty quickly on this cruise ship. I also am not a huge fan of metal so 72 straight hours of it was kind of rough. The only place I could escape the metal was in our tiny little cabin. I do like black metal though, and there was a black metal band called Inquisition on the cruise, so we made sure to catch them twice. This episode felt strange in that we had to sign up and schedule media time with the various performers, as there were like 200 various metal/culture media outlets on board. We’re used to spending time with our subjects and getting to know them as people before we introduce them as characters. It’s important for us all to be comfortable with the project in order to produce our best work collectively; this is probably our only episode in which none of the subjects likely have even seen the project, or would remember us.

Jacob: It's true, the production was probably one of the most impersonal. Partially that was because there was so much to cover. Visually, being on a heavy metal cruise in the Caribbean is like being a kid in a candy shop. There was so much I wanted to shoot, so many people for us to interview. This actually turned out to be one of my favorite episodes, in retrospect. It captures the feeling of the cruise quietly, without much interview, and I think it reveals something about heavy metal that the audience wouldn't have thought about before. It's not about aggression or anger as much as it is about community and a kind of collective catharsis. A very healthy situation, I think.

4. Chief’s Funeral

Jacob: In 2011 I was living in a small village called Fuo in northern Ghana as a filmmaker for an NGO. Fuo was made almost entirely of subsistence farmers. They had little plots where they would grow yams, rice, and other staples. One afternoon a man named Jalil knocked on my door. He had seen me around with a camera and we were friends. He told me there would be a gigantic three-day party as a funeral to the chief of Fuo and said I should come film it. I immediately picked up my camera and walked over. Almost nobody spoke English so there was no one to explain to me what was happening. I just filmed everything that was interesting to me. A few years later, when we started Far Off Sounds, I thought that footage could make a good episode.

5. Orkes Keroncong Tugu

Nick: I spent some time in Indonesia working on a doc project for school back in 2011, I learned a bit of the language, enough to get around and ask questions about music. A local arts/culture leader in Jakarta named Indra Ameng pointed us in the direction of this amazing crew, a small enclave of Portuguese descendent Christian Betawi folk in North Jakarta, just beside a major trucking route. This music has been passed down through countless generations and you’d have to think that this is a driving force behind keeping this community together.

6. Hailu Mergia Takes Off

Nick: We had the privilege of hearing Hailu play one of his all time favorite songs for us in his living room. It’s an absolutely gorgeous song that Hailu just plays with such great expression, using the piano to accentuate patterns and chords in ways that his keyboards cannot. I could have sat there all day listening to Hailu play.

Jacob: Hailu is humble, sincere, thoughtful, and of course a magnificent musician. We spent a beautiful autumn day with him in 2013 in Washington DC. I think what makes this episode special is that we met up with him for beer the night before filming. Usually we're traveling or rushing and don't have time to just hang out with the people we film BEFORE filming. In this case, we got to really just chill out and talk and drink, and so by the time we started filming the next day, we understood each other and the dance of filming was a bit more graceful than usual.

*upcoming on The Attic, an interview with Hailu Mergia

7. Dave Bixby: God’s Singing Man

Nick: This is a hard one to talk about so briefly, I spent a couple years talking to Dave on the phone, sometimes for several hours, learning everything I could about his story, and how we might be able to get him playing these lost songs again (something he wanted to do, but needed some help navigating the process). There were tons of people out there listening to his music - songs he hadn’t thought about in over 35 years, songs he wrote during a time of his life he’d perhaps wished to have forgotten. We wanted to be there when Dave learned these songs again and performed them for a live audience. We wanted Dave to find out why these songs are resonating with people in the 21st century.

Jacob: Perhaps our most involved episode. Usually we have a day, at most, to hang out with people and film. With Dave, we had 4 or 5 days, and that allowed us to go much deeper and unravel this deep mystery emanating from his music.

8. Fish & Synths

Jacob: The title says it all. Richard Kik is the type of person who, once he gets into something, he gets deep into it. And the two things he's most into are fish and synths. I've always seen Far Off Sounds as being a way to explore how music is connected to all these other things, from societal dynamics to the wild, and this was a perfect opportunity to explore one of those connections. Richard is the curator and general manager of the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit, and occasionally he brings his electronic instruments into the aquarium to play. The way the eerie sounds bounce off all the stone and tile made the perfect soundtrack for filming these creatures. I felt that the fish were responding to the music, and tried to capture that as much as possible.

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