The Music In My Head

Well I have been back from Paris together with a few days in the London area for almost two weeks now. It was a good trip, marred only by a train strike which prevented a planned trip to Versailles, and a few Paris thunderstorms. Otherwise it was great to be there. It was also great to have a few days just outside London with my cousins. Its a long story, but I never knew them growing up, but with the aid of social media, and more trips across the Atlantic we are making up for a lot of lost time. I love them all dearly, so any time spent with them is a real treat.

In a way this post is a summary of several previous posts, because the entire trip seemed to intertwine in a unique musical sense, culminating with meeting some really special people. I’ll leave that for the end of the post though. I thought it might be fun to share with all of you how such different styles of music makes its way into my head (and on to these posts). I would not quite call it a ‘best of’ Soundtrack Of A Photograph, but maybe a cross section of the way my brain is wired to music instead, and how I bounce around so much. That is actually a question I get often! What often starts off innocently enough with playing one song, leads to a 5 day marathon of soul music, classical, vintage country or folk. Maybe some blues, maybe some jazz, maybe some world music. What follows is an example of how that sometimes comes to be. I encourage you to click on the links in red and at the very least, play the music to hear for yourselves. Continue reading “The Music In My Head”

Soundtrack Of A Photograph-The Green Lands

This post is technically a little early to be celebrating my two years of blogging, but this idea has been on my mind for a long time. It actually relates to the beginnings of Soundtrack Of A Photograph.  Two years ago, in the introduction to this blog I wrote these words-

For years now whenever I watch a movie that opens up with a big sweeping, majestic montage as the opening credits roll by I have often thought, I could pick a better song than that. In my head I begin piecing together the elements of the scene and scanning my brain for a song or piece of music I think fits the mood.

In part, that was the premise I used for this blog as a useful example for explaining how and why I would pair my photographs with music. But I have a confession to make regarding that opening statement. Well not really a confession as such, but more what I wished I had been able to elucidate with that humble beginning, but after two years of blogging under my belt I feel I now can. Simply put, I had an instrumental song in mind that would have perfectly demonstrated this idea. But as I nervously assembled that first blog, I knew an instrumental song would not work. I was very tentative about my own writing ability, so I felt I needed the crutch of a song, quoting the lyrics liberally to pan out my own words.

Now I feel more confident about my writing and am ready to describe that tune.  Since I have no song lyric as my inspiration here, I have to instead  guide you using only the music.  I imagine that we are in the editing room for a movie.  Hours worth of footage has been filmed for this opening scene-aerial shots, stop-motion shots, close ups of flowers and birds among rolling green hills . Streams flowing from the rocky cliffs down to sandy white beaches and the vast ocean beyond. The song has to unite these images somehow into a cohesive opening, setting up the main body of the film in a meaningful way. I have viewed all the introduction footage separately and now as I sit in that editing room I have to piece it all together using the allotted time. My brain quickly selects a song I feel will work. There is a natural progression to the song as it goes along which I feel will work with the footage,  So I start assembling…

(Play This Clip, Continue Reading)

As the opening chords set a gentle tone, the camera opens with blades of grass rippling in the breeze and  slowly coming into focus. The camera pulls out onto a mostly treeless green landscape. The sun is shining and the contrast between the blue sky and the green is startling in its vibrancy. Cut to a rocky hill now with wildflowers dotting the field and birds flitting about as the guitar chords now have a little more texture. Another cutaway, this time to a sea cliff. As the camera pans around, the sound of a single bagpiper cascades around the scene. A steep rocky precipice slides down towards the ocean as waves crash against the ancient rocks before subsiding in an icy white foam. The camera holds position, letting the rhythmic flow of the ocean provide the movement.

Cut down toward the beach now with an aerial shot as the drums kick in together with a massed pipe band. The camera rotates around, capturing the massive scale of the land as the pipes become more incessant, the music louder as you feel the lump in your throat form. A feeling of being there envelops you. The power of the land, the power of music.  Next the camera heads out over the ocean swell before sweeping back towards the beach, gaining speed now as it angles its way half way between the beach and the rocky cliffs above. A dynamic lead electric guitar enters now, riffing over the bagpipes while the camera picks up even more speed, hurtling down the beach now, sun rays bathing the scene with warmth.

One last shot now as the camera swoops around, heading inland, back to fields awash in contrasts of green, and framed by dry stone walls as the music reaches a crescendo. Landscape and music fueling each other now as the camera ascends and pans out wide now. As wide as possible. A verdant green landscape below, the white capped blue of the ocean beyond and the rocky treeless ground between all in view as the last notes play out.

Well,  that is how it would all look and sound as the movie in my mind. Obviously there are many ways to film a scene like that, but in all this time thinking about this song, this sort of imagery has remained. It is safe to say that the title of the song, Green Lands played a large role in that decision. Breton guitarist Dan Ar Braz has been a favorite of mine for years. In a long and varied career  the distinctive clean lines of his guitar playing have always stood out, both on the acoustic and electric guitars. Part of that reason is because he developed a guitar playing technique that was similar to the bagpipes. In the 1990’s he put together a group of some 50 musicians called L’Heritage des Celtes. It was a super group of Celtic musicians from Brittany, Scotland, Ireland, Galicia and Wales, including the powerful Breton pipe band, Bagad Kemper. Together this group recorded and performed in front of large crowds for several years. Green Lands is a song Dan Ar Braz had recorded an earlier version of years before, but it really came alive as part of L’Heritage des Celtes. I knew when I first heard it that it was something special. That lump in the throat moment I mentioned above? I still get it every time I play this song.

In the notes to one of his albums, Ar Braz says that he composed Green Lands as a hymn to the Celtic countries, that “have in common large green landscaped scenery of dreams and legends.” I have not traveled to all of the Celtic lands yet, but I have been to Ireland, Scotland and Wales. When you are in any one of those places, you certainly do feel that sense of history and a connection to those ancient myths and legends, as well as the landscape. It is a very powerful sensation. In a much earlier blog I mentioned how those sorts of sensations can often be revisited with the aid of a photograph. So too can film, much like I described. The difference between the two is that a movie almost always utilizes music of some sort, but a still photograph does not. My aim with Soundtrack Of A Photograph from the start has been finding that connection between a song and a photo. Two years in and I am still finding those connections.

And I’m not stopping anytime soon. Whether this is your first time reading my blog, or whether you have read them all, I thank you so much! Your comments and likes make me want to continue. In honor of the occasion, here at the bottom is a gallery of older photos taken in parts of the ‘Green Lands’ on various trips between 1990-2008, on various types of cameras. Also, how about another one from Dan Ar Braz? Click the video for a great clip of another of his songs called Broken Prayer.

Green Lands & Broken Prayer-Composed By Dan Ar Braz

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle