Turn of the screw

Manu Delago's Parasol Peak: A Music and Film Project Recorded in the Alps

7 January 19 words: Becky Timmins
photos: Maria Kirchner

What happens when a group of musicians lug their instruments up a mountain in the Alps to record an album? This month, multi-instrumentalist and composer Manu Delago brings his fascinating new project, Parasol Peak, to Metronome. Fusing music and film, the result is raw and mesmerising. We caught up with Manu ahead of the screening and live performance…

What is your earliest memory of picking up an instrument?
I got my first drum kit when I was really young; it would have been a present from my dad. I can recall photos of me playing drums at three years old, and the accordion when I was seven. I always liked percussion, but it wasn’t until I was about thirteen that it became more serious. I wanted to be in bands, because that seemed to be the coolest thing to do. I started taking lessons, and went on to the Conservatoire to study properly. Before that, I was experimenting with some piano here, some guitar there.

You are a pioneer of the Hang pan. When did you first discover the instrument?
The Hang pan was only discovered in 2000. When I first came across it, I really liked it, but it was just one of the many instruments in my collection of percussion. It gradually became more important to me, as it was a great challenge to master a new instrument with no teachers and no real repertoire.

You’ve toured with Bjork, The Cinematic Orchestra, and Olafur Arnalds. What have you enjoyed most about working with these artists, and what do you look for when considering collaborations?
I really value learning new things and expanding my horizons, so when I work with new artists I look for the opportunity to understand more about how they work. It’s always about experiencing new things with people I admire. If an artist is doing something dull, I wouldn’t be drawn to a collaboration for the money; that just doesn’t do anything for me. It’s much more about creativity.

We can’t wait for you to visit Metronome with Parasol Peak this month. Can you tell us how the project was born?
I’m really into mountaineering. It’s probably my biggest hobby outside music and Parasol Peak brought the two things together. I found six other like-minded musicians – very good musicians – who I could mountaineer with. I wanted us to do something different together and to break out from the studio vibes, which are often isolating. A lot of production these days happens through the internet, with you in your studio, playing by yourself.

Parasol Peak was very much a human project, where seven musicians played together in the same place. We hiked and climbed to different locations, and had to support each other through some extreme conditions. Ultimately, it was very emotional. There are very strong visual elements that add to the music, and help to tell the whole story of our experience recording this album on the mountain.

Parasol Peak was very much a human project, where seven musicians played together in the same place. We hiked and climbed to different locations, and had to support each other through some extreme conditions.

How does the finished result compare to your original vision?                                                
While I had a vision, it was actually very difficult to imagine what it might look like, because you can’t really plan for filming in the Alps, what with the altitudes and changing weather conditions. It was more extreme than we had expected, but that ended up being a positive thing. I was particularly pleased with the audio elements. It was challenging to record because we had no electricity, and had to rely on battery-powered devices. We couldn’t listen back to anything as we were capturing it, because of the extreme conditions and need to conserve power. Two weeks later, I could finally listen to what we’d recorded, and it sounded amazing. Not only did we have a film, but an album live-recorded in the Alps.                                             

How did the challenging conditions contribute to the outcomes of Parasol Peak?
I visited the locations beforehand, scouting out different places and composing the music differently for each location. Each track therefore has a different character. On some tracks, you can hear a lot of water. Others feature birdsong and the sound of trees moving in the wind. At times it was extremely cold, which made it exhausting to get to the different locations with the instruments. Yet those things positively influenced the music. It was a series of unique moments, and this album really captures that.

Were you aiming to communicate a message about the environment through this project, or were there any metaphors at play in your vision?
There is definitely a strong nature element to the piece. In the way we worked, we were respectful and wary of making a negative impact on the landscape. The music is quiet, for instance, because we did not want to disturb any animals or plants in the process of recording. In a way, the project aims to show how idyllic nature can be. The Alps are almost a dream world, and while there are still places on the planet that have that quality, we are destroying it. There is an element of warning to the project. It’s important to highlight that our world will not stay like this if we continue.

Catch the Parasol Peak screening and live performance at Metronome on Wednesday 9 January

Metronome website

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