If you love music, you’ve most likely seen the work of Vincent Moon, whether you know it or not. Vincent is half of the creative power behind The Take-Away Shows, a series of filmed vignettes capturing bands and artists performing stripped down sets in unlikely places. At current count, there are more than 100 of these instances documented. You may have seen Arcade Fire performing “Neon Bible” in a service elevator, with one member ripping the pages out of magazines to keep time. Or perhaps you’ve watched Phoenix play “1901” in a public square in Paris, surrounded by tourists, and serenading the passengers with “Lizstomania” on a double-decker tour bus cruising through the city.
Although no longer as involved with The Take-Away Shows (which you can find over at La Blogotheque, run by Vincent’s dear friend, Chryde), the French filmmaker has moved on to feature-length ventures focusing solely on individual bands. Most notably, he’s directed documentaries about The National, R.E.M., Beirut and Efterklang.
Last year, Vincent documented his travels with the electronic folk duo Lulacruza. Members Luis Maurette (who hails from Argentina) and Alejandra Ortiz (a native of Colombia) met while studying music at the Berklee College of Music. Together, they’ve made music over the past several years fusing modern rhythms with ancestral melodies from their home countries.
Vincent’s film, “Esperando el Tsunami”, follows Lulacruza through Colombia on a quest to explore the musical influences of the country—and to create something unique in the process. Throughout the film, the band encounters indigenous musicians from across the Colombian landscape and collaborate to make completely new sounds. Filmed over two months, the project was funded entirely through Kickstarter. Fans of Lulacruza and Vincent’s work can even request a screening of the film in their respective cities. Nearly 150 of these grassroots events have already been organized.
While spending some time back in Argentina, Luis took a moment to chat about the film and his experience working with Vincent. The filmmaker himself discussed the project, his storied history with La Blogotheque, and his upcoming ventures via email. What follows is a condensed version of our exchanges.
How did Lulacruza and Vincent Moon come together for this project?
Luis: Vincent contacted us first around 2006. He sent this message through MySpace. Someone had talked to him about our group and he wanted to come to Argentina to film us, and was wondering if we knew of ways to get funding to come to Argentina. We didn’t know who he was. We talked a bit and nothing came out of it. Years later I saw one of his films on La Blogotheque, and really liked his work. And I was like “Ah, this Vincent Moon, this name rings a bell,” and I remember he had contacted us. When he finally did come to Argentina, he contacted me wanting to do something with Lulacruza…. We started talking about Colombia, and the possibility of filming something in Colombia. He got really excited, and at first he was going to do some Take-Away Shows there, and then slowly the idea grew and grew and grew until what we ended up doing.
Why was Colombia chosen as the focus of this film?
Vincent: Personally, no idea of what was this country, which is way enough exciting to decide to go there.
Luis: Alejandra is from Colombia, and we’ve been very connected to the music there. There’s a lot of the influence in our music, so that’s the first reason. And then when talking with Vincent and really thinking what would we want to do, we are very interested in the ancestral voices of places, and how you can see those voices or those influences in a place’s culture, in their music, and also in climates and everything. Colombia is a country and a very small area of land that has very different climates…. There’s high mountains that are cold, there’s jungle, there’s the Caribbean coast, which is hot, and beaches. And also there’s over a hundred different indigenous languages spoken in Colombia, and there’s an influx of Africans, there’s a big Afro-Colombian community in Colombia, because Colombia was kind of a gateway to South America when the conquistadors and Europeans came, so the country is filled with all these mixes of indigenous African diasporas and also European, and so there’s all these different musics that happened and came about because of this mix. The most famous one is Cumbia, Cumbia originated in Colombia. And the original Cumbia is played with drums that are African and the flutes which is indigenous. And it’s sung in Spanish, which is European. So this mix of things can be seen all over the country
How did you decide where to visit in Colombia?
Vincent: Lulacruza decided on this.
Luis: We contacted some musicians in Bogotá, people that we know and also musicians that we respect and admire… Each person had already like a rapport with a place. And this was kind of our strategy for going to many places in a short amount of time. And if you talk to any ethnomusicologist, whenever you go to a place it takes a long time to gain the trust of the people and really immerse yourself in their culture, and having them open the doors to you. Normally it takes 2-3 days of talking and drinking and eating for them to start showing you some music. So by going with people who already knew the places and the people, that happened really quickly.
What surprised you the most in making this film?
Vincent: That little by little, it was not about the music as it was about being human beings itself which was the theme of the creation. We had to face some hard times and it made us stronger. The film in a way, the exploration of the local music, was soon a pretext to just put ourselves in a creatively complex situation.
Luis: Many things, a lot of things. I knew that I was going to see this but I was nonetheless really amazed by the musicianship…. In folkloric music, the music has meaning or an intention. Music doesn’t only serve an entertainment purpose. Songs are sung at funerals, songs are sung at weddings, at rituals that are happening at different points in people’s lives…. Another thing I was surprised with is how different the sound of one place is from another…. For example, we went to La Guajira, which is a desert area, it’s at the border between Colombia and Venezuela the Caribbean coast. In this area, the Wayuu people, this is one of the biggest indigenous ethnicities in Latin America. These people are like merchants and warriors, they live in the desert so they’re very tough. They have a series of instruments, different flutes that they play, and they play the mouth harm, and drums, and they have songs. But all of these songs are always played solo. They don’t have the concept of ensemble music… The idea for “Esperando el Tsunami” conceptually was not trying to capture something like an ethnomusicologist was, trying to get a sample of what they do. We wanted to make new music that would come about from the exchange by what we have to offer and what they have to offer. So we would do these improvisations that were at times glorious and beautiful, and were at times a disaster … but going back to the Wayuu, we did an improvisation and I have sampler that I took with me, and when we started the trip and I started with an empty sampler with no sounds, and all the sound and things that came about were things I would record. We improvised with one of these Wayuu players. I quickly recorded him and would play him back but with some effects or something, and as soon as he heard himself being played he stopped playing, because he has a concept of only one instrument at a time, so it was really curious. We really had to coax him.
What was it like playing with these indigenous musicians?
Luis: Every place was a different challenge because every place had their own idiosyncrasies…. A lot of times, once we were able to cross the barrier and create something … they were very touched by what we would do together. And we were touched as well. A lot of times, it was a lot of work. Especially at the beginning of the trip, we didn’t know how. By the end of the trip, we had a set of tools that we could go to. It was a good process. The sampler was always something that was really interesting, because they don’t have any electronics in their music, and I had a sampler, a battery powered sampler, with battery powered speakers, so I could play anywhere. They were always really curious about it, but none of them were very opposed to it.
How did you choose what ended up in the film?
Vincent: Much more was shot, obviously. But then, in the edit room, it’s just the rhythm which tells you what makes sense and what doesn’t. Balancing things enough to have a subjective as well as a universal vision of Colombia.
Luis: Vincent is amazing, and the pace at which he works is really inspiring to see, and so we would spend all day filming and come back to wherever we were sleeping tired, and you have to plug everything in to charge batteries and everything, and then he would at that point already have downloaded stuff from the camera, downloaded all the stuff from the sound engineer, think it all up, edit a bit and already select some stuff, and that night we would have a screening of the things we did that day. By the time we finished filming, out of the 80 hours we filmed, we were down to 20 of the good material. Which was still a lot. And then we stopped, we all got saturated by the project. A few months after we started talking again, emailing with suggestions. At some point, he would give in to things that we wanted, or we would give into things that he wanted.
How did the idea of the tsunami influence the film?
Vincent: It really happened during the course of the shooting. The story is a true story and made suddenly so much sense with what is Colombia to us.
Luis: Four or five days before starting to shoot, we were in Bogotá doing pre-production, and the first place where we were going was the Pacific coast. And four days before going, the tsunami in Japan happened, and the news in Colombia was talking about the tsunami might come here, a wave might come all the way down here. We were preparing to maybe fly into a disaster zone. The waves never came, but when we arrived there we asked people, “So what happened?” We had this story that people went out to wait for the tsunami in this party mood, and that really gave shape to our entire trip.… A lot of our music and a lot of the lyrics to our music always talk about the water. It’s a way for us to tie things in. Water is such a creative force. At the same time it’s a destructive force. It’s two sides to the same thing. At first, “Esperando el Tsunami” was a joke, but slowly we realized this had a lot of connotations and meanings, and it became the focus of the film and it helped us edit the material and tie it all together. Colombia is a very alive place, and at the same time where death and things are just around the corner. They’re like 60 years or more in civil war, with drug trafficking and cartels, it’s a very complex political picture and people really live life as if it’s their last moment. “Esperando el Tsunami” also reflects that, and you could feel it.
Vincent, where did the concept for the Take-Away Shows come from?
Vincent: From the desire to represent music in a more organic way, from the feeling that live, improvised and sometimes risky takes was the only way to have real pleasure in creation.
How has the popularity of these performances affected you?
Vincent: It gave me many new ideas. I guess it changed me a lot, at first into being even more weird to the others, then into being more open to the others.
Do you usually find the bands who participate, or do they find you?
Vincent: Nowadays, I find them. I am mostly filming people who don’t have any idea of what I do. And it’s a better relationship like that.
Are the locations spontaneous or intentional?
Vincent: Always spontaneous. Only idea is often, “Lets meet at 5pm there.” And then, let’s see where life takes us.
You’ve funded your last few projects via Kickstarter. Why do you prefer this method of fundraising? How do you see resources like Kickstarter influencing filmmaking?
Vincent: Not only influencing filmmaking, but influencing creation in general. It’s a great response to the situation we live in, with the way people create in general in this world. It’s just part of the bigger picture, it makes sense.
Several of the films you’ve made have found a grassroots network of fans to setup screenings and spread the word. Why take this approach for your films to be seen as opposed to traditional distribution methods?
Vincent: Because when I make a film, I want people to see it as soon as possible. I can’t wait, I just want to share. I don’t work with people to distribute my films, I don’t work with people to promote them. I do everything myself, so if people want to see the films, they are just part of this process. They are not simple spectators. Hopefully they are more active than that.
What is the next project you are going to work on?
Vincent: Traveling around the world and researching music. As usual. Just finished 3 months in Indonesia, now am going to the Philippines, then to Ethiopia, and so on…. For my nomadic film and music label Petites Planetes.
Lulacruza are currently on tour and will be playing a show tonight in Olympia at The Forest Sanctuary (3415 Overhulse Rd. NW).