Parasol Peak – an interview with MANU DELAGO

Parasol Peak Ensemble (c) Johannes Aitzetmüller
Parasol Peak Ensemble (c) Johannes Aitzetmüller

The London based Tyrolean composer, percussionist, and hang virtuoso MANU DELAGO is an enthusiastic mountaineer. Whenever he finds time for a few days in addition to his projects with Björk, Anoushka Shankar, the Cinematic Orchestra or Ólafur Arnalds, he climbs the highest peaks of his homeland. A year ago he did the same but this time with an ensemble of seven musicians and has now released the unique mountain film “Parasol Peak” with an accompanying album as a document of this impressive expedition. MANU DELAGO gave Michael Franz Woels a look behind the (alpine) scenes of the shooting in the Stubai Alps.

Your new album “Parasol Peak” will be released on September 7th. I noticed that there is this video “Freeze” from 2017 with you in the Alps. Was this the beginning of the idea to try this alpine music making with several players?

Manu Delago: For the video “Freeze” I worked together with the director Johannes Aitzetmüller, who makes a lot of sports and extreme films. I love being in the mountains and wanted to try something bigger than this four and a half minute video of slope and electronics. At the same time I have an animated video called “A Step” with filmmaker Jeb Hardwick from Brighton, who I have now brought on board as Artistic Director for “Parasol Peak”. Johannes Aitzetmüller as the mountaineer took the extreme landscape shots. This time we only wanted to use acoustic instruments, no electricity apart from the batteries for the cameras and recording devices. We wanted to find even more extreme climbing slopes and glacier areas than in “Freeze” to be able to play in a beautiful film landscape undisturbed by all the hiking tourists.

How much time was there between the shooting of “Freeze” and the “Parasol Peak” mountain tour?

Manu Delago: I shot “Freeze” in September 2016 and in September 2017 we were in the mountains for “Parasol Peak”. We had to look for suitable musicians, bring the team together and scout the locations. We were then a total of seven musicians and eight film crew members. It took me one year of logistical planning and another four months for the post production.


What came first? The musicians or the compositions for “Parasol Peak”?

Manu Delago: I went through my musician contacts and looked for someone playing a portable instrument and someone fit enough to climb. There weren´t all too many musicians left. Thus the instrumentation was relatively random, but I took that as a challenge and composed for these seven instruments. Because this is not necessarily a common instrumentation: two brass players (Mark Osterer and Alois Eberl, note), one woodwind player (Georg Gratzer, note), one cello (Johanna Niederbacher, note) and three percussionists (MD with Tobias Steinberger and Chris Norz, note).

How did the instruments perform under such extreme alpine conditions?

Parasol Peak, Albumcover (c) One Little Indian Records
Parasol Peak, Albumcover (c) One Little Indian Records

Manu Delago: It was a challenge for the musicians to play the instruments and make them sound. They did a great job in terms of intonation, because the instruments were totally out of tune because of these extreme weather conditions. For Mark Osterer, the trumpeter, it was impossible to play as high as we were tuned with the accordion and the Hang. He then spontaneously transposed, tuned down the trumpet and played everything a semitone higher. You need a lot of musical finesse to do that at 3000 meters, where the air is already getting pretty thin. For the group it was an overall very intense experience, of course. There were moments of exhaustion and fear of heights. For example, we had to wait over two hours at the summit to get the cameras all set up. After that we could only barely move our fingers. Nevertheless it was a nice, warming feeling to have this view with befriended musicians and to make music together. It was only afterwards that I fully realized, that what we had created was unique. This has never been done like this before.

I also think it’s nice that all these efforts and strains are in no way noticeable in the compositions on “Parasol Peak”. On the contrary, they have something light and airy …

Manu Delago: Another special aspect of this production was that at no point during the week were we able to listen to any of our recordings. We didn’t know if the sound quality of the tracks was going to be good, neither in terms of playing nor recording. Our great hope was that we could use the recordings for the album. I was expecting us to go back to the studio afterwards to make an album for people who have seen the movie and want to listen to the music in better quality, either on a CD or digitally. But we didn’t have to record anything afterwards.


How are you going to implement this in your live act?

Manu Delago: The film will now be shown at many mountain film and homeland film festivals worldwide. At the first festival, the Matterhorn Film Festival, 600 films were submitted and “Parasol Peak” won the prize for “Best Foreign Film” and “Best Audience Film”. It’s a whole new world for me now, I only really know the music world and never expected to win any film awards. To get back to your question: there are going to be some live performances at the screenings as well. But these live elements are their own performances. We will do the same at the Vienna premiere in the Metro Kinokulturhaus on Sunday. But we’re not trying to recreate the music from the mountain one to one in the concert or cinema hall, because it was specifically composed for an alpine place.

Are there any technical areas on your preferred instrument, the Hang, that you would like to explore more closely?

Manu Delago: On my last album “Metromonk” I played a lot with Hang and Electronics to explore the electronic sound manipulation of this instrument. As a counter-movement I was now more on the move in an “acoustic world”, especially with the film project “Parasol Peak”. It goes in a direction where I try to be creative around the Hang, in the conceptual sense of composition and orchestration. Most people associate me with the Hang, but in many projects like Ólafur Arnalds I don’t play Hang at all. With Anushka Shankar I play as a percussionist about 30 percent with the Hang, with Björk 10 percent. But it is often represented in my own projects. So if I had to be reduced to a main instrument, it would be the Hang.


Are the individual episodes of the film actually chronological? The base camp scene can be seen at the end during the credits.

Manu Delago: “Parasol Peak” is a music film and not a documentary. During the expedition week we hiked back to Base Camp every evening. Both the film and music are very slow and atmospheric, which was largely due to the fact that we were so far apart that we weren’t able to play rhythmically with beats. But in the mountain hut we had the opportunity to play something rhythmic and groovy again. Stylistically it’s a break to the quiet pieces before, but I think the film handles it.

How many hours did you walk a day?

Manu Delago: We walked between two and three hours per ascent. Originally we wanted to shoot a sunrise at the summit. After the night it’s the coldest, it would have been another five degrees colder. We already had around zero degrees, which means we would have played at minus five degrees. It’s relatively difficult to capture a sunrise in a music video. You only have one take, and even during that the light situation changes very fast. That’s why we moved the summit piece “Parasol Peak” to an afternoon. The ensemble climbed up in snowfall, the film crew had to be there an hour before us to set up their equipment. They didn’t know exactly whether or not we could come at all due to all of the fresh snow, because they didn’t have mobile phone reception and for the fact that the musicians were already so exhausted from the previous shooting days.

Michael Franz Woels – translated by Dave Dempsey

Manu Delago Acoustic Tour:
16.11. Komma, Wörgl
17.11. Altes Kino, Landeck
18.11. Jazzit, Salzburg

Manu Delago
Manu Delago (Facebook)
Parasol Peak