The walkabout was tremendously difficult for the expedition; as much a physical show of one's courage and endurance as a chance to see, as each day unfolded, people living in a way never before observed by the outside world.
I was awestruck by the people’s carvings. The visual motifs designed into shields and wallboards conveyed the beauty of the rivers and mountains they mirrored. Some looked like the winding rivers of the forest as if seen from an aircraft. The images in the film were taken with a Bolex camera you had to wind up manually, like a stop-watch. For years afterwards I could visualize New Guinea, in its own real time, with people living high in the mountains in villages above the clouds. My adolescent games, musings and fantasies were about New Guinea.After my first two years of graduate school in the conservatory environment of Juilliard, I decided that what I really wanted to do was explore the natural prosody of music, taking my bass and a tape recorder to find the New Guinea I was so enthralled with as a child.
Fortunately New Guinea had become the independent state of Papua New Guinea, and I was able to get a research visa to collect traditional music for deposit at the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies in Port Moresby. I raised the money and disappeared in the Star Mountains for a year, astride the same central ranges where people lived above the clouds I had seen in The Sky Above, the Mud Below. I carried my bass to remote villages, playing preludes of J.S. Bach, and bebop improvisations. People responded by singing for me. I documented 200 traditional songs from the Wopkaimin, Tifalmin and Aspalmin people, and learned priceless lessons in how people compose music in natural settings. [He also helped preserve the traditions and history of these people, which are documented and passed along in lyrics.]
Over the next twelve years I returned to the same villages to work on translating the songs, and I composed a serious body of music with my bass reflecting how musical motifs are woven together in the Star Mountains. My compositions were recently released by Cold Blue Music as Trios for Deep Voices.
Find The Sky Above, the Mud Below in “special features” on the DVD for Black and White in Color (available through Netflix).
What "aha!" movie inspired you to help the planet the way that you do? Share with us!