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Daniel Lanois: Here Is What Is

Nenad Georgievski By

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Daniel Lanois
Here Is What Is
Red Floor Records

Sharing the Process: The Film

Daniel Lanois' film, Here Is What Is, is one of those miraculous movies, a picture that seems to have come together by laws unto itself. It merely exists, like some inexplicable and wonderful quirk of nature. In an era whose artistic expression has come to be dominated by the stultifying forces of financial and strict mass appeal conservatism, Daniel Lanois reminds us to keep our options open. Envisioned and executed as a travelogue rather than as a concert movie or educational video, it is a showcase of one man's journey through music, a life rich with music.

By blending technology, spirit and craft, Lanois has earned the respect of his colleagues and the admiration of his audience. For years he continues his long practice of working with visionary artists, usually as an album producer or co-producer, sometimes as a composer, co-composer, or performer. When he is not occupied with other people's music, Lanois produces music of his own, thus creating several strong albums which show that he has a strong personal voice. As an artist he has always striven to defy expectation, and that determination is evident in his movie Here Is What Is.

Shot mostly in black and white, the film portrays several things happening in Lanois' agenda for a period of 12 months. Much was occurring during that period. Recorded on locations including L.A., Morocco, Dublin, and Shreveport this is a documentary made in a non-linear fashion with little biographical information except for the reminiscences of past events. It is co-directed with Adam Vollick and Adam Samuels, and it documents the creative process of music-making as it follows Lanois working in studios, rehearsal rooms, live stages and places where the music is happening, no matter what the location is.

The title, Here Is What Is, was taken from a Jamaican proverb that says not to look at tomorrow when today is right here. Lanois has devoted his life to capturing magical moments and, since there are no exclusive or elite locations other than the magic coming from people in the room, at best he was always capable of capturing and portraying their special characteristics.

The film starts with a piano sequence by Garth Hudson of the Band—just one of the musicians who drop by with their talent during the making of Lanois' new record. The opening theme ("Lovechild") later develops with Lanois' spacious slide playing, which by his own words is his favorite instrument. Somewhere in the beginning there is a rendition of an old gem from the Apollo soundtrack for the For All Mankind documentary but with a slightly more countryish feeling than the original track initially had. Back then, when he was making that groundbreaking record with the Eno brothers, the reason to include country elements were the astronauts from the Apollo missions, who saw themselves much as the American pioneers who conquered the West.

Speaking of Eno, with whom he is always associated and with whom he has come a long way, Lanois embarks on inspiring conversations that are inserted between sequences. One of the aims of the film was to show not just how Lanois does what he does but also how fortunate events come to life out of nothing or from unexpected situations. At the time, Eno had heard some of the "off-balance" music that came from Lanois' studio at Grant Avenue in Ontario, and that was the beginning of their partnership. The studio became a "sound-processing laboratory," producing gems by acclaimed artists such as Michael Brook, Jon Hassell, the Eno brothers and the ambient classics with Harold Budd. There is a moment when Lanois remembers, with a sense of nostalgia, how they recorded Plateux of Mirrors and The Pearl. What they did at Grant Avenue was later transported into the world of rock music when they went to Dublin to produce U2's Unforgettable Fire.

Their fruitful partnership lasted for 25 years, yielding fantastic results. This time the band and their producers had some recording sessions in Morocco. The brief snippet recorded during the sessions is a real treat, allowing the viewer to see the band working in such a exotic environment. The Edge's power chords promise that their next record is going to be a burner.

Special place is given to Brian Blade, one of the world's premiere drummers who, even before he turned 30, had built up an impressive resume as a drummer of choice for leading music artists of different genres. The director and drummer have been working together ever since the For the Beauty of Wynona record, and one of the most memorable scenes occurs at Brian Blade's father's church (the Zion Baptist church) when they perform a spiritual "This may be my last time." Gospel has played an enormous role in Lanois' music, as the spiritual yearning is always present, even if sometimes not overtly evident, in his music.


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