With hypnotic beats and soothing melodies floating over sweeping cliff-top mountain views, a captivating new film follows the journey of seven musicians on a dramatic mountain climb. Their mission? To capture the most natural live music sounds in the spectacular surrounds of the Austrian Alps.
The musicians, all of whom carried their own instruments (including a cello) throughout the climb, were led by Manu Delago, an Austrian composer/percussionist. An avid climber who grew up in Tyrol around the Alps, Mr Delago has always had a passion for music as well as the mountains.
“I really wanted to capture the emotional element of climbing a mountain and being surrounded by nature, that sense of achievement when you reach the top. The film goes through seven stages of climbing in the Alps, tracing the normal journey any climber would take but playing music along the way,” he told Telegraph Travel.
While he has been touring as a drummer for Björk for many years and recently for Ólafur Arnalds (the Bafta-winning musician behind the soundtrack of ITV’s Broadchurch television series), Mr Delago is most known as a virtuoso of the hang (also called the handpan – a unique hand drum which produces both percussive and melodic sounds), which he chose to play for this mountain journey.
The film – which was released on Austrian Airlines flights last month – sees him and the band (a trombonist and trumpet player – both of whom also played the accordion, two percussionists, a clarinet player and a cellist) play music at six different altitudes before recording their final session at the summit of the Rinnenspitze peak at nearly 9,850 feet.
Some of the film’s most transfixing scenes include serene panoramic shots over the silent alpine glacier landscape, with the musicians seen as a tiny string of dots in the snow, recalling the feel of the atmospheric aerial snow scenes in the Oscar-winning film The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
“This project is extraordinary as I had no idea beforehand what was going to happen or what the challenges were going to look like when we were all standing next to each other on the glacier and at the summit,” percussionist Tobias Steinberger said.
All of the music was composed by Mr Delago, who scouted each location and wrote each song around the natural features and limitations of each spot.
“I’ve kept a diary of around 160 different mountain hiking routes since I was a child, so I went through it to see which places would be suitable. Around May last year, I climbed to these spots on my own to compose the music for each location,” he said.
The musicians and crew spent most nights at the Franz Senn Hut in the Oberberg valley [at 7,000 feet]. All apart from one of them (the trombonist Alois Eberl) were experienced climbers but the expedition was a unique challenge for everyone, with the weather being both a blessing and a curse.
Shot last September over about a week, it was unusually cold for that time of year and just days before the project began, it snowed down to 6,000 feet, Mr Delago recalls.
“I was more worried about the temperature than the climbing aspect, especially across the glacier as it was so cold,” he added.
“The cold made the instruments go out of tune with each climb to the next level, so that was a big challenge. It was also hard on everyone’s fingers, so we tried our best to shoot it as quickly as possible,” the film’s co-director Jeb Hardwick said.
“The recording engineer [also an experienced climber] had the toughest but most important job of all, operating 12 microphones for each location. At the fourth location, all of the musicians were really far apart from each other, so he had to climb for about 15 minutes or so – and I mean proper climbing, not walking – just to get to each musician and install their mics. He did an amazing job,” Mr Delago said.
“[In normal rehearsals] being close to each other makes communication easy. But being 40 or 50 metres apart [at each location for this film] was a totally different situation you couldn’t rehearse for,” said Georg Gratzer, who played the clarinet for the film.
“I only had a clarinet in my backpack. but carrying a cello up there is a totally different story, isn’t it? It really tests you and you find out how much patience and stamina you have,” he added.
But reaching the top made the “suffering and sweating” all worth it, said cellish Hohanna Niederbacher. “I was just on the peak looking out and I didn’t care whether it was cold or how many takes we did, I just looked and knew we won’t experience that ever again.”
Parasol Peak, the new film and album from Manu Delago, is out now. The film will be screened in the US and Europe (including in London on September 13 and 20) throughout this month. For details, see parasolpeak.co.uk.