Right then...I've begun the 3rd album (the follow-up to 'Speak For Yourself'). I'm going to write a more frequent blog as I did with the last one so you can keep an eye on me and make sure I'm not slacking! I wonder how it's gonna turn out? How exciting! You're very welcome to comment but please don't ask me questions on here or i'll never get any work done. You can email me with any questions you have and every month we'll pick 20 from the virtual 'hat' and post them. Send your questions to: igrill@imogenheap.com

Much much more to come! Love, fluv x i x Wheeeeee!!!


Click here and here to see 360s of my cosy studio in London where I wrote and recorded the last album "Speak for Yourself" xxx

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tanzania continues...

I'm back now and in the thick of it again. Well actually right now I'm in seat no. 21D on a plane heading for Dallas, Texas to do a photo shoot with Ryan Obermeyer for the Headlock single cover. I can't believe it was only 2 weeks ago that I got back. It's going to be good to write this blog and put my toe back in there a little. Mmm... Where to start? Of course the first thing people ask when you see everyone again is "so... how was it?!" and it's been so hard to put the trip into words for my family and friends. There was so much to take in. I know this sounds really bizarre but I was so insanely busy before I left that it hadn't actually registered I was going to be encountering all those animals we saw at the zoo when we were kids five minutes after I got off the plane to cross the Tanzanian border. It was like I was on a film set or I was watching it all from my sofa or something. Zebras and wildebeest entering on cue, in surround sound, crystal clear onto the most impressive, cinematic vistas. What I'd just seen didn't really sink in until I was on my way home. I'm hoping I'll be able to jump back to where I left off when I return during the making of the film. Now I fully understand why people like to go back repeatedly to places they've visited before. I always thought that was a bit of a waste when we have so few opportunities in our lifetimes to really travel, but I get it now. You do spend most of your holiday time getting acquainted with your new surroundings, figuring out a little of the language etc. Once that's all out of the way then you're in.

Before I left I wasn't sure what I was going to bring back with me apart from the field recordings of course, which I did manage to snaffle 6 hours worth of. From our flatulent hippos, to the murmurs and poppings of Ol Doniyo Lengai, the active resident volcano at Lake Natron. I was trying to explain to my sister the most useful thing I returned with. It sounds cheesy I know but it's this feeling for the music. (Bear with me here!) You know when you fancy something to eat, you can almost taste it in your mouth, but you have no idea what it is your craving? So you go through your food at home or in a supermarket looking for things that feel closest like they belong to this meal you can't quite put your finger on. You may know only that it's something sweet or that it has to have beetroot in it. Every time you pull something into your basket you start to form a collection of items that satisfy the feeling. (You still there?!) It's like the way I write my songs, but I didn't realize this until now. I couldn't really officially describe to you what I was trying musically or lyrically to achieve but from the beginning to the end everything I chose to throw into the pot was because it hovered closest to this feeling. So basically, I have that now for this film and I didn't have it before and previous to my being there I didn't realize I was missing it or needed it. Maybe because pretty much everything else I've written before this I've had a personal emotional reason for doing so. A need to write that piece of music to satisfy something within me. Though I loved the challenge of writing a film score for the first time I hadn't had an emotional connection with the film really until this trip. Which is exactly why Leander, Matt and Mel flew me out there! So thumbs up on that one. You got me now!

Well to give you a little detail of the activities we got up to I thought you'd like to see the route we took once we got to the Empakai crater, not far from the much better known Ngorongoro crater.

Our hiking route

The first night after the last blog update we stayed at this place called Ndutu lodge in Serengeti. The journey there from Seronera was across wide, short grass plains scattered mainly with gazelles, impalas and ostrich. I've decided I really like ostriches. The male's flesh flushes pink when it's horny! They are huge birds. From a distance they look like small shrubs because their torsos are so big and brown but their necks are so delicate and long that they dissolve into the sky. I guess that's a good thing if there's a hungry lion or two about, although I can't imagine a bush being their idea of a good bit of nosh!

We got to the lodge just in time for one of many beautiful sunsets. Then we sat around the bonfire looking up into the night sky, finding Saturn and its moons. A few cold beers were also just the ticket. (The beer over there is called Kilimanjaro and it's GOOD!) I was taking pics of us around the bonfire and then went to have a shower before dinner, leaving my brand new Erricson 810i mobile phone on the seat. Doh! I didn't realize until the next morning I'd left it and after a frantic search it was nowhere to be found. Now the guys at the lodge are all an honest bunch, which pointed to another culprit altogether – the resident hyenas! So somewhere around Lake Ndutu there is a vibrating hyena with a very dodgy laugh. There you go. Apparently they'll take anything...

This was, however, the only 'camera' I'd brought with me, so I could send pics to the moblog and also so I wouldn't have to carry a camera along with all the other techno kit I was carrying. So now I didn't have one, but thankfully Leander took loads of pics and footage for my scrapbook and this blog and actually it was quite nice not to have a camera, always looking through the lens at the most beautiful moments.


Anyway, that was the last of the beds. From now on it was camping all the way. The next morning we set off to drive about Lake Ndutu and for me to get my first proper glimpse of the stars of our film - the flamingos!

Flock of flamingos

The thing about flamingos which I learnt pretty quickly is that they're not that into us getting too close to them. They like to keep a good wide berth! So In order to combat this situation I went down the local fancy dress shop and bought myself a 6 foot flamingo suit. I was very convincing! (Of course not - there were no fancy dress shops round there, but I do wonder how these guys are going to film them!) I did however get some great recordings of them flying away from me, mostly flapping and honking from various distances.

Mel and me

Also later on that night at the Empakai crater they flew over us. We could see them silhouetted against the moonlight. It was wonderful to stand there at the edge of this crater in the dead of night surrounded by the sound of frogs and crickets. This only after I'd recovered from my laughing fit after hearing a hyena call for the first time. It's so hard not to laugh when you know you shouldn't. You'd think after 3 years of silent morning meetings at Quaker school I'd have that down by now, but I never did seem to master it!

From time to time new groups of flamingos would pass high over us, honking and squeaking as they made their way to distant Lake Natron.

That night we had a candle-lit meal even though it was freezing up there! We were at about 9,000 feet I think. Bed, early, get up, early.

Now I'd like to introduce Manangoi, a Maasai warrior Mat and Mel knew and had brought along with us for the rest of the trip as a guide and friend. He'd walked for 3 days solid just to meet us. This is apparently like a walk in the park to him. He always looked so fabulous in his red shuka (robe) and sandals.


There I was with laptop, video camera, sound recording device, those crazy binaural mics that look like ancient 80's headphones on my head (but boy do they get the job done!), tons of sun cream, straw hat, massive hiking boots and anything else I could squeeze onto my person. I must have been the source of some amusement to him!

Manangoi and me

Here he's listening to my new song, the all vocal b-side to Headlock! How cool is that!? I was laughing because he was singing along in a way that people do when they can't hear themselves for the music in their headphones. That was a great moment. He is a fabulous singer though. We had fun round a campfire one night when he sang songs about 'bringing the cows home' and 'the night before the killing of the lion'. I tried to sing along for a bit. The rhythms are so different to what I'm used to in our mostly click track 4/4 musical world. I made up some melodies while he sung this great riff where he would sing by both letting air out and in. That was great fun. Leander filmed that too so when the 'making-of' gets put together I'm sure that'll be in there somewhere. I have to find a place for him in the score. Don't think 'Deep Forest' please! You know me...

Next day. Rise and shine, early morning. We're off down to the lake inside the crater. On our way through the forest I come across my first strangler tree. Now THAT is a tree..

Strangler tree - Mel and Manangoi

At the lake edge I had another few attempts at sneaking up on the 'flamin' joes' (as Matt calls them) but they were having none of it! The thing I discovered about recording with this binaural mic set up is that if it's all sounding perfect, you stop and press record and then 10 seconds into it the flies arrive to see what you're all about. So I have lots of recordings with these flies buzzing around my head. Maybe the same set of flies followed me for the whole trip. Who knows?

We circled the lake and passed by the odd herd of cows with their many bells on. Got some good recordings there. Sitting for a short lunch break and a quick nap, lapping up the sound of the crater. Every now and then Leander would film me doing something for the 'making-of'. While I was waiting for him to set up I sat on a rock at the lake edge and a couple of young Maasai boys, who were no more than 6 and 9, came to keep me company. I don't think they get to see many people like myself around those parts (it's quite off the beaten track). We were looking and laughing at each other, touching each others hands and they were checking out my ears. I decided to sing a little something as I couldn't speak the language, and then the elder one started singing along with me! (Check it's in record. Phew!) I can't quite imagine any of the kids around my block doing that somehow. Maybe for a moped? Still? Nah..

Goodness this is taking forever! Sorry but if you're still here, well, then you're still here. So anyway, we walked back up the crater to camp, which turned out to be a much longer climb than I'd at first thought. I was starting to feel a little ill at this point. That's what happens to me every Christmas. I stop for a few days and out comes the sniffles and shivers. Also I think the altitude wasn't helping. Anyway, dinner, chat, early night...

Next morning, bright and early, as today we're walking to Lengai. Started off with a cup of coffee and a creative discussion with Matt about our shared vision for the soundtrack. Not a bad meeting space if you can get it!

Me and Matt

When we started our walk our guides told us it would take 4 hours but actually it ended up being more like 8! It was really misty that day and we couldn't really see very far off the road we were walking along, plus, unfortunately, I was now feeling really crappy. So after a few hours of walking I got a lift ahead of them with a passing jeep to the next campsite. I was completely delirious, got to camp, jumped into the tent and was out for the count until dinner! That night England played Portugal in the World Cup 1/4 final. Matt had a small portable radio with him and we listened to the game whilst eating our dinner, with Lengai as dark and mysterious as Mordor before us, bats flying around us as we perched huddled together on the freezing hill with the wind whipping through our campsite. It was a very confusing game to listen to: the only time the commentators spoke in English rather than Swahili was to insult our players. Fair enough!

Bed, early, a night of feverish sweating, but then I was fine in the morning. We were walking down to lower ground now to meet up with Matt's camera assistant Bazil and the Land Rover. The donkeys (oh yeah, forgot to mention them!) were carrying our tents etc down the trail. Sadly, near meeting the other guys at the jeep we came across a dead donkey. Not one of ours, but it had only just died which Mel said we can at least be thankful for on account of the potential smell, but our donkeys seemed genuinely disturbed by the sight of their dead friend and refused to go past it, which was the only way out of the gorge other than turning back a long way. So the Maasai guys who were leading the donkeys had to shift the dead one out of the way. It was a sad, disturbing moment.

The Crimson Wing

Sooooo? Now we're on our way to Lake Natron. This is flamingo central and was to be our home for the next 3 days, We were staying at an old abandoned missionary house on the eastern side of the lake. It was octagonal. We could see the lake shimmering in the distance and Lengai towering to the south. There were these hot springs about 10 mins walk from the house where we'd paddle about in as each night we saw one incredible sunset after another.

Natron sunset from hot springs

We sat up and chatted about the film and what to do next. I played some musical ideas from some of the other musicians who are also going to be involved. For me it's such a treat in so many ways this score because I now have an excuse to call up all these amazing people that I'd love to work with! Very exciting. Anyway, nearly there. Mustn't stray. I've got 50 mins remaining battery!

The first morning at the house at Natron, Bazil was teaching me how to make Tanzanian chapatis when we heard a helicopter closing in from the distance. It was Alan Root. Now here's a guy who's been bitten by just about everything you can be bitten by out there, puff adders, gorillas, leopards, to name just a few. He's made tons of nature films. He was coming to pick me up and fly me up to the top of Mt Lengai, the Maasai Mountain of God!

Heli flight

Apparently next time I go there I HAVE to climb it with them! It is really super steep so double time at the gym until then... I got some great recordings up there and some far reaching views. It was quite disturbing walking about up there. The hardened larva is very brittle and when you walk over it near the mouth of the volcano it sounds like there's not very much between you and a big gaping hole underneath. Slowly slowly. I edged closer to get some poppings. The volcano had erupted only two months before so it was a lot less vocal than usual.

There's a little video blog I did for you up there for you guys that I'll post soon...

The day before the last day we drove across the salt flats to the other side of the lake to walk up a waterfall. Now here's where I'm going to try and explain something that may seem a little odd after all that I've said. All the time I was there, it was without a doubt an incredible experience. I could see and smell and hear everything around me but I don't know if I was really there for a lot of it. I have been trying to analyze it. Maybe because these last 10 years I've been living my life always a fortnight ahead of myself i.e. finishing a b-side, or video, or tour. Trying to meet deadlines and I haven't really stopped. Everything has been work related in some way. This was too of course but I was getting frustrated with myself for not being able to really BE there, you know? I guess in being somewhere very much in the present you have to rein yourself in. Stop yourself from looking back or looking ahead. Just gather yourself so it's just you at that moment and soak it up. As we were crossing from the east to the west side of the lake I got it. Zebras were galloping along side our Jeep and glassy mirages were forming behind them, mirroring the lake and the hills. There was no road, we just went whichever way we thought was best along the salt and sand. Typical, it was the last full day on the trip and I finally figure this out! Or at least start to. I think maybe it's also about living in the city. In fact that's exactly what it is. There are a few trees with the odd bird in them 7 floors down in the communal green space and then there's the River Thames just there, the occasional city fox scavaging about at night through the rubbish bins but apart from that there's nothing much to remind you of the natural world. I think I need a bit more of that. Which is why I'm taking an extra couple of days in Woodinville after the balloon ride on Tuesday with our competition winner Heidi and the lovely Zoe Keating, hiring a bike and going to cycle by the river there along the trails (maybe dropping in on the odd winery!)

Group chat

So that was a long one ha! I bet you didn't expect that marathon essay. There will be more to come. Thanks so much to all the guys for bringing me in on this adventure. I'm so looking forward to getting started on the music. It's not going to be a short process, this is a couple of years in the making but here's to a great beginning!

Finally this is something Leander's put together of me at Lake Natron on the last day there. Speak soon xxx immi xxx


posted by immi  # 4:00 PM
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