1 Giant Leap Review
1 Giant Leap is a CD/DVD project put together by a founder member of Faithless, Jamie Catto, and artist, producer and musician, Duncan Bridgeman. The idea of the project was to travel the world and gather the contributions from musicians of diverse cultures and bring them together on certain themes that are common to everyone no matter where we live in the world. Added to this, particularly for the film element of the project, Catto and Bridgeman interviewed important and relevant artists, musicians, writers, religious leaders and thinkers to more fully explore the themes and add further diversity to the project.
A CD was released earlier in the year and was well publicised and well received. The DVD element has taken longer to pull together due to the editing of 250 hours of footage that had been gathered over 6 months of traveling and recording. The DVD is made up of 11 themes (and 2 short singles) based on weighty subjects such as God, Death, Sex and Money. The genesis and development of the music is fascinating, the tracks taking shape as Catto and Bridgeman travelled the world. Indian musicians add to a backing track laid down earlier by African drummers, which are expanded further in Australia, America and Europe. Alongside this, interviews were also conducted with people like Kurt Vonnegut, Dennis Hopper, Tom Robbins, Jerry Sadowitz and Davina McCall(?). The final pieces are a combination of these interviews, documentary footage and film of the musicians performing. Each chapter runs to around 10 minutes and each short piece manages, with differing degrees of success, to put forward interesting thoughts on the subjects in words and pictures as well as in the music and the lyrics.
The DVD is very well presented in an amaray case within a heavy cardboard slipcase. A very useful booklet provides all the details on who is performing each track and who is interviewed as these details are not evident when the film is played. The image is presented in varying aspect ratios, but mainly 1.85:1 letterboxed. There is no reason why this should not have been 16:9 enhanced. The image can be zoomed without any real loss of resolution, but if you need access to subtitles you will not be able to follow them in 16:9 mode. The film appears to be shot using Digital Video and thus displays its inherent limitations – flatness of tone compared to colour negative, and occasional digital artefacts such as shimmering and blocking. The picture is not outstanding technically nor cinematographically. The musical soundtrack however, particularly the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, is stunning.
The first subject immediately throws us into the whole international nature of the project, effortlessly weaving the thoughts of Dennis Hopper and Brian Eno with an Indian rhythm and an African chorus and the lead vocal of Eddi Reader. The power of the magnificent 5.1 soundtrack is overwhelming. The music was recorded with a 5.1 mix in mind and is absolutely essential with the wide mix of instrumentation here and is far more effective than the alternative DD 2.0 soundtrack. Voices speak the documentary extracts from the centre speaker – generally strong and clear, while the sound shimmers, tingles and envelops in a blanket of rhythm around all the speakers.
The subject of identity and the roles we play is examined here. Again a long piece, but necessary to develop the theme, take in the point of the interviewees and develop the musical composition allowing each artist to make a significant contribution to the piece.
This track deals with the exploitation of third world nations by big business through sweat-shops and child labour. The music features a strong rhythm from the Indian Varanasi Fire drummers and the beautiful voice of Grant Lee Philips (from Grant Lee Buffalo). It is impossible to avoid comparison with Powaqqatsi and Baraka when dealing with such a subject and many images recall scenes from those very influential films.
This subject seems to deal specifically with the confrontation between settlers and aborigines. A truly unique musical combination, the piece opens with a harp led melody with clarinet and strings (by the Soweto String Quartet) and a classical vocal sung by Penny Shaw which slides into a poem from Michael Franti (of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy). The track then moves into a sitar/tabla percussive led-arrangement building to a mid-paced rhythm ending in a chugging guitar riff with a Maori rap! Truly amazing and completely unique.
A big subject so this is broken down into three parts. Faith (14.28) provides familiar images of worshippers at Varanasi (Powaqqatsi and Baraka again). Whirimako Black, a Maori singer with a wonderful voice is the principal performer here and a puppet theatre performance is used to describe a Buddhist story. The music however conveys the theme much better than the visuals here. Blasphemy (10.46) takes over from the last piece, with alternative thoughts on what religion means and how the message of Christianity has been distorted over the years by organised religion. This piece is heavier on words with less emphasis on the music. Babba Maal’s urgent vocals front an edgy guitar and drum backing track. Interesting ideas are discussed, but this one doesn’t really work as a multimedia piece. Unity (10.44) reflects on the diversity of religious beliefs. The music features a slow Indian rhythm, vocals by Asha Bhosle, Michael Stipe and Tim Booth. It is unusual hearing Stipe singing over a rhythm that is not typically REM.
This piece explores the mystery of creativity and artistic inspiration. The music is supported predominately by raw Ghanan rhythms and more strong vocals from Baaba Maal from Senegal. Again the piece features too much talking. “Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God”, says Kurt Vonnegut and I also would have liked to seen inspiration expressed more than talked about here.
Interviews with Sharon Mitchell, from the porn industry and poet and former ‘sacred prostitute’, Cosi Fabian offer some very interesting thoughts and a different perspective on male and female sexuality. Eddi Reader sings Tim Booth’s lyrics over a minimal airy, throbbing rhythm, bringing out the spiritual level of sexuality. A nice piece and a perfect blend of ideas and expression.
This is another subject that has a huge variety of traditions and beliefs attached to it across the world. The music features some bizarre instruments – Doudouk, Sepewera and Kong, held together by a programmed keyboard backing. The music moves from the plaintive lyrics of Bridgeman to the celebratory chants of the Mahotella Queens. Dennis Hopper contributes pertinent thoughts to many of the pieces on this DVD and here again his thoughts are interesting and well expressed.
Now this is a subject that can be much better expressed through music than through analysis, yet here again there is almost as much discussion as there is music. Gabrielle Roth sums up well the power of rhythm to move the spirit as much as the feet, but the joyous music pumped out by the principally African and Indian rhythm section is much more eloquent.
There are two shorter pieces, singles from the 1 Giant Leap album, which are good companion pieces for the main film and fit in well with the themes developed there. Braided Hair (3.59) features Speech and Neneh Cherry and is much closer to traditional western pop styles. My Culture is the superb debut single from the album, featuring Maxi Jazz from Faithless and Robbie Williams on vocals. A very strong song lyrically, dealing with the debt owed to our ancestors and the importance of developing ourselves and living up to our capabilities.
The Explore option is divided into four sections, Africa, India, Australia, America/Europe and is basically the Making Of. It consists of short clips, each accessible from the menu, showing Bridgeman and Catto setting up the interviews, recording equipment and recording the sessions. Sections begin and end abruptly, they are just tasters to give some idea of the huge scope of the project and the immense thought, planning and preparation that went into it.
1 Giant Leap doesn’t work on its own as a film or DVD project, but it is an excellent companion piece to the CD released earlier this year. The idea was hugely ambitious and the results are mixed, but it is nevertheless successful to a certain extent in its aims. In an era when the majority of the music industry is focussed on a CD/tour/merchandise production line, it is heartening to see such an ambitious and accomplished achievement that has musical relevance as well as having something important to say about the world we live in.