One of the things I cherish most about photography are the friends I make over time. One friendship that has grown over the years is the love and admiration I have for Michael Bellar. I met him years ago when his AS/IS Ensemble played at Studio 99 for the first time. Even through Studio 99 is no more, and Michael lives in New York City, we still keep in touch through phone calls and emails, and, occasionally, for work.
Over the summer, Michael contacted me about doing some video for some new solo songs he was working on. Mike packed up a rental car full of his old synths and amps and all the other vintage stuff he's passionate about, trekked up to Nashua and we spent two days getting footage for two songs. The video above is the final cut of one of the songs.
Watching him work over the course of two days was really eye opening. For those of you who haven't seen him perform, he's very laid back and relaxed but when he plays he's very intense. There is an element of improvisation, but in that improv there is extreme control. To be that loose when playing, you have to be very very tight. It's also very much about "feeling" when he plays. Watching him almost scat out the notes with his voice as he plays, you can see the creative brain speak to his fingers as he's playing. It sucks you in and you become part of the process of creating music. Again, it's very intense.
My good friend Dave helped with recording, and we did three setups per "take". One medium static shot, which Dave worked camera on, and then we had a camera up over Michael aimed downwards to capture him playing on two keyboards at the same time. I drifted around shooting handheld with gave me the chance to focus on close-up things; his fingers, his face, his feet, etc. Michael too the footage back to NYC and his friend Marie Le Claire edited the video.
One really fantastic thing to watch was him working with what I started calling his "Porch Box". It is a foot rhythm box he created to give the sound of playing live on someones front porch. Michael is a southern boy, so this "home-style" element fits him perfectly, and adds a very personal feel to his work. His other foot stomps on a cigar box that acts as a deep bass drum sound. It's very impressive; watching both is legs work to different rhythm elements while his hands operate two keyboards. Again, it's intense. I'm in constant admiration of musicians.
So, check out the video above. Dig it. Head over to his website, and if you are in NYC or close by, hit up one of his shows. Tell him I sent you.
He's an incredible, passionate, caring human being and damn incredible musician. And he's become a friend who I trust completely.