Michael Monroe, Chased By The Light CD Cover with Photography by Jim Brandenburg and Graphics by Christopher Bartels
Based on the music I composed, performed and recorded from the national PBS Documentary, "Chased By The Light, A Photographic Journey With Jim Brandenburg", this music reflects my musical impressions of watching the scenes from the documentary and incredible wildlife photography by Jim Brandenburg as well as the videography by Aurora Pictures. This was my first instrumental work and I am thrilled and honored to have my music featured in this way.
I received two national Awards of Excellence and the film received a regional Emmy nomination as well as was featured in the Toronto Environmental Film Festival.
It was exciting to be part of these events be able to record the music while watching the television in my solar powered studio!
Michael Monroe, Chased By The Light
Duluth News Tribune
BY V. PAUL VIRTUCIO
MICHAEL MONROE, talking about his colaboration with Jim Brandenburg. Michael Monroe's music has always been about a sense of time and place. His instrumental melodies and harmonies express his emotions about specific events in his life, although he doesn't know which events until later when he starts writing the lyrics.
Last year, while writing music to accompany the 2003 PBS documentary about Ely photographer Jim Brandenburg's book "Chased By The Light," the singer/songwriter found himself writing about specific times and places again, but without lyrics. It was a totally new and intimidating departure, said the 51-year-old Hovland resident.
Though he missed the reassurance of being able to pin down the song's story in words, Monroe said he unexpectedly found a sense of freedom in writing music that was more open to interpretation.
"It was my first experiment in doing that, in working music off a visual," Monroe said. "This time, I went in with just the music... I just kind of let those emotions come out musically and not worry about the lyrics."
Monroe said he felt like he accomplished more than he expected in the project, even putting out his first all-instrumental CD, "Chased By The Light." And although he hasn't yet found a way to work the instrumental music into his live shows -Monroe still loves to sing and won't give up writing lyrics -- he has decided it's a path he wants to fully explore.
My instrumentals "are a little more of an open palette and maybe a little more participatory for the listener," Monroe said. "It definitely needs to be in a concert setting where people are interested and are willing to get into the music without having to have a lyric pull them in. It sounds a little scary for me to think about doing instrumentals in front of people."
Monroe will perform his original tunes with lyrics at 8 p.m. Saturday in Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 W. Fourth St. He is sharing the stage with Sterling Waters, a Duluth folk musician. Though the two have played the same concerts before, this is their first double-bill.
Monroe and Brandenburg have known each other since the late '70s when Monroe was building a career in the Twin Cities and Brandenburg was building a career as a globe-trotting National Geographic photographer.
A few years ago, the two started fostering a more collaborative relationship when Brandenburg asked Monroe to perform at a slide show he hosted during the grand opening of his Ely gallery. As Brandenburg's images appeared on the screen, Monroe improvised on flute. That experience prompted two more slide-show performances: In 2002 at the Theatre de la Jeune Lune and in 2003 at the Guthrie, both in the Twin Cities.
"It was just a natural combination, and I was so surprised that it came easily," Monroe said.
The two share something in common: their love of their back yards. Monroe, who has built a career as a New Age and eco-friendly folk musician, does all of his writing in his Mistree Solar Powered Studio tucked away in the woods near Hovland.
Brandenburg, a photographer who has built a career on photographing the outdoors, pursues landscapes, nature and wildlife photography throughout the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
"Chased By The Light" features nine tracks that are expanded versions of the music Monroe wrote for the Brandenburg documentary. The lead song, "Illumination," grew out of two 20-second pieces of music that came to Monroe as he watched early versions of the documentary.
It opens with sparse, light guitar notes that represent Monroe's reaction to a scene in the video where Brandenburg discovers a photo of a setting sun filtering through the trees.
"I played it on a high-tuned guitar that I thought sounded like rays shining through," Monroe said.
Then "Illumination" fills out with instrumentals that Monroe said evoked a joyful sense of discovery that he felt when he watched a scene when Brandenburg found a part of a bear skull deep in the woods.
"Many Paths" is a 10-minute song based on a theme Monroe attached to a video sequence showing Brandenburg's many varied photographs from around the world during the peak of his National Geographic days. It features a didgeridoo, drums, guitar and flute that captured "the excitement mixed with the edge of fear because you're not in your element, you're out there, away from home," Monroe said.
Monroe admits that writing music as an emotional response to photos runs the risk of becoming too self-involved or intimidating to people who need more specific clues in music, such as the lyrics, in order to enjoy a song.
But Monroe said he felt so strongly about the music he wrote for the documentary that he didn't want the themes to languish as incomplete ideas -- although the documentary did win two national Awards of Excellence for original music from Videographer Awards, a video industry-sponsored annual competition.
Monroe is not out to win a popularity contest or snag a big-time record deal if it means only doing songs that appease an audience. He did that nearly two decades ago during a stint playing Top 40s hits in the Virgin Islands. He hated it and gave up music for nearly nine months before deciding the only way to do music was to do it for himself.
Nine albums later and two decades later, it's an attitude that has earned Monroe gradual success.
"What I find is if I'm true to myself as I'm creating my music, the people, my niche, the clan that can identify with those things, find me and they enjoy it," Monroe said. "I've been feeling really more and more bold about putting out what's inside me because I do find a great response to people who have been listening to me."
I bought your new CD and I'm blown away with the 'rich tones' and even more
with the emotional/spiritual ability of you music to move anyone to place
in our minds and memories that we go to when we need to find inner peace.
I finally had time to listen to your new CD.
I put it in for my trip up the Shore today and WOW !!!
It was a great experience and I wanted to thank you...so THANK YOU.