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Watch an Album Get Produced on the Trans-Siberian Railway [Premiere]

In David Ctiborsky’s documentary, French electronic artist Thylacine samples the sounds of the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Vladivostok.
July 7, 2016, 1:20pm
Thylacine on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. All images courtesy the artists

The Trans-Siberian Railway, connecting Moscow to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean coast, is the longest railroad in the world. The French writer, futurist and adventurer Blaise Cendrars, along with artist Sonia Delaunay, made it the focus of his revolutionary poem/art book Trans-Siberian and of Little Jehanne of France, and misanthropic comedian Karl Pilkington traveled its length in 2012 for Ricky Gervais’s series An Idiot Abroad. So the Trans-Siberian has captured the imagination since its completion in 1916.

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One hundred years later, French electronic artist Thylacine (William Rezé) took a trip not unlike Cendrars and Pilkinton’s. Traveling alone in cramped quarters along the length of the railway, Rezé recorded an album, aptly titled Transsiberian, which features samples from the sounds of the trains. Sensing a larger narrative as he planned the album’s recording, Rezé brought along a video crew to record the journey, resulting in a documentary (premiering below) of the same name.

Looking out from the Trans-Siberian Railroad at Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia

Rezé tells The Creators Project that he really wanted to share the travel story behind album’s composition, as it was a key factor in the process.

“I like to know the background and story of a track so I think that lets me see a track from another dimension,” Rezé says. “This project has always been about searching for inspiration and how a creation can be influenced by one’s environment.”

With the Eden Doc production team on board for the project, Rezé and director David Ctiborsky worked out the documentary’s focus. Rezé wanted the film to be “as close and intimate as a friend,” but without the camera being too much of an obstruction to the music production process.

Thylacine composing aboard the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Ctiborsky believes the documentary is about rather simple idea: a guy who defies himself, taking risks to open up his mind and become more creative. He was curious to see how Rezé’ journey and encounters would influence the musical output, but also whether the electronic artist would be able to put an album together in such a short period of time.

“I conceived the documentary quite like an intimate, immersive initiatory journey,” Rezé says. “Always close to Thylacine, always in his point of view, we would always wonder what would happen next, discovering things with him. Like him, we would always bust every detail that would be inspiring.”

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“Visual-wise in my filmmaking movement is very important,” he adds. “I developed my style by filming music, and I always loved to translate music feelings into movements. The windows of a train in motion are just the perfect movie screen on which you can project music feelings, especially with Thylacine’s music.”

Thylacine at a mosque in Kazan

To shoot Transsiberian, Ctiborsky used a Canon large sensor camera with lenses that gave the video the vintage look of film. Instead of using a big camera rig, which would be difficult to pull off given the cramped quarters, Ctiborsky went handheld during film, which allowed him to be totally free in his movements—in this case, reactive and discrete.

Ctiborsky says that across the railway there was not only an evolution in landscapes but also in the faces of the extraordinary people the crew met. This resulted in visuals that depict a deep trip into the Asian continent.

“Of course, for this musical project, sound is even more important,” Ctiborsky says. “Even in purely fictional films that don’t involve music, I [believe] that voices and ambiance in sound design and sound editing must be like music—they must provide new sounds for new feelings, and give rhythm to the movie. They must tell a story by themselves.”

A village ceremony

The production team approached the audio with three different schemes: the classic “documentary” style, which was very mobile; the installation of musical sessions; and the work sessions of Thylacine.

“[Thylacine’s] work session were very interesting and immersive for us,” Ctiborsky explains. “He let us come into his compartment and we could pick the sound directly from his computer during his work—what he tried, what he changed, how music evolved, got sophisticated. Sometimes we concentrated on his attitudes and gestures, sometimes daydreaming, looking at the landscapes through the window, we were cast deeply in his creative process.”

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Like Thylacine’s album, the documentary starts and ends on a black screen with ambient sound—a subway at the beginning of the journey, and the ocean at the end. Ctiborsky wasn’t aware of this at first, but he is pleased with the unexpected synchronicity of sound and vision.

Thylacine recording a Chaman near the Baikal Lake in Russia

“It’s really nice to see the reaction of everyone that was involved in this album of course,” says Rezé. “The film also contains some processes of composition, even though it was sometimes hard for the director to stay all day and night watching me working. And so sometimes he was angry in the morning when he realized how much work I did right through the night.”

“In the end the I feel the film represents my journey well and is true to reality,” he adds. “I’m extremely happy with it.”

Click here to see more of David Ctiborsky’s work, and here to download Thylacine’s album Transsiberian.

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