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Music DVD Review: Mar – This Is An Experiment

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The path of creation along which many artists have to venture can be a long and arduous journey. Hearing the sounds in your mind is one thing. Writing, practicing, rehearsing, and developing these seeds takes the process several steps forward.

Up until that point those sounds remain intensely personal. They own them, they are private, and they remain very much a part of themselves.

The next step, however, is where it ultimately stands or falls. This is when you arrive in the studio. It's here that the suffering for art really begins. The whole, often painful, process can be laborious, torturous, tedious, and even traumatic. If all of these potential pitfalls can be avoided then the experience can hopefully develop into a wonderfully rewarding experience.

This Is An Experiment (Uptone Pictures) is the perfectly titled film study of the making of a US indie band’s debut album. Film maker Zack Cookman’s expertly lets his camera do the talking. It observes without influencing, and captures a band in the studio, painfully piecing together a project that, up until that point, only existed within the band itself.

Mar is a US based band who traveled to far away Reykjavic in Iceland to record their first album, The Silence. However, as soon as their plane touches down, they walk headfirst into one of the industry’s never ending realities. Money, or in this case a lack of it, threatens to derail their dream before it even starts.

Zack Cookman’s camera records the fall out from the revelation. The impact of this is that there is hole in their finances which means that their time in the studio will be cut short unless further funds can be found.

The film shows how each member of the band, leader Kyle J. Reidy, Patrick Atkinson, Nate Reed, and Claire Long face up to this painful revelation. The tension is clear, however the band reacts strongly and immerse themselves in the process of getting their music recorded.

What makes this even more interesting is that this was their first real studio experience. Also, they had traveled thousands of miles to fulfill their dream. However, within those first few moments on Icelandic soil the very fabric of that dream comes under pressure.

From the first reel that underlying tension is there. Will the band solve the cash shortfall and will they be able to utilize the time they do have to produce their album? In letting the story unfold as a mere observer Zack Cookman has created a valuable film that all new bands should see before venturing into the studio environment.

You can see the lessons being learned, the questions that should have been asked, and yet, you can only admire how resilient, and committed the band remain. The result was the critically acclaimed album The Silence which Rock Sounds Magazine described as ‘serene yet powerful’. It is a phrase so accurate that I just have to borrow and repeat it.

The fascinating journey of the album’s creation evolves in front of us courtesy of this non narrative film. We can hear how the music gradually sheds its skin before finally emerging as something altogether more complete.

The overriding feeling is that despite the near fatal flaw in the planning, and the additional tension that it undoubtedly caused, Mar still produced a highly impressive debut album.

As I say, this film is essential, ‘young band’ viewing. As the experienced production team grasp the essence of the music they ease it out into the open, lay it down, and help create something rather special. It is a fascinating, compelling, and ultimately uplifting trip.

This Is An Experiment is exactly what it says on the box. Very quickly you realize that the experiment is, in fact, a many faceted process: the band experiment with the studio, and the studio experiment with the band.  As their music gradually evolves, the film maker experiments too by attempting to condense this whole fascinating procedure into a watchable film. 

I can see the film being used in a discussion to examine group dynamics, relationships, tension management, creative conflict, and ultimately, in this case, triumph through adversity. This triumph extends not only to the band but to the film maker also.

Having seen how The Silence evolved, the only thing left to do is to hear the end result. This is not included on the film and instead I turn to the CD itself. There is an extraordinary emotional, and at times, spiritual depth to this album. 

This is music within which you can escape and attempt to find some order in the world. It can inspire, uplift, and is both serene and powerful. Quite simply, it gets down below your skin before making its home deep within your psyche.

Despite all of these problems art ultimately prevailed. Everyone involved managed to create a seamless, satisfying album with a powerfully consuming, and tangible atmosphere. The Silence is at times simple, even bordering on minimalistic. At other times it soars with waves of sweeping emotion. Having seen it unfold in the film you can only stand back and admire the end result.

Mar’s personnel changed before their new album The Sound was recorded. Kyle Reidy remained and again called upon 'Flex' Arnason to add his studio skills to the project, albeit nearer to home in Arkansas.

The Sound marks its arrival with “Celebration” a track that opens out into a, now familiar, Mar soundscape. It is an extraordinarily uplifting start to an album that, if anything, is more assured than its predecessor.

It would have been fascinating to see how this one grew on film. There seems little doubt that 'Flex' had the measure of what Kyle wanted to achieve. The beautiful “Mother Star Sun” soars upwards from its minimalistic opening and near Beatlesque touches. As it gradually unfurls it sets the path for another honest, genuine, and joyful ride.  

Lyrically the band have taken several steps forward as can be heard on “Sounds”. There is a greater confidence, a stronger belief, both of which have been gently nurtured within the production. The Sound represents a further positive step along the path for Kyle and Mar.

Highlights include the spiritually redemptive "Last Night" whilst "Cabin Fever" and "Farewell" have a lot going on just below the surface. The ambitious track "The Atheist" dispels all of Kyle's self doubts revealed earlier in the DVD. The stark opening to "Underwater" slowly builds towards a soaring finale.

There is something comforting in the music of Mar. It is almost indefinable and yet very much in evidence. In a world where the last thing you want to do is watch the news, that calming essence should not be casually brushed aside and instead should be embraced.

This Is An Experiment, The Silence, and The Sound are a trilogy that underline just what can be achieved despite all the obstacles in a money led world. Good art, like cream, will ultimately rise to the surface.

The sun will finally break through the clouds and quality music will always prevail. The reason is that we simply need, more than ever before, to escape within it.

The music of Mar and details about the DVD and CDs can be found on their MySpace page.

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About Jeff Perkins